For two weeks in fall of 2007, several thousand visitors toured the house and grounds of the historic Greystone Mansion for the annual Beverly Hills Garden & Design Showcase. The event benefited the restoration fund for the estate as it generated much buzz about green and sustainable design.
My grandmother’s adage “Use it up, wear it out, make it do” might not seem like a mantra that most of Beverly Hills would adopt. But award the concept a Nobel Peace Prize, and even the Beautiful People fall in line, as evidenced by last year’s Garden & Design Showcase, an annual fundraising event at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
Sponsored by the Style Network, the theme was “Beverly Hills is Going Green,” and, jokes about greenbacks aside, the landscape designers proved that intriguing and arresting designs can go hand-in-hand with environmental responsibility.
Adhering to the “green” goal of reducing the use of non-renewable resources, Paula Henson used metal and recycled building materials to compose a space defined by geometric lines. PVC pipes in concrete blocks draped with chain “necklaces,” in a garden accessed by metal strip walkways, created an outdoor room that even Kid Rock—or any other millionaire rocker—would love. Avoiding too much heavy metal, however, Henson lightened the effect with a gauzy curtain, powder-blue settee, and framed vases of bulbs in bloom.
The thrift shop met Rodeo Drive in the shade garden design of CJ Forray, a long-time advocate of non-toxic and conservation-minded gardening practices. A metal bistro set, long past its prime, was given new life with a coat of vivid red paint and a mossy top, for a vignette that lured people into the garden on a sparkling walkway of recycled polished glass.
One of the goals of going green is to bring people into their landscapes to enjoy and be refreshed. That idea was nicely illustrated with Brent Green’s outdoor garden room, featuring a dining area on a peagravel patio. Particularly attractive was the use of broken concrete recycled from the old driveway of a 1920s Los Angeles home. The hardscape was mellowed by a strong Mediterranean plant palette, including salvias, lavender, and rosemary, all adding fragrance as well as beauty to the garden.
The centerpiece of the Showcase gardens, literally, was the work of Jim Alexander, Maria Kane, and Pacific Outdoor Living. They combined their talents to create an aqueous vista that began with a stream cascading down the hill into a pond outlined by magnificent paving stones. New Age went Green Age with a pyramid of green glass in the center of the pond, while recycled sinks of soft beige marble overflowed with succulents and other water-wise plants. Dozens of turtles sunned themselves on raised slabs of granite—a charming environment-friendly touch.
Overlooking the pond was Yu-Chien Liao and Mark Korzeniewski’s Asian-inspired take on going green, with a bamboo hideaway nestled into the hillside. No massive earth-moving project here, but rather a design in harmony with its environment, enhanced by drought-tolerant plants such as senecios, salvias, and agaves that attract hummingbirds and butterflies while requiring little care.
Anyone who thinks formal garden design is incompatible with green concerns need only take a look at the stunning neoclassical interpretation that painter and designer Joan Grabel displayed with her modern, minimalist courtyard garden. Italian cypress trees (Cupressus sempervirens) stood in for neoclassical columns, while sandblasted concrete pavers, flecked with recycled material, echoed aged stone. Drought-tolerant plants, rich in autumn colors, were reflected in recycled glass set between the pavers. Benches were made from concrete and sustainable timber, while two volcanic stone fountains, reminiscent of Stonehenge, integrated the past with the present.
Finally, designer Kristi Blicharski took a couple of spaces in the parking lot to demonstrate what someone could accomplish even in a small backyard. Tiny it might have been, but this little garden received certification as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation. Planters and baskets brimmed over with California and Mediterranean native plants that are both easy to care for and attractive to a variety of birds, butterflies, and bees. Tall eugenia (Syzygium paniculatum) topiaries provided avian hiding places and nesting sites. The gravel and stone paver “floor” offered an eco-friendly option to a lawn, as it demands no water yet allows rainwater to soak into the soil.
Based on this year’s Showcase, it would seem the “plants-in-bondage” look of overly-pruned and manicured gardens, once considered the height of fashion in Beverly Hills, is giving way to the earth-friendly concepts of the “green revolution.”