Garden Anarchy in L.A.

Words by
David Godshall
Images by
David Godshall
| May 10, 2016

A garden, much like a home, is a blunt, bare-faced extension of the human beings who control it. If you are the caretaker of a piece of land, that piece of land will inevitably come to embody your behavioral and cultural values, albeit in an abstract sort of a way. This truism is eternally intriguing, and because human beings are curious and jealous creatures, it also explains why we stare at books and magazines and websites of pictures of other people’s homes and gardens, because well, people’s lives are interesting.

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I am a landscape architect, which means that I make my living by designing and building gardens and landscapes for other people. I take great satisfaction in imposing landscape designs upon clients because it satiates my schizophrenic love of many landscape typologies; ergo at any given moment in time Terremoto will be simultaneously building landscapes as different as a seasonal meadow, a flowering jungle, a silver grey rain garden, etc.

But subjecting myself and my garden to that same discipline is an entirely different and complex thing to do. No one likes the taste of their own medicine.

So how does one design a garden when one is a gardener? My love of horticulture is all encompassing and unbiased, so how the hell am I supposed to pick a tree that I will love forever? The answer, it turns out, is to give yourself strict rules and then break all of them.

My wife and I decided to plant a strictly native California garden, which would impose strict limitations on the plant palette.  I had admired native California landscapes from a distance for a while (Ron Lutsko and Bernard Trainor are horticultural role models of mine) but had never personally gardened with them myself, so it was also an intentional, self-inflicted educational experience.

But there’s a dark secret to native California landscapes that no one tells you: they’re extremely difficult. Plants that evolved in the dry southern Californian ecology are acclimatised to suffering, drought, and heat. They want nothing to do with an annoyingly regular irrigation system, they don’t like high quality top soil, they’re viciously seasonal, and they are often short-lived.

They don’t want love, they want neglect.

So we planted natives and subsequently killed most of them, we learned to neglect our garden and then it began to thrive, and we kept at it until our garden grew into its current state of total punk rock anarchy.

We kept an existing Jacaranda, climbing rose, and philodendron that came with our house, as they set everything off in a good way as well. Then I entered into an intense artichoke stage in my life and planted about 50 artichokes throughout the garden, which was cheating. Then I began prototyping abstract shapes for a side business I’m exploring and began placing them in the garden.

Now our garden exists in an interesting middle ground of self-seeding revolution: things come as they please and leave as they please, natives fight with edibles, birds chase after butterflies…

I’m behind on my weeding because we had a baby named Wolfgang, but whatever man, it’s all good.

And as I look at it now I must begrudgingly admit that my garden is more or less indicative of who I am as a human being. A grown-up punk with control issues.

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