Can you dig it? TV’s Mad Men with its iconic mid-century design aesthetic has crept into today’s pop culture. Buyers on Etsy are grabbing up atomic-motif barware and kidney-shaped accessories; fabrics from the early 60s Marimekko line are enjoying a revival at Crate &Barrel and on ebay; cocktail-length dresses are parading the red carpet.
No surprise then that here in the hills, there's an eye-popping presence of mid-century gardens that mix old-fashioned sky-high junipers, spiky feature plants, mass plantings of grasses, and swirls of topiary against the geometric patterns of houses and carports.
Mid-century modern architecture had a field day in L.A. with cool cats such as Richard Neutra, Joseph Eichler, and Rudolf Schindler, Pierre Koenig, and A. Quincy Jones. Each created a narrative between the indoors and outdoors. Theirs was a design mantra of form and function for post-war America.
Gardens also found a new interpretation from landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, who turned the notion of flowery gardens on its ear by reworking traditional California gardens into spaces that incorporated geometry and motifs for our dry, hilly terrain. His design appealed to the burgeoning middle class who wanted a simpler, more affordable and functional approach to gardening in their brand new shiny homes. Hardscape, wood, stone and geometric specimen plants were incorporated outdoors as a way to extend the lines of the houses.
The mid 50s through the mid 60s was an era of rectilinear patios, cleanly defined carports, a bold curving shape for good measure, butterfly chairs, a hanging orb lighting fixture, cacti and succulents that looked like they found land after a journey under the sea.
When Renee moved into her Laurel Canyon single story house in November, she “inherited” a decidedly mid-century front and back yard. There is no soil to be seen. Instead, a huge field of white rocks is the backdrop for plants shooting upward including Purple flax, Birds of Paradise, Banana plants and pygmy palms.
She says she thought about changing it and decided against it. It’s very retro and modern at the same time. It’s a Mad Garden.
WHAT TO DO:
Extend the geometries of the house with large rectangular pavers separated by mossy groundcover.
Plants that add a sculptural quality to the garden include Kangaroo paws, Black Rose (Aeonium Zwartkop), Agave, and architectural cacti and succulents. Around a doorway try Japanese Maples.
Avoid too many flowers. Instead create mass plantings of Phormium or papyrus
STEAL THIS IDEA: For a little mid-century geometry try potted swirls of topiary.