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The New Kid on the Block

The big hunk has changed the character of Beck Avenue.



The new kid on the block is one gorgeous specimen. Tall and handsome, the hunky arrival made a grand entrance in December on Beck Avenue, hoisted over Ed and Linda Rostohar’s two-story Mediterranean house and lowered into a sandy indentation in the front yard.

As it turns out, the 50-foot-tall Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Palm) is not a kid after all, but a 35-year-old tree imported from Orange County and delivered to Studio City on a specially-permitted wide-load truck outfitted with industrial-strength cranes.

Two additional Phoenix Dactylifera palms arrived the same day to be planted along the farthest southern edge of the Rostohar’s driveway.

By twilight, these three palm trees completely changed the character of the street. 

The ambitious makeover on Beck between Woodbridge and Valley Spring began last summer as a collaboration between landscape designer Scott Cohen and the homeowners.

Cohen’s GreenSceneLandscape company approached his clients with a design questionnaire. “It helps me to personalize the design,” he explains. Cohen learned that the  homeowners were not happy with the plantings in front, so his crew ripped out the grass and removed a wispy willow tree and a paltry six-inch border of mostly Limonium (Statice) along either side of the straight walkway.

“Linda wanted tropical,” Cohen explains. “She’s French. When people come here from somewhere else, they’ve gotta have some palm trees. It’s what defines California for them.”

Cohen and the homeowners went on scouting expeditions for the majestic Canary Island Palm. “Linda loved these trees,” Cohen notes. “They’re something you’d normally  see on grand estates or hotel grounds. For residential neighborhoods, Canary Island Palm trees are unusual.”

A licensed contractor in landscape, swimming pool and general construction, Cohen became fascinated as a boy with sculpture, drawing, architecture and gardening. At the age of 15, after tagging along with his contractor dad to Studio City jobs, he started his own landscape business.
 
For Ed and Linda he designed a layout that addressed drainage issues and included privacy hedges. He also included a dramatic backyard space for hanging out and entertaining. 

In arriving at his design concepts, Cohen often functions as informal therapist. He laughs. “As husbands, we know we get a vote but it’s not a very big vote. The woman makes 90 percent of the decision either directly or indirectly. This happens with all couples...married or not.”
 
Cohen observes, “Men go the bigger is better route especially when it comes to backyard barbeques while women favor cozy, relaxing, and intimate. When women think water feature, they see a gurgling stream that would attract hummingbirds and dragonflies. Men picture something more like Niagara Falls.”
 
Next up for the Rostohar’s redesign-in-progress: backyard barbeque counter finished with recycled, crushed-then-polished glass set in tinted concrete and underlit for drama; arbors for shade; large self-watering planters on the front pilasters filled with trailing annual scaevola (fanflower) and ivy geranium; and various flower beds with a “tropical” look.

In keeping with the desert clime, Cohen will create “pockets of color” consisting of gaillardia, ginger, and two lilies--orange tropicanna canna and bright pink tri color calla both with variegated foliage.

To make room for the new blooms, the lawn has been downsized by 75%.

Cohen acknowledges that not everyone can afford a 50-foot Canary Island Palm, but many of the ideas in the Rostohar schematic can be adapted to the typical Colfax Meadows home lot.

“For the most part, these houses have smaller yards so the key is water management. Houses with western and southern exposure in the San Fernando Valley get hot. And if the yard is bordered by a driveway, all that extra concrete adds to the heat. I suggest as little grass as possible, and it should be on a different sprinkler system from trees like a canary palm. You don’t want to over water a palm. The same holds true for other drought-tolerant plants. And plants in pots should have their own self-watering systems.”

Though not a fan of grass, Cohen does like to see blades of the green stuff on parkways. “There’s so many film trucks that use the streets and parkways in Studio City. Not to mention dog poop in the rosemary--picking it up is just plain icky.”

WHAT TO DO:

Cohen recommends a new variety of Agapanthus--Baby Pete for Valley gardens. The plant has a wider leaf than Peter Pan Agapanthus and looks good when stacked with dwarf Lilly of the Nile in the foreground.

For smaller spaces, add a water feature since the reflective quality of water makes everything look larger.

Avoid heavy barriers along a garden’s edges because they shrink the perceived space.  Instead, Cohen says, open up the area by softening the walls with vines.


STEAL THIS IDEA:

Add sparkle with landscaping glass. Bits of glass repurposed from beer bottles and other sources provide a decorative accent at the base of hedges, potted greens and other types of landscaping. Recycled nuggets can be purchased at garden centers and online retailers.

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