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Landscape Architect Visit: A Majestic Sycamore in a Santa Monica Garden


Imagine climbing a steep flight of stairs from the street. At the top you find a giant sycamore tree, menacingly close to a forlorn building. Imagine that the rundown structure—originally used as an art studio—has the darkest, dankest basement ever.


Now imagine it transformed. “This was a magical project because words cannot describe how ugly this house was before our clients bought it,” says LA-based landscape architect Mark Tessier. “They invited me out and said, ‘can you do anything with the landscape?’ And I said, ‘yeah, but can you do anything with that house?’ ”


Tessier’s clients remodeled the house, excavated the lowest level to make it into usable space, and created a second floor that was loft-like and open to the garden. Then Tessier designed a free-flowing, organic landscape—and suddenly the massive sycamore looked perfectly placed:


Above: A grand front walkway with poured concrete stairs greets visitors inside the gate. Purple-leafed redbud trees flank the path, edged by velvety ground cover (Yankee Point Ceanothus) which is drought-tolerant.


At the entry are poured concrete stairs and a fence made of reclaimed house siding. “When the old house siding was removed, 80 percent of it was damaged and rotted and the other 20 percent we saved,” says Tessier. “We’ve since built a reclaimed outdoor shower that turned out really cool.”


“You used to go up a flight of stairs to get to the house, but we cut down on the number of stairs by pushing the stairs way back, and now you are not aware you are going up or down a whole flight,” says Tessier. “Now you walk up four and then to a flat zone, and then three stairs and a flat zone. By manipulating the land, we connected three spaces on three sides of house.”


From a bedroom window, the redbud trees are visible in the distance beyond a meadow of perennial grasses. Carex pansa (also known as dune sedge) is a tough, low-maintenance grass that also thrives in sandy conditions.


Off the kitchen side of the house is a distinctly different micro-climate paved with decomposed granite, says Tessier. The area is planted with ginkgo, bamboo and grassy, perennial Lomandras. Visible in the background is the sycamore tree.

credit to: Michelle Slatalla