Jennifer Asher featured on the Horticult

Form and Function: At Home With Jennifer Gilbert Asher of TerraSculpture and TerraTrellis

Photos by Ryan Benoit

You might remember the interview we did two summers ago with a design hero of ours, the luminous Jennifer Gilbert Asher. She’s the artist and co-owner of TerraSculpture studio; she creates modern abstract sculpture and also designs functional sculpture for studio offshoot TerraTrellis.

We love Jennifer’s work because — in all its various forms — it amplifies the ecstasy and wonder of a bustling garden. Handmade from steel here in California, her pieces provide both physical and aesthetic support to your plants: For example, there’s the Geo Tomato Cage that will let your Brandywines strut their stuff and the Mira Garden Trellis Jr that is excellent for sprawling edibles. At our place, we have the Hanging Bee Bungalow attached to a branch of our tangerine tree, and a Bird Cafe on top of an Akoris Garden Tuteur Jr in aubergine. Our Costa Rican butterfly vine wouldn’t be the same without them.

Also, Jennifer’s abstract sculpture, like the exhilarating Leap, will soothe any spirit hassled by a temperamental bromeliad.

'Leap' by Terra Sculpture.

‘Leap,’ powdercoated steel.

'Bee Bungalow' by Terra Trellis

In the front yard, Hanging Bee Bungalows are attached to branches of the evergreen pear tree.

Jennifer Gilbert Asher - Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Jennifer Gilbert Asher, artist and co-owner of TerraSculpture Studio. Through the studio’s TerraTrellis offshoot, Jennifer designs functional garden sculpture like this new Annabel Tipi Trellis, which provides modern support to edible and ornamental vines.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

A view of Jennifer’s front lawn. Her works on display are, from left, the Akoris Garden Tuteur Sr topped with the Bird Cafe; ‘Curvas’; and ‘Gravity.’

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Goldendoodle/”giantess” Lucy is nicely matched with all the tall sculptures.

This past December we stopped by the home that Jennifer shares with her husband, two children, and Lucy the goldendoodle. Serene and stylish and in LA near the Santa Monica Mountains, her house and garden grow plants like a now-in-bloom evergreen pear tree (Pyrus kawakamii), Westringia ‘Smokey,’ Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba,’ blueberries, artichokes, Meyer lemons, white wisteria and jacaranda, California sycamore and coral trees. All alongside (of course!) Jennifer’s thoughtfully placed works.

“I now devote all of my time to my sculpture work, but I studied landscape architecture and design. I was my own first client back in 2002,” says Jennifer, who has lived in this home for 12 years. “I was attracted to this property in large part because of the very mature trees that were here. I am tree hugger — ask my kids. As a landscape designer I always advised clients: trees first, plants second.”

Join us as we roam — below! And Jennifer shares her favorite vines, the time she hit the mulch jackpot, and her philosophy on sculpture placement.

So, what’s new and exciting in TerraTrellis and TerraSculpture land? 

So much new work!  We just debuted four limited edition abstract sculptures: JoyGravityFigure and Egress. For TerraTrellis we introduced new sculptural wildlife habitats, the Hanging Bee Bungalow and the Hanging Bird Bungalow. Last year we introduced the Annabel Tipi Trellis and Geo Tomato Cage. So, yes, we’ve been pretty busy in the studio!

'Joy' by Terra Sculpture

‘Joy,’ weathered steel and powdercoated steel.

'Annabel Tipi Trellis' by Terra Trellis

The Annabel Tipi Trellis helps a red cape honeysuckle defy gravity.

'Annabel Tipi Trellis' by Terra Trellis

Red cape honeysuckle.

'Geo Tomato Cage' by Terra Trellis

Geo Tomato Cage, hand welded sturdy steel frame, weather resistant zero-VOC powdercoat finish.

'Egress' by Terra Sculpture

‘Egress,’ stainless steel and weathered steel.

How would you describe the aesthetic of your home and garden?

I have great respect for classic design and modern architecture. I’m originally from Northern California and spend a lot of time on Martha’s Vineyard so I think my home and garden reflect a mix of those style influences in a way that fits with our life in Southern California. Quality of light both inside and out is very important. I wanted to create a peaceful, nature-centered environment to raise my family and a place where I can design and display my work.

How’s the Martha’s Vineyard influence invoked? 

Outdoors: sense of peace, level space, simple lines, bluestone, gravel, grasses, mature trees, lots of mulch.

Mulch! There is a lot of it here. Is there a story behind these wood chips?

Last year we planted natives, succulents, grasses and some vines in the front yard to display the Annabel Tipi Trellis but we needed a lot of mulch to finish the space. I noticed a tree-trimming crew in the neighborhood chipping their cuttings. I called the number on the truck. They would give us mulch for free but we needed to take the entire truckload. A few days later, a truck showed up and dumped a mountain of gorgeous pine mulch on our driveway — more than you can imagine! It deeply covered every planting bed on our property and we had plenty more to share with our neighbors and friends. It was hilarious seeing troops of neighbors walking up and down the street with wheelbarrows! We got thousands of dollars of free mulch; it looks great and keeps the prized moisture on the ground.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Dwarf mat rush (Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’) bursts from a layer of mulch. Many of the plants in this area around the tipi are young, planted just six months ago.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’ and red fountain grass (Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’).

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Aeonium arboreum.

What are some of the plants you grow?

A sampling: coast rosemary (Westringia fruticosa ‘Wynabbie Gem’), Westringia fruticosa ‘Smokey,’ cape mallow (Lavatera maritima), Agave attenuata ‘Blue Flame’, Agave ‘Vilmorniana,’ Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze,’ varieties of bougainvillea, Aloe brevifoliaAloe nobilisAeonium ‘Kiwi,’ Aeonium ‘Sunburst,’ Aeonium arboreumSenecio mandraliscaeAgave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba,’ elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra), Olea europea ‘Little Ollie,’ red hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria ‘Flamenco’), kangaroo paw (Anigozanthus ‘Harmony’), red fountain grass (Pennisetum x advena ‘Rubrum’), germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides), Russian sage (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’), Podocarpus ‘Henkelii’, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’, Ceonothus griseus horizontalis ‘Yankee Point,’ Buddeja davidii ‘Black Knight,’ red cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria Capensis), upright rosemary (Rosmarinus offinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’), California lavender (Lavandula ‘Multifida’), creeping fig (Ficus pumila), scarlet milkweed (Asclepia curassavica), white wisteria (Wisteria floribunda ‘Shiro Noda’).

Edibles: Varieties of blackberries, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuces, herbs, artichokes, lemon, tangerine, lime.

Trees include: California sycamore (Platanus racemosa), jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosafolia), coral tree (Erythrina abyssinica), non-fruiting olive (Olea europaea ‘Wilsonii’), edible fig (Ficus carica), evergreen pear (Pyrus kawakamii), Citrus limon ‘Meyer Lemon,’ Citrus x latifolia ‘Bearss Lime,’ Citrus limon ‘Eureka Lemon.’

My favorites include Westringia ‘Smokey,’ Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba,’ [and] white wisteria (Wisteria floribunda ‘Shiro Noda’).

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Westringia fruticosa ‘Morning Light,’ or coast rosemary.

Germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides)

Germander sage (Salvia chamaedryoides).

'Taffy' by Terra Sculpture

‘Taffy,’ weathered steel.

Tell us about how the sculptures work in your surroundings. How do they interact with you and your environment on a daily basis?

Sculpture and plants all play their part in the landscape. We have pockets of sculpture gardens all around the property. I often invite collectors and clients over to see my work. Since many of the sculptures are scaled to a human size, the ubiquitous steel sculptures create a presence of abstract co-inhabitants. They are so integrated into the garden that when one gets moved or sold, it feels like a roommate has moved out. They are always missed.

Any special stories behind particular sculptures?

Each sculpture is informed by the memory and feeling of one single moment. Leap was a moment during a beautiful Martha Graham dance performance. Figure was a moment when I was studying life drawing and sketching a female nude in Italy. Gravity was a moment when I watched a rocket launch on TV. Embrace was a moment from a memorable kiss. All of my sculpture and trellis works are intended to create a form of dynamic tension in the garden.

What’s your philosophy on sculpture placement? 

We actually wrote an entire article on our blog about placing sculpture in the landscape. It’s best to design a space with sculpture in mind; however, I work with what is here. Placement is often determined by what the plants are doing: growth habits, form, textures, colors. Some are focal points. Some are surprises. I like contrast and effect.

'Gravity' by Terra Sculpture

‘Gravity,’ stainless steel.

'Embrace' by Terra Sculpture

‘Embrace,’ stainless steel.

'Embrace' by Terra Sculpture

Another view of ‘Embrace.’ The groundcover surrounding the pool is recycled turf from a football field, an excellent water-saving move. (In places, white field stripes are still faintly visible!)

What kind of wildlife visits your garden? How do guests react when they see your beautiful surroundings? 

Wildlife is integral to living on this Earth and very important to welcome into the garden. Living in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains we cohabitate with deer, bobcats, coyotes, red tail hawks and many species of beautiful birds and amazing insects.

I’ve designed the gardens with lots of inviting and native plants to attract birds, bees and butterflies. Flowers are a big attraction for hummingbirds but I’ve noticed that planting native trees like Platanus racemosa (California sycamore) provides wonderful architecture for hummingbird nests! Human guests seem delighted and intrigued when they move around the outdoor spaces.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

California sycamore (Platanus racemosa). Jennifer planted the sycamores in her front yard 10 years ago, when they were just six feet tall. Today they’re approximately 50.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

‘Figure’ and ‘Leap.’

You said the house was your first big job as a landscape designer. Tell us a bit more about that.

I now devote all of my time to my sculpture work, but I studied landscape architecture and design. I was my own first client back in 2002. I was attracted to this property in large part because of the very mature trees that were here. I am tree hugger — ask my kids.

As a landscape designer, I always advised clients: trees first, plants second. I designed the elements around the existing trees and added more, including natives, Mediterranean, citrus and fruit trees. It gets pretty hot here in the summer so we built a classically designed pool that looks like it’s set in a lush lawn. Our little secret is that the “lawn” is actually sections of a recycled football field turf that would have ended up as landfill (there are even some faint white field stripes that won’t come off!). Between the no-water recycled turf, the Mediterranean, native and low-water plants, the generous mulch and established trees we use very little water. I created a couple of edible gardens (one potted) where we rotate tomatoes and lettuces and berries alongside succulents and perennials. Attractive edible perennials like Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ (rosemary) and Cynara scolymus (artichoke) are great anchors in the edible garden.

What is your favorite spot in your garden? Favorite season?

Favorite spot is under the pergola when the gnarled Wisteria floribunda ‘Shiro Noda’ (white wisteria) explodes into full bloom in early spring. The flowers hang like massive fragrant icicles from the structure. From there I can also see trees, sky, water, sculpture, and it smells like heaven. I can hear the hum of the bees and watch them work their pollinating magic. But my favorite season is actually winter. The air and sky are so clean and crisp and the quality of light reminds me of where I grew up in Northern California. The native plants are in their full glory and occasionally we even get a few drops of rain to refresh it all.

—TH

'Relaxed' by Terra Sculpture.

‘Relaxed,’ weathered and brushed stainless steel.

Jennifer Gilbert Asher - Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

We also followed Jennifer into her in-home studio, where the design magic happens.

Jennifer Gilbert Asher - Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

A glimpse at the inspiration board.

Jennifer Asher - Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

'Akoris Tuteur Jr' with 'Bee Bungalow' by Terra Trellis

Here an Akoris Tuteur Jr is topped by the Bee Bungalow by Terra Trellis.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Aeonium ‘Sunburst,’ or copper pinwheel.

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

Terra Trellis and Terra Sculpture - Garden Tour

'Bee Bungalow' by Terra Trellis

A few weeks ago Jennifer sent us this shot of their evergreen pear (Pyrus kawakamii), now in bloom! “This flower festival is why I hang [the] Bee Bungalows on her branches. Seems each flower has its own bee assigned to it! We will see if they take up residence in the new mason bee bungalows.” (Photo by Jennifer Gilbert Asher.)

  • Teri Clifton

    Jennifer’s style is sumptuous and it is absolutely a reflection of her demeanor, of who she is. Her involvement in the world around her, on every level, is calming and inspirational. This article is a wonderful overview!

    • Thanks, Teri! Jen’s work reflects her spirit and beauty in so many ways. It was a blast doing an ode to Jen and her sculptures — which bring so much joy to so many people and places.

  • justicewon1

    Love her work.

  • Lee Roversi

    not sure which is more divine . . . the sculptures, the landscaping or the dog!!!!