Our book, How to Window Box (Crown Publishing), comes out February 2018! Preorder it now.
Updated May 2016. For more bloomin’ up-to-the-moment action, follow @TheHorticult on Instagram and Snapchat!
Zone: Sunset Zone 24, Southern California Coastal Strip; USDA Zone 10B
Average annual high temp: 78 degrees Fahrenheit (August)
Average annual low temp: 49 degrees Fahrenheit (December)
Average annual rainfall: 12.71 inches
Welcome to the Horticult Garden! Our garden is growing and changing with every season and every project. For the very latest, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and now Snapchat (thehorticult) for secret tours.
Check out our new DIY post on how to build this outdoor garden theater.
Welcome to our garden in La Jolla, California! The Horticult Garden is where our love for plants intersects with our love for modern design, among other creative urges. It’s also a place where we find inspiration for our blog and where we entertain friends (movie nights, cocktail parties, World Cup festivities…) out in the fresh air. Our plants include succulents, herbs, ferns, flowering perennials, carnivorous plants and fruit trees — just to name a few of over 200 plants in our garden.
We designed our garden as an extension of our small beach cottage rental; with 750 square feet indoors, we felt compelled to use every square foot of our 1700-square-foot patio to triple our living area. We’re renters, so most of the landscaping that we’ve added is at least semi-portable.
That said, we don’t have plans to move anytime soon.
Especially when we remember these harrowing before-and-after shots:
Our front yard transformation. At top is the “before” of 2009, and below it is the state of our garden in early 2014.
Our garden is inspired by trips to modernist mecca Palm Springs, Lotusland in Montecito, CA, botanical gardens in New York, Ecuador and Japan, and walks to the beach in our own neighborhood. Many of Ryan’s designs harness repurposed industrial items that add structure and balance to our garden’s rambunctious flora.
In other words, we aim to combine tech, industrial and garden living in one place. You can see more of Ryan’s original work at Ryan Benoit Design.
Here’s how The Horticult HQ came to be…
Around the time we got engaged in 2007 and after weeks of hourly refreshes of a Craigslist search for “house yard,” we (two gardening newbies at the time), stumbled onto an ad for this beach cottage in the Windansea Beach community of La Jolla, California. We decided to take the leap and maintain a yard together: Chantal had always loved flowers and had some outdoor space as a kid but had never mowed a lawn. Ryan, on the other hand, grew up maintaining a four-acre sprawl in rural central Connecticut, and before finding this property had taken a much-needed 10-year hiatus from yard maintenance. When Ryan wasn’t shoveling unplowed portions of a 400-foot driveway in the winter, his spring-to-fall routine consisted of mowing lawns, repainting the house and patio furniture, along with odd jobs like building garden ponds and rock walls.
From top: our garden in 2009, and in 2013.
We felt an immediate love for the property. Maybe it was the stately and mature fruit trees (feijoa guava, tangerine, orange) on the property. Maybe it had to do with the 1700 square feet of outdoor space that seemed colossal compared to the small or non-existent patios we’d each inhabited — in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Los Angeles, DC and elsewhere in San Diego — during our previous five years together.
Whatever it was, moving in here represented at the time a kind of (mental/emotional/creative/geographical) growth for us. This place just felt like home.
Despite prior tenants’ less-than-enthusiastic tending, the abovementioned fruit trees trees were thriving. The perennials along the planting strips, on the other hand, were just barely hanging in there. Our landlord was quick to pronounce that, aside from the occasional tree trimmings she would provide, we would be the gardeners.
And so we became gardeners!
Our “side yard” transformation, 2009 to 2013.
Another “before and after” of our outdoor dining area.
When people ask what first gave us confidence as gardeners, we always say it was the succulents. (But more on that in a moment.) In addition to the tall, ego-boosting Crassula ovata that came with the place, our plants, imported and native to the property, now grow in seven distinct outdoor “rooms.” We built these habitats in response to the microclimates contained within our garden, where levels of sun and shade shift from season to season.
Let’s take a walk through these seven rooms below…
The Arbor Room
What to do with the empty, awkward 20-by-30-foot space at the entrance to our yard? Without a stitch of furniture, this concrete slab felt more like an extension of our driveway than a livable space. So we got to work, with a few guidelines: The adjacent Sun Room incorporated low seating, so this area would need some height. We needed something welcoming that could double as an outdoor work station.
It wasn’t until a 2011 visit to our favorite industrial surplus store that we stumbled onto two industrial stepladders for $60 (just above scrap), which we quickly snatched up. Ryan knew he could connect them into a single frame, install wheels, and make either seating and/or a table. The final product was much different than the original concept — and turned out to be one of our favorite pieces.
Whether it’s making coffee in the morning or entertaining till 2 AM, the rolling arbor is the center for many activities on our blog or just a shelter for typing on a sunny day. Other pieces in the arbor room include a 12-foot-long planter box along the east wall of the house and a rolling patio planter built for our pencil tree.
The entrance to our yard opens right into the Arbor Room. It’s our meeting area: A place to have a pre-dinner cocktail, grab an appetizer, or to see who else is arriving.
“Howdy,” says that beloved pencil tree, Euphorbia tirucalli. It’s stationed near the door to our garden, but is also mobile thanks to Ryan’s wheeled planter!
Vertical clay pot garden project.
We finished filling in the large vertical clay pot garden with tropicals in January 2016.
Nemesia arrangement added in January 2016.
The Arbor Room’s centerpiece is, wouldn’t y’know, a rolling arbor constructed of repurposed industrial stepladders. The opposing stepladders serve as the frame and are connected by steel channel bars at the base. The arbor top is framed with douglas fir and covered by removable sheets of translucent acrylic. In addition to housing drinks and appetizers, the structure serves as an outdoor workstations and is equipped with power hookups. (The acrylic roof cuts down on laptop glare.)
The arbor mid-construction in October 2011. Opposing steel stepladders are in their original color.
The seating around the arbor provides high seating for views of the projector screen at night. The acrylic top also provides bright filtered light for our air plants that thrive in this breezy and elevated location.
The Arbor Room at dusk. Lighting plays a key role in our backyard as the sun sets; it completely transforms the mood.
The Horticult HQ at dusk. We keep our LED lighting at a golden temperature of 2700K. This is important as we mix our LED lighting with incandescent lighting with a similar yellowish radiance. A bit counterintuitively, the higher the color temperature, the more blue-toned and “cooler” the lighting.
Eating a spiked, peachy summer dessert with friends.
On the west end of the Arbor Room, hanging from the house’s east-facing eave is Ryan’s first Tillandsia Tower, an acrylic jungle-gym for air plants.
Be sure to check out Ryan Benoit Design for this and other projects featured in our garden.
The Carnivore Corner(s)
We received our first carnivorous pitcher plants in 2009, and since then it’s been a match made in Little Shop of Horrors heaven. (Considering the temperamental nature of Nepenthes, ours is often a one-sided love.) The bloodthirsty bug-eaters of the Nepenthes genus are colorful, oddball and diverse. They’re also easily scorched, so we built a carnivore habitat in front of a west-facing corner equipped with a sunshade to protect our plants during afternoon hours of direct light. The Carnivore Corner is also a place to shower after a day at the beach.
A vertical bog garden.
The carnivore display also doubles as a surfboard display and is wheel-able. The top right cabinet contains utensils for pruning and feeding the plants.
Behind the vertical bog garden is the tropical pitcher plant habitat / outdoor shower.
A second carnivorous garden houses tropical pitcher plants. Dare to shower with the carnivores?
Repurposed squirrel cage fans create downlights in the carnivore corner. (As if carnivorous plants couldn’t get any more cool.)
Remember when we said our designs were portable? We constructed this small redwood deck section as part of our Carnivore Corner makeover.
We doubled down on our pro-turf position by putting a frame around it.
The Sun Room
Our backyard started with the Outdoor Living Coffee Table Number One at the center of the Sun Room. The Sun Room is where we catch sun throughout the year, spot unusual cactus flowers blooming in the middle of the table, and watch movies and the occasional World Cup match or Superbowl at night. (Movies appear as if by magic, thanks to some cleverly hidden HDMI cables; see below.) It is also home to a vertical herb garden, a garden center, and a potted loquat tree among the many furnishing that Ryan built for this room. In front of the movie screen and behind the rosemary hedge is the “stage garden” bed that’s home to a colorful mix of perennials and annuals.
Facing east behind Ryan first living table is the enormous jade tree that we call “Mama Jade.” The first plant that truly gave us confidence in the yard, this Crassula ovata is wonderfully low-maintenance, and earned its nickname from the numerous cuttings we have sent to friends and family across the U.S. She also has numerous offspring in other parts of our yard.
For clutter-less connectivity, the projector’s HDMI and power cords run up through the planter table. We take extra care not to brush our hands against the fine needle-shedding Opuntia microdasys.
And then this happens! The flower is coming from the Echinopsis subdenudata (Easter Lily cactus) behind the old man cactus.
This living table doubles as a mini garden center (see below).
Sedum morganianum, or burro’s tail, slowly reaches down to the shelves where we keep small tools and extra pots. We also use it as a mini-nursery for new arrivals before we plant them.
A pair of goldfish reside in this acrylic garden pond made from a half whiskey barrel. It took a little while for the nitrogen cycle to stabilize in the pond; the key was to add nitrate-absorbing plants like Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce) and Nymphaea “American Star” water lily. We even occasionally use the pond to give our air plants the occasional fertilizer bath. Our garden wouldn’t be complete without a water feature and the soothing sound of the fountain.
We installed LED lighting inside the pond to give the fish some direction at night. Since installing the acrylic layers in the pond, it’s been over a year since we’ve had a predator (i.e. a certain murderous skunk still at large).
December through February, Mama Jade is in full bloom.
This healing aloe provides additional comfort below the hammock, which catches the last rays of the sun in the afternoon.
Our aloe’s point of view.
The best seat in the yard.
The hideaway movie screen is normally retracted inside the custom trellis enclosure.
Need some heat?
This robot heater will do your bidding. Ryan’s slim profile rolling heater is adjustable on 3 axes and is wheel-able. It is shared between the Sun Room and Arbor Room on cold nights.
Herbs, not ammo: We repurposed ammunition cans (DIY here) from our local military surplus store and converted them into planter boxes for herbs. Ryan built the steel reinforced redwood wall piece with tensioned chains to support the cans. Two hidden features: A drip irrigation system that supplies each planter individually and LED strips that illuminate the sides at night.
Here we are growing mint, oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon and parsley. The 8-foot-tall vertical herb garden has a narrow profile extending 7 inches from the wall.
Our herb garden takes up less than 3 square feet of floor space in our garden. More importantly, it does a fabulous job at hiding the house’s stucco exterior. The planter is free-standing and is secured with a single bracket and screw to the overhead structure of the house.
On to a more conceptual piece: A second 8-foot-tall wall piece consists of back-lit steel channel bars across a redwood frame. With two large wall pieces, we’ve covered up most of the stucco on this side of the house.
Steel channel bars appear to float in front of this wall piece’s redwood frame.
In mid-2014 we added a Euphorbia ingens in front of the slat wall.
It’s a bit difficult (and expensive) to find an outdoor amplifier for outdoor speakers. Our solution: We enclosed a non-weatherproof amplifier in a custom-made weather-resistant enclosure. So far it’s survived two years of Southern California elements.
We often change up what we grow in the “stage garden” with the seasons. Above, we’ve planted our poinsettias amid poppies, Felicia amelloides, Icelandic poppies and sweet alyssum.
Back in mid-summer of 2013, we were growing dahlias, gerbera daisies and dwarf foxgloves.
In 2015 we added a raised bed system. Check out our DIY here.
We’ve incorporated numerous cinder blocks into our landscape. The bold geometric shapes and shadows of the cinder blocks provide a pleasing contrast to the papery Oenothera blooms.
The Citrus Lounge
Located under the canopy of our mature tangerine and orange trees, the Citrus Lounge is a place for seclusion and quiet — and/or canoodling. Here there are painted cinder blocks that we like to rearrange to match our moods.
This is the most recent outdoor room that we’ve remodeled, so additional shade plants are still to come. Stay tuned for some new wall planter designs!
The tangerine tree (left) and orange tree (right) provide year-round shade over the Citrus Lounge. We painted the bench to match the aubergine bird feeder and tuteur by TerraTrellis.
Woollybush and protea border the citrus lounge.
The Citrus Lounge lies behind the stage garden and the retractable movie screen.
The Dining Room
Rounding the corner to the side yard, and partially covered by the grand canopy of the our feijoa tree is the dining room. The (rust color, traditionally shaped) picnic table that we bought on Craigslist required some modifications and a paint job to match our garden’s modern aspirations. Now it is the center of dinner parties and can seat 10-16 people. Behind the picnic table is another cinder block sculpture next to the strawberry guava tree. Famous for champagne-and-eggs-benedict brunches and dinners with friends, the Dining Room is one of the most-visited outdoor rooms in the yard.
Our side yard, located on the north side of our L-shaped fenced patio. The large guava tree at the center of our side yard provides a canopy over the dining room. Photo taken in late 2013.
North yard in late 2014.
Back in 2009, we converted the angled legs to right angles and cut off the beveled edges to give the picnic table cleaner lines to better match our modern aesthetic. We payed $60 for the original 10-foot-long table on Craigslist.
We painted the picnic table a shade of green popular during the go-go-boot era.
Behind the dining room table is another cinder block sculpture. Here we are using it as a temporary storage for shade plants that will eventually be planted on our friend’s Los Angeles balcony that we designed.
Photo by Tim King.
A ‘Voodoo’ fuchsia grows out of a repurposed ship’s whistle.
An inch plant provides the drop of oxblood in a sea of green.
Where does everyone end up when you entertain? The kitchen, of course. That’s why we built one outdoors. In fact, we made it back-to-back with our indoor kitchen. At 12 feet long with a 7-foot-high chalkboard back, this is the grandest of our stucco wall cover-ups. Ryan built the kitchen unit to be completely free-standing, and of course, it’s on hidden wheels — so that we can, when the time comes, wheel it into the sunset.
From left to right, the kitchen cabinets: 1. stow the garden hose, 2. contain the trash bin beneath a swing door, and 3. and 4. provide additional pantry space (bottles of club soda, placemats, et cetera).
The solid wood countertop is constructed out of construction-grade douglas fir. It was parked in the driveway for two months during construction back in late 2010.
We’re renters, so naturally this kitchen unit is on wheels!
Time to play Hide the Stucco.
The countertop was nearly complete for our 2011 Super Bowl Party. Note the lively game of squares.
We had to accommodate the electric meters.
Two varieties of moneywort, planted in ammo cans, prefer the full shade of this north-facing wall.
The Guava Tree Room
One sunny morning in spring of 2009 Ryan walked outside to a loud buzzing that resembled the sound of a malfunctioning electrical transformer. Looking past the guava tree to the power lines at first, he had to refocus on the (seemingly) hundreds of bees that had found the sweetness of the feijoa flowers of this magnificent guava tree. We can only guess that this tree is over six decades old; we have yet to see a feijoa this majestic and mature. Maybe it was the peachy-gold bark that drew us in?
Last year (2013) Ryan built a table in the negative space of the guava tree to compliment the twisted lines of its branches that extend across almost the entire north side of our yard. After the bees finish their work in spring, we’re overwhelmed by over 50 pounds of fruit at the end of each summer. We’re always looking for new ways to eat and drink them.
Directly across from the tree are our washer and dryer, which we convert into a bar when we entertain. The year-round warmth and shelter and overall good vibes that his tree provides cannot be overstated.
Our majestic Feijoa sellowiana is the centerpiece of the Guava Room.
We built a removable wood bar top and backsplash over our washer and dryer unit to convert it to a bar for entertaining.
The extra fridge above the bar is constantly earning its keep. A strip of quality artificial turf de-industrializes this area of the yard.
Ryan designed the guava tree table to complement the twisted branches of our guava tree.
Our shade plant wall is home to maidenhair ferns, dracaena, coleus and bromeliads. Our favorite bromeliad, Aechmea ‘Primera,’ made a star appearance in our New York Times feature.
At night the guava tree takes on a new light.
A coffee nook.
The Fireside Room
We journeyed back in time to the 1970s (on, yes, Craigslist) to find a vintage fireplace that became the center of attention in the Fireside Room. We could not have gotten any luckier to find this black freestanding Preway fireplace to class up this corner of the yard. We’re big fans of its tall chimney stack that draws the smoke up and away. Ryan designed the wheel-able cedar fireside chairs that also serve as sectional couches. We brought in two classic wishbone chairs and an egg chair to compete the midcentury moment.
In the Fireside Room, we grow Egyptian papyrus, Epiphyllum (orchid cactus), and a string of bananas. The plants here enjoy bright morning sun followed by afternoon shade.
Late 2013, prior to renovation.
We renovated the Fireside Room in Spring 2014 to accommodate our newfound love of epiphyllums! We also built a healthier home for the papyrus.
This string of bananas plant flourishes in full shade.
Want to hang out for a bit? Follow our garden on Instagram! Here’s the latest from our garden’s Instagram feed:
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