04 Feb Form and Function: At Home With Jennifer Gilbert Asher of TerraSculpture and TerraTrellis
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.
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: Joy, Gravity, Figure 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!
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.
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 brevifolia, Aloe nobilis, Aeonium ‘Kiwi,’ Aeonium ‘Sunburst,’ Aeonium arboreum, Senecio mandraliscae, Agave 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’).
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.
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.
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.