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  • Elizabeth Burton

Contemporary Coastal Landscaping

Reflecting the Coast’s Natural Beauty through Exceptional Home Garden Design

(Left) "Pacific Coast Highway - Route 1," Image from @stranger_trips on Instagram, Photo taken along Highway 1 in California, USA and (Right) “Shoreham,” Image from @laguna_pools on Instagram, Photo taken in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


California's residential coastal landscape design is remarkably eclectic, often drawing inspiration from Japanese gardening, Spanish and Mediterranean architecture, Classical art, and contemporary sculpture, as well as the surrounding natural environment. While past designs have offered a more indulgent tropical vibe (read: countless citrus trees and tons of terracotta), today’s California landscape architects appear more concerned with organic iterations that blend into the coastline. Punchy tropical flowers and lush greenery have been traded in for sustainable succulents as the industry grows to reflect an increasing public interest in both environmental protection and honest interpretation of the region’s indigenous plant life.


Native Plants for a Natural Garden


Create a Base with Cool, Moody Colors

(Left) “Cushion bush and fiddle leaf fig plant,” Image from @garden_bleu on Instagram, and (Right) “Sea holly,” Image from @isobel.lindsay on Instagram


California's native plants are not only beautiful, generally hardy when chosen properly and ideal for landscaping. They can also be incredibly low-maintenance -- particularly those that are drought-tolerant and do not wilt in direct sunlight. Home improvement company Happy DIY Home notes in their recent article "15 Low Maintenance Landscaping Ideas" that "native plants have been thriving on their own without any human care for centuries." Though native plants are "often overlooked because they aren’t all as showy as the annuals and non-native perennials" common to garden centers, they can easily function as the perfect backdrop for other, more vibrant plants!


Soft, cool colors like murky blues, muted greens, and faint purples provide the perfect base for a coastal home’s front or backyard landscaping. Native, drought-tolerant plants are often found in these shades while their differing textures offer contrast. Consider a variety of shapes and profiles in plants chosen for the garden; a mixture of vertically oriented plants like sage and lavender with rounder, shallower plants like cushion bush and Festuca. Sea holly is another stunning plant that manages to echo both the desert and the ocean, a lovely representative of California’s natural diversity.


Feature a Few Flowers

(Left) “Matilija Poppy,” Image by @kitchen.table.productions on Instagram, and (Right) “Limonium perezzi (sea lavender),” Image from @thegardensocial on Instagram


Once a base has been established in these cool colors, add other California-natives; there are many drought-tolerant perennial plants that will add interest without demanding intense upkeep. Consider a variety of the poppy, whose fields in the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in LA County draw thousands between March and April each year; the Matilija poppy (pictured below left) offers a more delicate color balance than its orange cousin, with a pom-pom-like bright mustard center. Warmer purples can also be added to aid the transition between the cool, succulent base and any bright flowers; sea lavender (pictured below right) is a subtle but striking choice.


Plant Placement


Living Walls

(Left) Faceted Modular Ceramic Living Wall Planters, Image from 1stdibs, and (Right) “Living Wall” by Tend LA, Image from @creativeconceptlandscape on Instagram


Bring the garden closer to the home by adding either a full or partial living wall to the side of the house. According to Lotte Brouwer in her article “Modern Living Walls: The Interiors Trend that Keeps on Growing” for Living Etc., “One of the biggest indoor gardening trends is the living wall, or vertical garden – a collection of wall-mounted plants that breathe life into both gardens and interiors.” Vertical gardens, whether they feature cacti, herbs, or more exotic plants, offer a transition from the outdoors while maintaining its atmosphere. Brouwer recommends “low-maintenance plants that enjoy the high life, such as ferns and grasses.” Consider a set of planters like the Art Deco-inspired Faceted Modular Ceramic Living Wall Planters fourteen-piece set pictured above on the left, available through 1stdibs.


Hanging Succulents

(Left) “Ghost plant,” Image from @sebasv00 on Instagram, and (Right) “Burros tail,” Image from @sendme_succulents on Instagram


Hang succulents, like a string of pearls, eucalyptus, ghost plant, or burro tail, from the veranda for an underwater feel; despite their drought-tolerant nature, hanging succulents can echo the shapes of jellyfish and other aquatic life, making them the perfect accent plant for a coastal-centric home. While beautiful and low-maintenance, plants like the ghost plant or burro tail (both pictured above) do require “full sun or bright dappled shade,” according to The Spruce. They also need excellent drainage to protect their root system; succulents are perfect for areas with little rainfall -- they need only weekly watering when outdoors and biweekly watering when indoors. Ghost plants are one of the best choices for hanging or isolated pots, as they need constantly circulating airflow to stay healthy.


Organic Architectural Elements

(Left) Low concrete retaining wall, Image from @vito_vitone on Instagram, and (Right) Japanese rock garden, Image from OfDesign.net


Nearly every garden features a few architectural elements, from pools to ponds and retaining walls to stepping-stones. Consider more organic shapes for these elements, adding terracing and curves wherever possible to echo the undulating coastline and stepped appearance of cliffs and beaches. Draw inspiration from Japanese garden design and include smooth stones separated by negative space for a rock garden element. According to Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden by Teiji Itoh, the tradition of laying stones at intervals (with space between them where moss, grass, sand, or pebbles are placed) originated with a legend in which a 15th-century military leader, while visiting a monastery for tea, instructed his attendants to lay garments on the muddy ground so he could step from one to the other without dirtying his shoes.


The philosophy behind Japanese gardening is one that lends itself well to California's coastal landscaping. According to David Slawson in his article “Authenticity in Japanese Landscape Design” for Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s blog, one should “design the garden so that its beauty accords with the site and responds to the passage of time as sensitively as do leaves in a whispering breeze.” Consider adding a stone pathway like the one pictured above on the right.


Modular Modern Outdoor Seating

(Left) Paola Lenti's Otto Collection, Image from Paola Lenti website, and (Right) Giandia Blasco’s Solanas Round Chill Bed by Daniel Germani, Image from Giandia Blasco website


Lastly, consider seating that resonates with both the house’s architecture and the surrounding environment. Continue the focus on contemporary, organic shapes by choosing retro-inspired pieces like those pictured above in Paola Lenti’s “Otto” collection; each piece features beautiful upholstery of “rope cord sewn with a spiral-like pattern,” perfectly evocative of the seaside. The fabric also “offers high resistance to abrasion, to UV rays, and to sea and swimming pool water.” For a similar aesthetic with more structure, consider Giandia Blasco’s Solanas Round Chill Bed (pictured above right) by Daniel Germani, which can easily seat up to three people and is also “covered with water-repellent fabric.”



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