Separate Paths: Gardens
“California, with its climate, so wonderful in possibility, is only beginning to be dreamed of… Where the sands of the desert now idly drift and only the call of the coyote breaks the stillness, there may rest a Villa Lante or a Fukagawa garden.”
~Charles Sumner Greene, “California Home Making,” Pasadena Daily News, January 2, 1905
“We were able to do our best design when we could control a complete landscape and then decorate it, as well as the house. This is the only possible way to achieve integration.”
~Henry Mather Greene, quoted in Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, July 19, 1953
Charles Greene’s evocation of Italian and Japanese gardens as models for California’s future presages the Greenes’ adaptations from both formal and naturalistic traditions. Henry’s ideal of the total integration of landscape, architecture, and interior design was realized most completely in the Blacker estate, while his own independent garden designs for Edward S. Crocker, Margaret B. S. C. Spinks, Earle C. Anthony, and others proved him to be a distinguished designer in his own right.
The Greenes invariably chose the most dramatic sites for their houses — at the highest point of the lot or on the brink of a ridge overlooking a canyon, to achieve the best views. Even on nearly flat suburban lots, they employed subtle grading in rolled terraces to ease the vertical transition and conceal outbuildings. Gently curving driveways, paths, and stairways, as well as judiciously placed trees and water elements, manipulated perspective and created sequences of changing views.
None of the Greenes’ gardens was “pure”; instead they freely combined elements from different sources, using stones in a Japanese manner, laying mission-style padre tiles in brick-edged terraces, and integrating existing orange groves. This synthesis of local and exotic traditions, of the naturalistic and the formal, remains a remarkable achievement in the history of the California garden.