Driving on an ordinary road that twists and turns up a residential hill just outside of Los Angeles, one would never know that situated a few steps above street level there exists a piece of Hollywood magic that would rival any studio backlot.
But take a walk up the cobblestone driveway that leads to the home of Tannis and Tom Smith, and you’ll soon discover why Jonny Appleseed Landscaping of Beverly Hills, California, was awarded the 2010 Special Effects trophy for “best use of unique methods or materials or special artistic effects” by the California Landscape Contractors Association for this property.
From the walkway of flowering pear trees that form a welcoming arc at the entrance, past the reef and waterfall flowing into the swimming pool in the front yard, the handcrafted gates lead guests to the back of the home and into a completely different world filled with waterfalls, stone carved mountains, a miniature Alpine village and even an oriental Buddha.
Orchestrating an artistic tapestry on what once had been nothing more than a barren hillside was not so much just another project as it was an expression of the masterful creativity of a true virtuoso who is affectionately known as the “Gardener to the Stars”—Jon Goldstein, owner of Jonny Appleseed Landscaping.
Goldstein’s artistry lives and breathes within the beautiful gardens he creates. He not only designs and builds landscapes, his offshoot company, Core Designs, creates custom, unique concrete finishes, coloring techniques, fountain designs and many other detailed aspects of visual artistry that Goldstein, an accomplished musician, calls “music in 3D.”
So, it was no great surprise that he was approached by architect Steve Bardwell to compose the perfect visual concerto of the house with the surrounding landscape.
“The Smith project was a wonderful and exceptional opportunity where the client and I worked to create their very own unique environment, specific to their wish list,” Goldstein said. “They were especially excited about our idea of planting additional fully-grown trees to complement the existing oak tree. We designed them to form the framework for the upper garden, sitting area, stream, waterfall, and fairy garden.”
It soon became apparent to Goldstein that the garden would need to be built before the house was framed, because of the tremendous number and weight of the trees. More than twenty large trees were installed in a single day. One boxed oak alone weighed over 10 tons.
“We brought in a Ginko that is more than 30 years old and weighed 10 tons, and we planted the largest Japanese maple that I have ever seen, in a box that weighed more than eight tons!” Goldstein said.
The upper garden was built with objects Goldstein found lying around the property. Shoring boards, long since abandoned on the hillside, were recycled and made into the bridges and rails which lead through the hillside garden.
Partway through the construction process, Goldstein hit an unexpected snag. “We didn’t have any problem getting permits from the city planners where the house is built, but about six feet of the lot in the top corner is within 1,000 feet of an adjacent city, so we needed to get additional approval from their review board as well, and that caused an unexpected delay.”
Another hurdle Goldstein had to clear before getting approval for the three-foot walls and waterfalls was showing the city planners how they would be supported on the steep hill. Due to the city’s rules and regulations, especially in a seismically sensitive area, Goldstein had the additional expense of having to drive several 20-foot caissons into the soil until they hit rock to secure the hill. Once they we were given the okay by both municipalities, the project moved forward without any other problems.
The first structure Goldstein needed to build was a retaining wall. Like all the other aspects of the project, a normal stone or concrete wall was not going to suffice.
“I proposed a rock sculpture constructed of a carved concrete solution simulating a mountain rock wall. Our faux bois department made the railings using real twig rails, tree supports were made of iron, concrete and rebar and colored to make them look like a natural part of the oak tree on the hill,” Goldstein said.
Once the wall was in place, the rest of the planting materials began to blossom with a combination of natural and man-made natural-looking plants and trees. “We took tree trunks from the adjacent property and put them into the wall to make it appear as realistic as possible,” Goldstein said. “The upper garden was built with an assortment of objects, such as dead trees and shoring boards that had been abandoned as litter. We recycled all of it into the bridges and rails which lead through the garden.”
The steps leading up the garden slope are made of railroad ties, inserted vertically, which lent a nice artistic touch; the lower garden has a Koi pond at the bottom of the waterfall. All of the masonry and concrete coloring was manufactured in-house by Goldstein’s company. Each board on the gates was hand-distressed, and the iron work and all of the lighting and carpentry was also designed and installed by his crew.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the project was how the man-made materials were seamlessly incorporated with the natural surroundings, to where one can’t see where one ends and the other begins. One such example is a very large natural branch jutting out of the oak tree and supported by what appears to be another branch, but is, in fact, one of his company’s creations.
An enjoyable and unique aspect to the garden is the number of edible plants and trees that cover nearly every inch of the mountainside. “Everywhere you walk, you’ll find something good to eat,” said Goldstein. “The Smith’s daughter lives two doors down and their son lives across the street, so they wanted to have an environment the entire family could enjoy and entertain and eat healthy, natural foods as well.”
“We planted a fruit salad tree that features a peach, plum, nectarine, and an apricot all on the same tree, a citrus fruit salad tree, and other edibles, such as pomegranate, peaches, grapefruits, Satsuma tangerines, Valencia orange, Eureka lemon, black figs, and a raised vegetable garden of lettuce and herbs.”
Besides the delightful cuisine, family and friends can enjoy the beauty of a western sunset over the California hills from the seating area constructed around one of the oaks. A six-foot chime that hangs off one of the branches adds to the ambiance of the garden.
Goldstein’s crew of around thirty to forty worked steadily for nearly six months to finish Phase I. The swimming pool, front deck and lawn area were completed about a year ago.
“We worked on several projects at a time,” he said. “There were always between seven to fourteen crewmen working every day. The best part was, for a project costing more than $1 million, we managed to stay within the budget we planned for, even with the city permit delays.”
Another glitch with the city inspectors was their concerns with the hillside irrigation. The city has strict regulations regarding the use of spray heads on hillsides, insisting that drip irrigation was the only method allowed. But Goldstein managed to convince them otherwise.
“In this kind of a rugged hillside, I find that there is a problem with small animals who like to chew on drip lines. All of the irrigation nozzles we used were Toro Precision Sprays and MP rotators, which are very good water conservation nozzles, so they agreed to meet us halfway. It was the first time the city actually allowed spray heads to be used instead of drip,” Goldstein explained.
In the upper front yard, the pool, caissons, grade beams, equipment room and masonry were also designed and built by him. The pool features a beach entry, a reef in the pool, a trademark steeping area in the spa and LED lighting that changes color.
Goldstein said he’s especially proud of his company’s reef technique, used in the swimming pool.
“The lane marker is made of stone, and the tile line is made entirely of real rock. An arbor was created on the entry to shade the guests and give them an unexpected and beach-like welcome,” he said. “It was especially important that the pool equipment be completely hidden and silent, so that the garden ambiance entertained my clients and their guests with only the sound of falling water and not humming motors.”
Goldstein points out that the entire irrigation system is controlled by two smart controllers, one in the front and one in the back. All of the outside lighting, from the entranceway through the backyard, and the bubbles in the pool, are controlled by a wireless controller, which in turn is controlled by a Smart House wireless system. With it, the Smiths can operate any feature of the garden from their iPhone or iPad from anywhere in the world.
The final phase of the irrigation project will include the installation of an eco-friendly water recycling system. “We’re going to be capturing the stormwater runoff with a rainwater harvesting system that is being installed in the front yard. The homeowner will be using that, instead of city water for their irrigation.”
Beauty, creativity, conservation and craftsmanship have certainly come together to create a finely tuned chorus of landscape perfection.