What Story Does Your Landscape Tell?

The bride and groom cross the lawn. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The bride and groom cross the lawn. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

There exists a common misconception that there is a right way to design a landscape, that there are certain layouts, certain plant palettes, and certain color combinations that one is required to obey. The truth is that, while based on solid design concepts, too many people get hung up on these “requirements” at the cost of creativity, which can leave landscapes feeling sterile and impersonal. Given the opportunity to create something that truly expresses who you are, why restrain your yard’s potential by sticking to conventional themes? Personally, I’ve always preferred landscapes that tell you a story about the person who created them. At my brother’s wedding back in August I encountered a home that sets the standard for this idea.

Water cascades down the windmill. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Water cascades down the windmill. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The wedding was in beautiful Paso Robles, California at a charming homestead called Home Sweet Home Cottage and Ranch, operated by the Clagg family (if you’re ever in the area and can find a reason to visit, I strongly recommend it). The grounds are broken into a multitude of small vignette settings, each related to the next only in its eccentricity. There is a large central pond ringed with palm trees, a windmill jutting up from an island with water pouring from the top in a sort of 30 foot tall farm fountain. The ceremony took place in front of an outdoor bar whose walls are made up of gigantic slab cross sections of salvaged old growth redwoods. The dinner was held on a well-kept lawn seemed delicate and refined compared to its eclectic surroundings. The barn where the reception took place was decorated with all manner of old arborist tools, antique instruments, and retro neon signs. There is a tree house that

can hold 10 people perched 30 feet up among the massive sprawling limbs of a centuries-old live oak.

Redwood slabs at the altar. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Redwood slabs at the altar. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

All this peculiarity is an embodiment of proprietor of this venue, Randall Clagg. Mr. Clagg is not a typical businessman. He is an arborist by trade, a self-described recovering former hippie, and a character with a personality so unique that he’d seem unbelievable if you found him written into a comic book. Home Sweet Home is the realization of his madcap artist dreams and is always evolving to feed his constant creative hunger. If someone less charismatic had built this landscape, it might feel pretentious and forced, but at the hands of Mr. Clagg the place was drenched in authenticity. It is a pure expression of its creator’s personality, and it is wonderful.

The tree house towers over everyone. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The tree house towers over everyone. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

This authenticity is what transforms a landscape from the simple execution of a design into a magic garden. If you are planning changes to your yard, think about how you can let your creation reflect who you are. Someone who values family and friends highly might create a yard with ample room to play and entertain guests. A die-hard plant lover might tear out every last square inch of turf to make room for a specimen of every plant available. A denizen of the lunatic fringe like Mr. Clagg may never be done, starting two projects for every one he finishes.

The barn, replete with dance floor, chandelier, and neon signs. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The barn, replete with dance floor, chandelier, and neon signs. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Regardless of how a landscape looks compared to a by-the-book design, its true merit lies in its context. If it genuinely represents its creators, it is done right. We shouldn’t be limited by the common ways of doing things. After all, each day we make tons of small decisions about the clothes we wear, the way we speak, how we spend our money, how we treat those around us. All of these small acts define us. Compared to each of these minute acts, creating a landscape is massive. It is a rare opportunity to have a canvas as big as the entire yard to express yourself. It is a canvas that literally wraps your home, it is the ultimate first impression, and if it represents you with genuine authenticity, it will always be perfect.  

By Jesse Eastman

Mr. Clagg checks the pump. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Mr. Clagg checks the pump. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

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