Residential PPN Spring 2008 Newsletter
Mediterranean Retreat
by Michael Bernhardt, ASLA
This Malibu, California estate already had a lot going for it: beautiful architecture, a sweeping driveway, a refined front garden – and with a tennis court in the rear of the property, one would think this was heaven on earth.

Unfortunately, getting from the French doors at the back of the house to the tennis court down below was anything but delightful. The rear property consisted of a large turf slope that was divided by a pathway in the center. The slope was catawampus—unparallel to the structure or the tennis court. Leaving the house left one feeling a little tipsy, as the slope was highest on the left and lowest by the tennis court on the right. The turf slope was attractive but not functional; the incline was just enough to make it impossible to set up tables and chairs for a party.

The clients were looking for a creative design solution that would harmonize interesting garden spaces with more usable space to entertain guests. They requested a culinary and cutting garden as part of the design, as well as improved access to the tennis court. We determined that a Mediterranean-style garden with a spa and lap pool was also something they wanted to incorporate into the plan. Wow!

I terraced the garden into three main sections, each with its own distinct garden rooms, and utilized decomposed granite pathways to connect the spaces.

The Upper Terrace
I created a fire pit/reading room retreat near the house at the highest point of the yard. It offers views of the entire backyard and plenty of afternoon shade in its position near the house. Cantera stone caps were used for the fire pit to tie in with the use of stone throughout the house architecture and double as a seat for those who need to warm up near the fire. The fire pit, which is controlled manually, uses natural gas as its heat source and lava rock as a reflector source.

The Spa Terrace
I chose to accent the spa terrace with carved Cantera stone balustrade and saltillo tile patio. This terrace sits mid-level with the pool and offers excellent views of the house and garden.

The Main Terrace
The main terrace is home to the swimming pool. Triangle-palm-accented planting beds surround the lap pool, and the bed incorporates low-water-use and low-maintenance shrubs and perennials. Some of the plants selected were: asparagus ‘meyeri’, coreopsis daisy, trailing rosemary, many styles of landscape roses and succulents. A large cast stone pedestal and an urn planted with epidendrom orchids anchors the focal point for the view from the home. The pool has a raised bond beam that gives it a fountain look and creates instant seating for guests, while it also helps to keep the pool clean from blowing debris. The pool’s waterline tile and accents contain several Italian mosaic tile patterns and the fountain jets also add to the pool’s versatility.

The Lower Terrace
The lower terrace contains kitchen garden rooms with raised beds constructed from colored concrete that provide seating and ease of working and harvesting for the on-site chef. Each bed has specialized soil and only organic amendments for each type of planting. Drip irrigation is used here to dial in just the right amount of water needed. Potted dwarf citrus trees accent the pathways on the lower terrace.

The Cutting Garden Room
The cutting garden room was the last garden developed. It lies on the opposite side of the yard from the kitchen garden. Located between the tennis court and the spa terrace, it has its own pathway that winds around to form the clients’ last name initial. A small bench resides off the path on which to set the cutting basket and tools when working in the area. This garden room is also adjacent

Spa Terrace   Image courtesy Michael Bernhardt

Main Terrace   Image courtesy Michael Bernhardt

to the pool equipment area, which doubles as a storage area for the garden cart and tools. This provides easy access and ensures success in caring for the garden.

Michael Berhnardt, ASLA, is currently the Principal Landscape Architect for Precision Civil Engineering in Fresno, California. He may be reached at

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