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5 Famous California Garden Designers

Updated on September 22, 2011
Il Brolino garden design by Florence Yoch and Lucile Council.
Il Brolino garden design by Florence Yoch and Lucile Council.

California saw amazing garden design in the early twentieth century. Today there are garden design programs that people can study in school to learn how to create magnificent gardens that work within a specific climate, such as the California climate. However no such option was available at the beginning of the twentieth century, which makes the work of the great designers of that time even more impressive. They were creative and cutting-edge for their time and yet their gardens remain beautiful and inspirational in design today. Let’s take a look at five of these great California garden designers: Lockwood de Forest, Bruce Porter, Francis Underhill, Florence Yoch and Lucile Council.

Lockwood de Forest

This creative guy is well known in California history, although he is not necessarily known specifically for his garden design. He was a painter and decorator and was considered a key part of the American Aesthetic Movement in art. Originally from New York, he retired to Santa Barbara and began garden design work in the 1920’s.

Lockwood de Forest took his foray into gardening very seriously. He apprenticed with a landscape architect. He took classes in landscaping. He studied the gardens of Mediterranean climates like Spain and Italy. Of particular amazement is his design of Val Verde Estate in Montecito, California.

Val Verde is an estate design that he was commissioned to do by a friend of his, Wright Ludington. The goal of the design was to help make the house, which sat on top of a hill, blend into the natural surroundings through use of great landscaping. In addition to beautifying the property, Val Verde’s design celebrated California’s great nature with a design that overlooked the best scenic views.

What is wonderful about de Forest’s design of this estate is that he used plants sparingly but appropriately to enhance the additional architectural details that he added to the space. For example, he added native evergreen oak trees around reflecting pools to bring stately beauty to the property.

Val Verde is one of just many great estate gardens that Lockwood de Forest worked on. Others included Casa del Herrero, The Meeker Estate and the garden on his own property in Santa Barbara.

Bruce Porter

Like Lockwood de Froest, Bruce Porter had a background in other types of art before moving forward in landscape design. The San Franciscan is best known for his design of the Filoli garden in Woodside, California, a garden which is open to the public and can be visited today by people who want to see great California garden design.

Porter was commissioned to create this garden design by William Bourn III. Bourn really liked the style of English gardens, something that was not common in California where garden design is more traditionally based on Mediterranean gardens. Porter was the right guy for the job because he enjoyed combining English country garden style with Italian garden style for a unique look. Filoli represents this blend of garden styles. That was no small feat considering that there are sixteen acres of landscaping here!

The Filoli garden is an architecturally elaborate garden, featuring striking items like Italian columns. There are numerous garden rooms throughout the larger garden, providing a sense of peace throughout the space and also showcasing different elements of design.

Bruce Porter was also a garden designer for the Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley, among other projects. He is California-born.

Francis Underhill

Like Lockwood de Forest, Francis Underhill was born in New York before moving to California. In fact, the two knew each other well, working on project like the Casa de Herrero estate garden together. Underhill created garden design for several other Santa Barbara area estates as well. One of his best-known garden design projects was the Arcady garden design on the George Owen Knapp Estate.

Underhill was another California designer that really celebrated the striking features of the dramatic state landscape. The Arcady garden has scenic views of the mountains and ocean. It definitely has to be difficult to design a garden that is striking in its own right in the face of such natural beauty so that’s a testament to the work of this garden designer as well as the other California garden designers featured in this article.

Underhill completed a number of other great garden designs including the design of his own Montecito garden, which included a series of greenhouses among other features. He was a building designer in addition to a landscape designer and reportedly built more than two dozen California homes.

Florence Yoch and Lucile Council

Florence Yoch stands out as one of the only female garden designers of her area. She actually did get a degree in landscape gardening before opening her own garden design practice. Her life partner, Lucile Council, joined her in this practice and they created beautiful California gardens together.

Yoch and Council were prolific in their work and are known for creating gardens at The Getty House, Rancho Los Alamitos, the Howard Huntington Estate and what is now the campus of Cal Poly Pomona. One of their most popular California garden designs is the Il Brolino estate garden, which represents their ideal style of bringing a classic aged look to contemporary California gardens.

Il Brolino is a California garden based on Italian villa garden design that was commissioned by Mary Stewart. It features a rose garden, topiary garden and sunken garden among other garden areas. The most popular of all of the gardens is the topiary garden where plants shaped into fanciful creatures appear to come alive. What a fantasy! Yoch was a set designer for my favorite movie, Gone with the Wind, so it’s no surprise that she could bring striking design to a garden!


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  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    Nothing better than wander through a lovely laid-out garden. Thank you for sharing.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

    I love visiting beautiful gardens. Thanks for the information about these garden designers. Enjoyed it!