Carol Harsha, meticulous and thorough by nature, has customized her garden at her current ranch-style house into the ultimate space for outdoor leisure life. By visiting plant shows and public gardens, saving clippings from magazines and other resources, and even pulling off the road to snap a photo of plantings that strike her fancy, Carol has built up a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge regarding all things botanical.
This sense of commitment is a common theme for the Harshas and their outdoor environs. The couple was drawn to the property because of the landscaping already in place. “My husband did not want a fixer-upper,” Carol says. The garden had been expertly landscaped and touted large trees and mature plantings. The couple was pleasantly surprised when the previous owners passed along the home’s original landscape blueprints the day they moved in.
“We learned that the original design was by Courtland Paul,” Carol says, referencing the award-winning landscape architect, a pioneer in the field since the late 1950s. “They were for the front, but his influence was clearly visible in the selection and placement of trees, plants and hardscape throughout the property.”
However, many of the plants were now overgrown, not in keeping with the property’s original style or in bad health. Larry was in charge of rigorous overhauls, tearing out the ivy that had taken over the backyard slope and digging out wild palm that had encroached upon the retaining walls. Their new landscape designer, Jill Benshoof, drew up plans for a paved stone eating nook and pond-side sitting area that capitalized on ambling pathways and intimate enclaves.
Today, the Harshas’ garden is a welcoming and peaceful place. In Courtland Paul style, it is naturalistically designed with native plants and eco-friendly considerations. Drip irrigation and condensation strategies ensure the garden requires the least amount of watering; the plants they have chosen yield food for local fauna and can weather droughts common to the Southern California region.
Japanese-style elements, like the fish pond, orchids and garden adornments, are a nod to Carol’s love of Asian aesthetics and give the space an exotic sophistication. The Harshas are well-traveled and like to incorporate souvenirs of their trips in the garden, such as a garden plaque from Japan and collections from voyages to China, Thailand and the Philippines.
It’s no surprise the Harshas entertain often. The many sitting areas and secluded nooks beg for outdoor dinner and cocktail parties. Natural lightweight furniture makes adapting the space for gatherings a breeze. They have a stock of entertaining accoutrements on hand for impromptu brunches or get-togethers: extra tables and chairs, cushions for the brick planters and extra lighting in the form of candles and garden torches. On most days, however, it’s where Carol and Larry enjoy eating their meals al fresco.
The Harshas owe much to a team of landscapers and gardeners-turned-friends who helped with the transformation. Carol’s only regret is that she won’t be able to show the fruits of their labor to the garden’s originator.
“I cried when reading of [Courtland Paul’s] passing in the Los Angeles Times,” she says. “It was my dream to show him how we had honored his original vision as we enlarged the house and developed the landscape that had been lost.”