We fell for our house the moment we saw it. We knew that with love and labor we could turn it into our very own little manor house in the city. The backyard, however, was unprepossessing. A key selling point of many houses in Los Angeles is a city view; we didn't have one. On the contrary, our yard was completely boxed in. We had sky, but no skyscrapers. To a lot of potential buyers, that would have been a dealbreaker. (In fact, it had been on the market for a while with no takers.) The lack of a vista didn't bother me, however; the ever-present sight of a rumbling, grumbling city from my windows has always set me slightly on edge. I thrill to its charms from the rim of a champagne flute at the Tower Bar, but at home I'm much happier pretending that I live in the middle of the countryside.
Why else do you think I read books like this? (It's great, by the way.)
So, faced with an exceptional house and completely ordinary back garden, what were we to do? The Divine Italian was temporarily stumped. So I did what I always do in uncertain times: I turned to Diana Vreeland.
(Photograph by Bernard Gotfryd)
She's one of the mentors I carry around with me in my head. (Some of the others -- Cecil Beaton, Vita Sackville-West, Beverley Nichols, Vanessa Bell -- you're familiar with if you read this blog.) Well, I started thinking about the fact that this incredible fashion superstar was born with a profile slightly reminiscent of an Easter Island statue, but instead of trying to work around it, she owned it. She wore minimal makeup, a severe hair style and a commanding gaze. Everything was designed to draw the eye to the face, not away from it. She celebrated her look to such an extent that she became an iconic example of elegance and style.
And presto, there was my epiphany.
What we needed to do was transform our garden's weakest point into its greatest strength. So what if we had no view? What we needed to do was really have no view. We needed to completely erase the outside world from our entire backyard and turn it into our very own secret refuge.
(Highly recommend, by the way.)
It would need to be a mini-garden of enchantment, surrounded by huge hedges to guarantee absolute privacy, filled with climbing vines, flowers, follies and more. It would need to incorporate our "cocktail" pool (so-called because you're never more than a stroke away from one), our future summer house, and have enough green grass left over for games of badminton or croquet. It would need to be part Frances Hodgson Burnett, part Sissinghurst and part Lewis Carroll.
It would take time.
It would take money.
We would do it in phases.
The trees arrived yesterday.