De­sign with Na­ture in Mind

An in-depth look at Ruth Shell­horn’s mid­cen­tury gar­den oa­sis.

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IN­TE­GRA­TION WITH NA­TURE In 1948, Ruth was com­mis­sioned to de­sign a gar­den for artist Edith Knapp’s stu­dio in Brent­wood, Cal­i­for­nia. The home­owner ex­pressed that pre­serv­ing views of na­tive plant life be­yond the gar­den was of the ut­most im­por­tance, mak­ing it a per­fect project for the sus­tain­ably minded Ruth.

She de­signed an in­no­va­tive glass screen in front of the view of the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains to protect guests from up-canyon winds. Ruth in­cluded a col­or­ful, tex­tured fore­ground for the wind­screen us­ing suc­cu­lents, as well as or­ange and co­ral fuch­sias, camel­lias and aza­leas. The in­te­gra­tion of the wind­screen encouraged an in­ter­ac­tion with na­ture and is a clas­sic el­e­ment of mid­cen­tury de­sign.

AT­TEN­TION TO DE­TAIL The gar­den was care­fully de­tailed with fo­liage that would ac­cent each area of the pa­tio ac­cord­ingly. Ruth in­cluded rough tim­bers as ris­ers, red­wood rounds for treads, and de­com­posed gran­ite for the path. She planted gar­den fo­liage that would tran­si­tion into the na­tive plants sur­round­ing the ex­te­rior to cre­ate a seam­less oa­sis for the home­owner.

Ruth vis­ited the prop­erty six times a year to track the progress of the gar­den’s growth and give main­te­nance in­struc­tions. Her at­ten­tion to de­tail was one of her strong­est at­tributes as a land­scape ar­chi­tect.

WIND­SCREEN WITH VIEWS OF THE SANTA MON­ICA MOUN­TAINS, KNAPP GAR­DEN, 1950. RUTH CLEV­ERLY DE­SIGNED THIS WIND­SCREEN TO BE BOTH DEC­O­RA­TIVE AND PRAC­TI­CAL, AND SUR­ROUNDED IT WITH BRIGHT AND TEX­TURED FO­LIAGE.

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