A STAR IS BORN

BE­TWEEN TWO ICONIC HOMES IN MAL­IBU, CAL­I­FOR­NIA—A CLIFF MAY RANCH AND A MID­CEN­TURY DOUG RUCKER DWELLING— A LAND­SCAPE DE­SIGNER CRE­ATES A GAR­DEN TO UNITE THE PROP­ERTY, PUTTING IT ALL ON CEN­TER STAGE.

Martha Stewart Living - - Everyday Food - PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY CAITLIN ATKIN­SON | TEXT BY JO­HANNA SIL­VER

ADAM BERN­HARD WASN’T TAK­ING NO FOR AN AN­SWER.

Af­ter ad­mir­ing land­scape de­signer Eric Bran­don Gomez’s breath­tak­ing work at the Mal­ibu Rac­quet Club, Bern­hard was cer­tain Gomez was the guy for the job. He wanted a spe­cial gar­den to bring to­gether the two unique homes he’d bought on a stretch of beach in Mal­ibu, Cal­i­for­nia—one that serves as his res­i­dence, and the other a guest­house. The only prob­lem was that he couldn’t get Gomez to re­turn his calls.

For his part, Gomez was phys­i­cally ex­hausted and men­tally burned out. Af­ter 10 years of in­tense land­scape work, he was con­sid­er­ing turn­ing the page on this chap­ter of his life. But Bern­hard per­sisted, and once Gomez set foot on the prop­erty, he signed on with­out hes­i­ta­tion. The chal­lenges were in­deed sig­nif­i­cant—a pro­nounced in­cline be­tween the homes and a need for plants that could with­stand droughts and salt from the nearby ocean—yet the op­por­tu­ni­ties felt end­less. Aside from a few pine trees and a large fi­cus, which he kept to main­tain some ma­tu­rity in the gar­den, Gomez was given carte blanche to start fresh. “That is in­cred­i­bly rare in my world,” he says.

Gomez set out to de­sign a modern Cal­i­for­nia gar­den that would be the key­stone of the com­pound: “as much so­cial as hor­ti­cul­tural” in pur­pose, he ex­plains. He de­vised a ca­sual out­door liv­ing room, full of bold plant­ings and roomy places to gather, and he made the land’s ge­og­ra­phy work to his ad­van­tage. “I like to cre­ate a se­quence of ex­pe­ri­ences, and the more slope you have, the more op­por­tu­nity there is to wan­der and get lost,” he says. “Slopes let you sur­prise some­one with some­thing un­ex­pected.”

Bern­hard joined Gomez on sev­eral trips to the San Diego area to hand­pick plants from in­di­vid­ual grow­ers, in­clud­ing ‘Me­dusa’ aloes from Kevin Coniff. (“I felt like we were buy­ing his chil­dren,” re­calls Bern­hard.) When choos­ing spec­i­men plants, Gomez looks for “char­ac­ter flaws,” like a twisted stem or crooked trunk. It’s partly aes­thetic (“I like per­son­al­ity,” he says), and partly about en­durance: “Those plants have sur­vived some sort of im­per­fect grow­ing con­di­tion. They had to twist and turn to get the sun,” he says. “They’re the strong­est in the long run.”

Para­mount to the project was en­sur­ing amaz­ing views from ev­ery an­gle of both homes. Be­fore sink­ing a sin­gle plant into the ground, Gomez would walk through both homes and look out of ev­ery win­dow to vi­su­al­ize the re­sult. In the end, he suc­ceeded: Now, Bern­hard finds him­self me­an­der­ing from room to room just to en­joy the views. And while you might think Gomez’s her­culean ef­forts would have just added to his ex­haus­tion, they had the op­po­site ef­fect. “I’ve never been more fired up to make beau­ti­ful gar­dens,” he says.

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