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Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Erica Lennard
Secret Gardens of Hollywood
September 13, 2003
Original article: PDF

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Excerpt from this book classified under "Romantic" themed gardens:


This book offers a peek into the most beautiful private gardens of Los Angeles, one of the most verdant places on earth. Life here is meant to be lived outdoors and extravagantly, and these gardens reflect the town's larger-than-life personalities, who take pride in their extraordinary garden sanctuaries.

The sunny, warm climate in L.A. allows garden designers to unleash their most creative gardening fantasies, using plants collected from all over the world. The twenty-five gardens in the book illustrate the remarkable range of styles in the area, from Joni Mitchell's whimsical Bel-Air garden retreat, to a garden of rare succulent plants at Jack LaLanne's former residence to Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's Southern-style country hideaway.

Featuring all-new photographs by Erica Lennard, coauthor of the bestselling book The Art of Doing Nothing, this escape book is sure to appeal to gardeners and star-gazers alike.


We've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

When Joni Mitchell first sang those words, she was referring to global consciousness. Now those same words also apply to Mitchell's own Los Angeles garden.

Although Mitchell has lived in the same house since 1974, until recently she has largely ignored her backyard. "The first ten years that I lived in the house, I was on the road or working on deadlines," says the singer/songwriter/artist whose latest album, TRAVELOGUE, features jazzy, throaty takes on some of her own classic songs. "I had no time to stop and smell the roses."

There were occasional forays into the garden. A landslide in 1976 ("the hills are hard brown sugar," she says) took out a lower orange grove but gave her room for a gazebo. A concrete strip is a memento from when she planned to have roller-skating parties. For the most part, though, Mitchell was content to let her gardener keep things going.

Then two years ago, when she lost three crown palms to blight—at the same time that the rainforest around her property in British Columbia was drying up—she decided to take a year off work and put her garden in order. "We have been fighting all kinds of blight since El Niño," she says. A pine tree had fallen through the roof. An avocado tree near the swimming pool sat in a puddle of chlorine from a burst pipe. A bougainvillea had turned spindly. "There were a lot of sick trees," she says. "I wanted to step outside and feel happy, not depressed because all these plants were dying."

Her lushly planted collage—old camellias and gardenias, palms and ferns, fig trees, jacarandas and lilies—little resembles the all-white Mediterranean house that first greeted her in the 1970s. Now the house is muted in color—"the patina is just starting to get good"—and the garden is all gangly and full of weeds. "My favorite gardens are wild, not formal," says Mitchell. "I get more thrill out of the wild."

Mitchell is a flatlander, a child of the Canadian prairies and the first generation of her family to leave the farm. The blue grays/sage greens of Saskatchewan gardens are still the colors toward which she gravitates. Her own tiny childhood garden had portulaca (a succulent with waxy red flower and variegated leaves used as ground cover) and opium poppies; it's where she first fell in love with succulents.

"I plant freestyle. Nature picks the right spots," Mitchell says. "My gardener, Richard, left to his own devices, is a spacer—he would set plants up like picket fences. I'm a grouper." Together they planted crepe myrtles (her 90-year-old mother is named Myrtle) and silk trees. They pried away the honeysuckle that had overtaken the swing and "unburied" the jasmine that had been eaten up by a wisteria. They put in plants that attract butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds. "Any flying, floating thing is auspicious, a joy bearer, a magical messenger," Mitchell says.

"It's hard to classify my garden—it doesn't have that American perfection," she adds. Brick edging and paths give it a "cottagey formality." She created vignettes in every corner with baker's racks, baskets, statues, and wallhangings that help break up the symmetry of the architecture. "It looked too new and boxy," she says. "It's nice when things get tumbly."

Mitchell is still adding to her garden—it is an eternal work in progress—but now she has turned her attention back to the recording studio. She dips into it when she needs reassurance or mental refreshment. "In every myth, we are the tenders of the gardens," she says. "Ancient cultures knew when to take and not, how to take and not, and they understood the custodianship of plants. My mother has always had a sustenance garden. She would always tell us that you don't need a psychiatrist if you have a garden. If I'm mad, I go pull weeds."

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