The structure and its contents are often the focus of attention, but the landscape is critical to their understanding. As Charles said, “Eventually everything connects”.
The final House design was nestled into the hillside, driven by the Eameses’ decision to preserve the meadow and a row of eucalyptus trees. Imagine how different your experience of the site would be had the Bridge House been built, cantilevered across the meadow, splitting it in two.
The hardscape and planting areas were defined early on, but plantings evolved through the years. A number of factors may have led to this evolution, whether a deepened understanding of the site, the changing availability of plants or simply how they matured.
The appreciation of nature is essential to life in the house. One of our goals for the 250 Year Project is to consider how to retain the Eameses’ original intent for the landscape. How will the Eames Foundation maintain the spirit of the site as the “re-orientor and shock absorber” as Charles and Ray originally proposed in the 1945 issue of Arts & Architecture magazine.
How will we maintain the design aesthetic in the face of a maturing landscape, as trees continue to grow (below left to right: early 1950s, early 1990s, 2013).
We expect the changes that have already impacted the site to be on-going, and others to arise. Fire and mudslides have been ever-present risks. Neighborhood encroachment, drought (including increased deer depredation), climate change and more are being considered.
As a living element, the site is both flexible and adaptable to change. But it is a delicate balance of nature and the Eameses’ will, as they carefully crafted their site to present its natural elements in the best light possible.
The meadow moves between green and sere as the winter rain falls or the summer sun blazes. Typically, it is reseeded in advance of the winter rains, allowed to grow with supplemental watering through April and May (extended depending upon whether events were planned) and then allowed to die when the dry summer months came. In years of extended drought with scant winter rains, we stop reseeding and watering the meadow.
As one neighbor added a fence, Ray grew a plumbago and honeysuckle hedge over it. When a later three-story structure was built, Lucia Eames had the hedge grown taller. But what was a once-open and shared large meadow has been reduced. To keep the sense of expansiveness as hedges have grown, extending the density along the berm down towards the ocean hillside, views have been opened along the cliff. Interestingly, that increased openness at points along the cliff edge reflect photos from the earliest days of the site.
During Charles and Ray’s lifetimes, volunteer trees (not planted by human hands) were allowed to grow. They were replacements for the future, ready to take over for the originals first planted in the 1880’s by Abbot Kinney, when they would no longer be viable. Over 60+ years, the on-site tree density has increased significantly. While the above left photo was clearly taken during the 1949 construction, the photo on the right was taken in 2013. The Foundation is currently examining and sequencing historic photographs in order to better understand the original plan for the site.
Every two to three years, the eucalyptus trees around the house and meadow are pruned Link for house and visitor safety. They are pruned to build structural strength as well as beauty.
We recently planted a persimmon tree, grafted from its now-dead parent. The parent was a gift from Eero Saarinen to the Eameses soon after they moved in. Other significant trees (whether significant due to their provenance or design) are being considered for grafting.
Ray created lists of preferred plants and drew planting plans of the raised bed by the South Court. The above photos are contemporary. While the look of the specific flowers and arrangements are appropriate; the orange-red geraniums were on Ray’s plant list and the Santa Barbara daisies were not. Which is more important: the look of the plantings or their genetic accuracy (based on a shrinking availability of approved plant list flowers). Further, when Ray would go plant shopping with her gardner, she would constantly seek out new plants to try… beautiful, precisely detailed plants, often as replacements for failed or unavailable plants.
We look forward to exploring this question further when we begin our conservation plan for our landscape. For now, we continue to collect data and seek alternative sources for heirloom and other plants.
In order to understand the landscape more deeply we continue to analyze photographs taken by the Eameses and Ray’s records of plantings as well as conducting oral histories with our long-time gardner, Bob Newman, and others. Here he talks about one of the planting beds.