The Eames House 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 first design for the site been built instead. Called the Bridge House, it would have cantilevered across the meadow, splitting it in two.
The appreciation of nature is an essential part of life in the house. You can feel, as Charles and Ray put it, how the house in its constant proximity to the whole vast order of nature acts as a “re-orientor and shock absorber” providing the needed relaxation from the daily complications arising within problems.
While the hardscape and planting areas were defined early on, the actual plantings evolved through the years. A number of factors may have led to this evolution, whether resulting from a deepened understanding of the site, the changing availability of plants or simply how they matured.
Meadow and Trees
The meadow was intended to look natural, even though a specific non-native rye grass was used due to its color and leaf blade shape. It was not mowed; weeds would be allowed to grow and spring bulbs or wildflowers would be planted on a tiny hill.
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, encouraged 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. As one visitor said: “The Eames House is the only place in LA where you can experience the seasons.”
What was once an expansive meadow extending across several neighborhood properties has been reduced. As one neighbor added a fence, Ray grew a plumbago and honeysuckle hedge over it. Later, when a three-story structure was built, Lucia Eames had the hedge grown taller. To keep a sense of expansiveness, views have been opened along the cliff edge above the ocean. Given the substantial growth of the trees from when Charles and Ray first built their home, this has preserved that original play of tree, meadow, sea and structure.
Around the perimeter of the property, the landscape was primarily native Californian plantings, notwithstanding non-natives such as the Eucalyptus, olives and pepper tree. The trees surrounding the meadow and the Eames House are mainly the eucalyptus trees. When their leaves dropped, she and the gardeners would carefully pick up all the leaves from the paths, leaving only the brilliant red ones.
At the end of the day, when Ray would arrive home from the Office, she would step out of her car, pause, inhale deeply and smile. It was always a joyful homecoming to the scent of the trees.
Garden beds were on either side of the two structures: one on the south court by the living room where Charles and Ray would often breakfast at the low table, and the other past the carport. Between the two structures was a central court where visitors would often be greeted.
Multiple materials were laid in the courts: brick, wood, honed stone and rocks. A few squares and rectangles were planted with ground covers or a tree such as the central court’s now-tall Coulter pine.
The south bed had a specific planting plan, reflecting the seasonal shift between the hot/dry and cold/rainy seasons. In addition to being loosely divided into four quadrants, the bed was rimmed by narrow planting strips along three sides (the retaining wall being the fourth). The meadow-side quadrants might hold Icelandic poppies, while the back-side held delphiniums or foxgloves. Star jasmine edged the side facing the living room; the meadow-side edge held miniature geraniums, Santa Barbara daisies and lobelia (earlier, it held different colored verbenas and lobelia); the path-side edge currently holds lavender (but originally held ivy). On all sides, the plants spill lightly over the edges.
The north bed was more informal, scattering a variety of colorful annuals across the raised bed that merges seamlessly into the hillside scrub. Less structured, its blooms none-the-less beckon visitors towards the house.
Bordering the house are many pots, presenting bright spots of color seen both from outside as well as inside the house. Roses of all colors were favorites, but especially clear reds, whites and pinks. Tiny to small roses (particularly pink Cecile Brunner) and tea roses were also preferred, rather than today’s typical mid-sized, store-bought cut roses. Other favorite flowers include violas, especially the ones with faces, and tiny, delicately-formed flowers, from lobelias to Santa Barbara daisies — Ray would exclaim at how precious they were.
Ray delighted in picking and arranging these flowers, whether large vases of roses or tiny ones of grasses and even of what others might call weeds. Mixes of freesias, daisy-style blooms (white, blue or pink), pink or red geraniums (single) and more were picked from the Eameses’ own pots and planting beds as well as the neighbor’s garden.
These vases, as well as the interior’s ficus tree, philodendron-filled planter and African violets, echoed the exterior plantings, helping to blur the line between indoor and outdoor. Today, fresh flowers continue to be picked for bouquets from the pots and planter beds, augmented by flowers from Farmers’ Markets. Reflecting the seasons, they contribute to the home’s seamless link with nature.
Bob Newman, Ray’s gardner talks about the site in the video below, from Ray’s plant lists and the use of pots, to deadheading and the different planting zones through the seasons. To Ray,”every little petal was a flower”.