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 Bridge House been built, cantilevered across the meadow, splitting it in two.
The appreciation of nature is an essential part of life in the house. You can see, 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.
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.
Meadow and Trees
The meadow was intended to look natural, even though a specific 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, 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 visitor said: “The Eames House is the only place in LA where you can experience the seasons.”
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.
Around the perimeter of the property, the landscape was primarily native Californian plantings, notwithstanding non-natives such as the Eucalyptus, olives and pepper tree. Of course, the vast majority are 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.
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 also delighted in picking and arranging these flowers, whether a large vase of roses or a tiny vase with a grass blade, clover and delicate colorful bloom. 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, set in the house, echoed the exterior plantings, helping to blur the line between indoor and outdoor.
Bordering the house are many pots, presenting bright spots of color seen both from outside as well as inside the house. The house itself contains a ficus tree, a planter filled with philodendrons, ferns, and African violets. Fresh flowers continue to be picked from the pots and planter beds, augmented by flowers from Farmers’ Markets, to form bouquets. By reflecting the seasons, they seamlessly link indoors and out.
Between the two structures was a central court where visitors would often be greeted. Many materials were laid in the courts: brick, wood, honed stone or rocks. Smaller squares and rectangles were left open, greened with ground covers or planted with a tree such as the Coulter pine, now grown tall.
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, set with a variety of loose plantings that petered into the hillside, but whose blooms beckoned visitors towards the house.
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”.