In My Garden: Nord Eriksson, Pasadena, CA

Photo courtesy of EPT Design, Inc.

Nord Eriksson, Pasadena, CA
Open Days Garden Designer
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In My Garden, December 15, 2020 special edition

"We are enjoying a mild late fall in Southern California," reports Nord. "The nights have been cool and the days have been beautiful and sunny. Though our seasonal changes are more subtle than in much of the country, working from home this year has allowed me to slow down and notice the shifts in the garden. Each year around the holidays, I pollard my grouping of four London plane trees (Platanus acerifolia 'Bloodgood', above, left). They are busily dropping their leaves and exposing the ten-foot branches that have grown since last spring. We are having a bumper crop of Satsuma mandarins; I can't seem to harvest them fast enough... and they are delicious!"

"Even at this late date, the garden is still blooming. One special bush, Mojave indigo bush (Psorothamnus arborescens, above, left), anchors the steps that lead to our lower garden. Its small indigo blossoms are quite saturated and add a beautiful wild counterpoint to a nearby boxwood hedge. Elsewhere, aloes are just setting their blooms (above, center). And, to the delight of visiting hummingbirds, the salvia 'Amistad' never stops putting on a show (above, right). I'm grateful for all the ways in which this garden feeds me, both body and soul."

In My Garden, November 3, 2020

A view toward the pool in Nord Eriksson's garden in Pasadena, CA

From southern California, Nord sends us a few of his thoughts as the gardening season draws to a close. "Oh, my, what a year this has been…so far! I couldn’t be more grateful for the gift of my own garden as a place of refuge and shelter. As the days shorten and the sun lowers in the sky, the small moments in this garden are a balm to my frayed nerves. These moments promise hope for the future and always welcome me to spend time in the garden whether it be pruning or planting, or simply enjoying all the ways this garden helps restore me."

Ripening fruit: toyon berries (left) and citrus (right)

"Fall in southern California is a decidedly subtle shift. The days and nights are cooler now. We’ve harvested our pomegranates and the figs are long finished. The citrus is beginning to ripen and the satsumas are shifting from green to orange. In the front yard, under the shade of a native Englemann oak (Quercus englemanni), toyons are putting on their annual show early this year with clusters of coral-hued berries."

Left, a new planting of Agave attenuata; right, Agave americana

"I recently planted a large cluster of Agave attenuata in a back corner of the garden (photo, above). I love to plant in large masses or clusters. This new addition plays well with the Agave americana plants that punctuate key moments in both the front and rear gardens." 

"Collections of crassulas, aeoniums, euphorbias, and other assorted succulents fill pots (photos, above) that add a wonderful personality throughout. They all thrive year-round in this climate and teach lessons in weathering extremes and thriving through it all." 

In My Garden, September 22, 2020

Nord introduces Arroyo Overlook, a new project in Pasadena, this week. “History hides away and infuses our lives with depth and meaning. In the case of this two-acre hillside garden in Pasadena, a young family with a newborn and a toddler purchased the property of their dreams as a place to put down roots… their ‘forever’ home. The oak-studded property, anchored by a transitional Craftsman-era structure by venerable architect Elmer Gray of the Beverly Hills Hotel fame, was surrounded by decades of contradictions. The gardens were overly busy and inappropriately water-thirsty. One could say they had lost their way."

“While the house is undergoing major renovations, we’ve begun reworking the gardens to meld the house with the setting in anticipation of family life. Using native ‘Arroyo cobble’ walls (some original, some new), we are accentuating the topography, drawing out long sweeping vistas, and creating a useable lawn in an area simply referred to as the side yard. New paths are being laid utilizing High Desert Stone (also native) in organic gestures. Plantings will be a simple mixture of adapted and native species to complement the architecture and harmonize with the oak woodland. Up close to the house, a more domestic palette anchored by hardy favorites such as Camellia japonica, Gardenia, star jasmine (Trachelopermum jasminoides), and climbing roses will create a sensory experience through color and scent. Further out, drifts of honeysuckle, Ceanothus, and toyon will layer the hillsides and serve as backdrops to the new memories made in the decades ahead.”

 In My Garden, August 25, 2020

This week Nord introduces a new design project in La Cañada Flintridge, CA. He describes the project's background and first steps: "It’s an honor to be asked to come alongside our clients and embark on the journey to create something new. After a year of planning and obtaining approvals from the city, construction is finally underway on a stunning Spanish Colonial Revival home by Michael Imber Architects, a firm based in San Antonio. The home ingeniously enfolds the original swimming pool on the property, sitting at an angle to the original house. The resulting gardens are a delightful series of courts and outdoor rooms that shake up conventional notions of front yard and backyard layout."

"One of the first endeavors with the garden is early tree planting necessitated by the realities of the limited space. It’s a lot easier to get the trees in prior to finalizing the foundation. The first tree planted on the site was a 30’ cork oak (Quercus suber) that helps anchor the Mediterranean plant palette, along with a few existing pines and a native California live oak tree. It’s a joy to work with such marvelous specimens. Investing in a few grandly scaled and thoughtfully sited trees will help this (and any) new home achieve a sense of timelessness while bringing instant shade and soulfulness to the garden."

Rendering of landscape plan (above, left). New cork oak (Quercus  suber) being craned into position (right), before construction of the foundation begins (below). The tree's root box was 96" square.  

In My Garden, August 11, 2020

"Much of my garden was planted with selections observed during my travels in Spain and Mallorca around the time we started to redesign," Nord tells us. "The Mediterranean climate is quite similar to Pasadena and plants that I saw thriving in historic Spanish gardens have also proven to be resilient here."

"Flowering plants keeping the bees and hummingbirds happy include Salvia ‘Amistad’, (below), Aloe ‘Safari Rose’, (above, left), and Nepeta x faassenni (above, right)."

In My Garden, August 4, 2020

"It is definitely summer in Southern California!" says Nord. "Life in my own garden revolves around afternoon swims in the pool and searching out shady places to beat the heat. The bosque of London plane trees is a perfect respite as the trees – pollarded around the first of each year – have grown out to provide a lovely sheltering canopy (above, left). Our fruiting trees include brown turkey figs, which are just now ripening" (above, right).

Accents of Agave americana ‘variegata’ (below, left), morningglory (below, right), and peppermint geranium (above) are all thriving and adding artful interest to their corners of the garden.

In My Garden,
July 14, 2020

"Cheers from Pasadena!" says Nord Eriksson, who brings us updates this week from his Oak Grove Project. "I had a wonderful wrap-up visit with our clients and my heart is filled. They told me that they are enjoying the garden in the evenings so much that they have stopped watching television and, instead, pick a new spot to sit in the garden each evening to soak it all in. Since I last reported on this garden, most of the furniture is now in place and, there are a variety of places to sit! Custom cushions for the built-in daybed arrived and truly transform it into an appealing destination (above, right). In the original sketch for the garden, the daybed was the location of the spa; the clients are thrilled that it was moved onto one of the terraces by the house where it gets used often and doubles as a soothing fountain. The owners’ teak furniture collection was cleaned up well and helps to give this new garden instant gravitas." (above, left)

"Spring and early summer here have been mild, helping the plants to thrive. Even since my last visit two weeks ago, there is a dynamic to the planting that is exciting to see. The agapanthus are blooming and the lambs ear and peppermint geraniums are exploding with new growth. Wisteria vines, newly planted, are already doing a wonderful job softening the freshly painted exterior. Designing gardens is a rewarding vocation and is all the more meaningful experiencing the evident joy they bring our clients."

In My Garden, July 7, 2020

Nord reports on a new project in Emerald Bay: "A spectacular blufftop promontory separating two coves is the setting for an exciting new project on the California coast. The house is undergoing a “to the studs” renovation designed to better connect to dramatic views up and down the coastline. While the site is tight and limited, the views are expansive.

"This is essentially a glass house, with many glass panels that telescope, creating an intimate connection between inside and out. The entire team (owners, architect, interior designer, and landscape architect) is working together to create a holistic environment. To that end, hardscape material will be limited to earthy and coastal-friendly materials: limestone flooring, ironwood decks, and gravel accents. In the garden, we are purposefully limiting the choices to plantings of layered greens predominantly pulled from Mediterranean and Australian species, many of which tend to adapt well to the seaside microclimate. The idea is to provide a peaceful perch where the ocean, home, and garden come together beautifully."

 In My Garden, June 23, 2020

"As the days grow longer and hotter, we’re close to wrapping up the installation of the new gardens at our Oak Grove project in San Marino. Since I last wrote, the stone walls have been completed, the pool tile installed, the pool plastered and filled, and the plantings have been largely installed. It will take the better part of a year for the garden to set its roots and begin to mature…but there is a good amount of structure already. I can’t wait for some of the finishing details: climbing vines and canvas awnings will add a layer of personality to the house, furniture and cushions will be placed, and assorted pots and focal elements will all help to bring a soulful layer to the spaces and vistas."

"Just over five months ago this yard consisted of a massive sloping lawn, a tired pool, and a few small terraces. Through sculpting and terracing the land, a new series of rooms has emerged. As I’ve observed countless times in my work, breaking one large space into smaller outdoor 'rooms' causes the overall garden to feel larger. With growth will come mystery and an even greater sense of interest and intrigue. It’s a joy to be a part of bringing new life to a garden that has meant so much to our clients over the past few decades."


In My Garden, June 2, 2020

This week, Nord's musings are from his own garden. "Spring has been kind to us, with late rains and beautiful days," he says. "It seems that our garden is appreciative and is rewarding us with a spectacular show! When I laid out the bones of the garden, I wanted to accentuate the horizontal lines of the house. Hedges of Pittosporum tobira, boxwood, Eugenia, and Texas privet anchor the rooms, while clipped prostrate rosemary carpets a few major beds. From there, things loosened up and the garden takes on a bit more personality, especially during spring. A quick stroll through the garden this morning revealed a number of pollinators putting on a show."

The use of bamboo, gravel, and an iron circle, in a horizontal space, is very reflective of mid-century modern design (below, left). The corner accent of a display of potted plants shows careful contrast in the variety of plant shapes (below, right).

On display above is Nord's very personal blend of artifacts and plants; a wide variety of textures, materials, shapes, and colors.

"Each year I pollard the bosque of London plane trees around the holidays. They started to leaf out about five weeks ago and are already providing a great deal of shade in this special room on one side of the garden."

In My Garden, May 19, 2020

"When I pulled up to our Oak Grove job site last Wednesday, everything felt a little bit different. It was as though there was a momentary equilibrium amidst the roller coaster of emotions and information that have infused our lives over the past many weeks. The sun was shining, the temperature was 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and the crews were working away (masks on!)."

"At the front door, the painting crew finished painting and reattached the ornamental pear (Pyrus kawakamii) espalier. The new color is lighter than before and the contrast with the foliage on the plaster is particularly appealing."

"In the back garden, work continues with cladding the limestone veneer and caps to the site walls, which trace the new garden rooms."

"The landscape crew has been busy planting. Perennials, including lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) and Salvia ‘Blue Velvet’, are making their way into the borders. A major project underway is the installation of a synthetic lawn under a grand live oak in the lower part of the garden. The owners have struggled with that area for years. While the shade of the oak is a wonderful place to gather, the width and density of the canopy make growing turf impossible. We considered a large area of gravel or decomposed granite as alternates, but given the adjacency to the swimming pool, the synthetic turf won out. While we’re not big proponents of anything synthetic finding its way into our gardens, this is a happy compromise for the clients. They are thrilled.

"There are about four weeks left until the entire project is wrapped up. The light at the end of the tunnel is clear to see and it’s an exciting time in the evolution of this new garden."

In My Garden, May 12, 2020

“We turned a big corner on our Oak Grove project this week. The limestone wall veneer arrived and is being laid up throughout the garden. The first task was to work out the stone pattern. While it would have been easier for the masons to lay up in horizontal “layers”, we wanted a more random mix and they have been able to achieve that with minimal cutting on site." 

"From there we’ve begun to look at the grout—its color and the type of tooling—that will give us that overall feel we’re after. Mock-ups have been put together and we’re narrowing in on a decision."

"At the same time, a new paint scheme on the house is wrapping up and the colors are a beautiful complement to the limestone walls and Dimmick stone paving. After months of planning, it is a real joy to see everything coming together."

“Fine grading has been going on throughout the site, gates and fencing have been installed, and plants continue to arrive. Parts of the garden currently resemble a small nursery. Once the stonework is completed, the planting will kick into high gear. It’s been particularly warm in Southern California this week, which isn’t ideal for a new garden. We’re hoping we see a cooling trend that might give us a bit of a reprieve, allowing the plants to get established for a while before the traditionally hot July-September we are used to.” 

In My Garden, May 5, 2020

"While construction continues at the Oak Grove site, I thought I might mix things up a bit this week and showcase another project we’ve designed, Linda Vista, which is under construction in nearby Pasadena. The circa 1930s Colonial Revival house sits on a special bluff top lot overlooking the historic Rose Bowl stadium. The original main house is being expanded with a two-story Greek Revival addition. Three additional structures (party barn, pool/guest house, and garage/gym) have all been added as part of the expansion. Since the main house sits deep into the lot near the bluff top, the owners were able to get special planning approval to locate the new structures in the front yard, making for a very intriguing and fun family compound."

"After many months of construction, the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into view and work is happening in earnest on site. Most of the new trees have been recently planted. Selections include Magnolia grandiflora, London plane, Southern live oak, and 'Natchez' crape myrtle. The central lawn panel was laid, steel edging and the base layer for the gravel walks installed, and pilasters and paving at stoops and gateways are underway. Once the garden is enclosed with fencing and gates, the temporary pool fencing will come down and Texas privet hedging will be brought in. The 'hedge walls' will frame and form the entry experience and central lawn—defining outdoor rooms such as the dining court and pool yard—and knitting the various parts of the composition into a more integrated whole."

In My Garden, April 28, 2020

Preparing the soil and starting the planting at the Oak Grove project

Some of the plant material, from left to right: a young Ginkgo biloba tree, boxwood sphere used for punctuation at key moments in the garden, coral bells (Heuchera maxima), a California native

In My Garden, April 21, 2020

"What a difference a week makes! The record-breaking wintery conditions broke over the weekend and we have had a fantastic spring week with a lot of progress in our Oak Grove garden. Joining the hardscape crew, the landscape contractor is on site beginning to do some fine-grading as well as adding soil amendments to build the soil for planting, which is scheduled to get underway in earnest even while the hardscape also continues."

"Installation of the stone cobble that borders a large oval lawn is underway. The rustic quality is a wonderful counterpoint to the 'Dimmick Stone' concrete pavers that surface the terraces and add quite a bit of soulfulness to the overall composition. One set of garden steps is also constructed of the cobbles and they are proving to be one of our favorite details so far.

"And, great news on a few more fronts! We found a local tile manufacturer that is still able to produce during the COVID-19 restrictions and an order for the pool and spa lining has been placed.

"Additionally, we received news today that the French limestone that will surface the site walls has cleared U.S. Customs and is on its way to our supplier. With luck it should be on site within a week.

"The progress, wonderful weather, and resolution of the search for a tile manufacturer are a real lift to our spirits!"

In My Garden, April 14, 2020 

"It’s been a very rainy week in Southern California; it’s already setting records for the most consecutive days of rain in several decades. Despite that, work on our Oak Grove project continues in earnest. We are in the “hardscape” phase of our efforts. The new pool is in place, the site re-grading has been largely completed, retaining walls put in place, and the paving is being poured."

"After looking at a variety of options with the owners, we settled on using a technique of poured-in-place concrete that we call “Dimmick Stone,” named after a local concrete artisan who collaborated with the top residential architects and landscape designers in the Pasadena-Los Angeles region from the 1920s-60s. Southern California doesn’t have much in the way of indigenous stone suitable for paving, so Dimmick developed a way of pouring and finishing concrete to resemble stone favored by the architects in their study trips to European gardens. We’re fortunate to have relationships with a few contemporary artisans who have continued the tradition. We are also incorporating reclaimed cobble to border lawn and utilizing stone to accent bands in key areas, such as adjacent to the pool coping.

"We’ve been able to keep the crews working (at safe distances) throughout the COVID-19 shutdown. They are needing to pause on laying up the French limestone wall facing, as it is currently stuck at the port. We’re also scrambling to come up with alternatives for the selected pool tile as our first choice comes from the Bay Area, where manufacturing has been completely shut down. Fingers crossed!"

In My Garden, April 7, 2020


Concept plan for garden at 1778 Oak Grove Avenue residence, San Marino, CA

"My clients have lived in this home in San Marino, a suburb just northeast of downtown Los Angeles, since the kids, now all grown, were small. The upcoming wedding of one of the daughters instigated a rethinking of the gardens, which previously consisted of a large flowing lawn with an informal pool by the pool house. The owners were ready to make a significant change. Taking advantage of the gently sloping site, we developed gardens that are broken down into a series of distinct zones to accommodate both everyday living as well as entertaining on scales from intimate to grand. Formal axes have been set up to lead the eye through the various outdoor rooms, now leveled through a network of walls and steps.
"The plan shown above was our first rough layout of the garden. The clients were thrilled with it, and, other than moving the jacuzzi up to a terrace closer to the house so that it will be used more, this is the very layout we are currently constructing."

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Nord Eriksson

"Taking advantage of the gently sloping site, we developed gardens that are broken down into a series of distinct zones to accommodate both everyday living as well as entertaining on scales from intimate to grand."