By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The second transformation of the backyard started last year with my having to enlarge my recording studio inside the house — I’m the co-author of The Color Purple music and lyrics, which opens on Broadway next spring, and I wanted to keep working at the house. It’s a massive project and at times has needed massive numbers of people here. Once I finished that room, I felt the whole house — and yard — needed to rise to the spirit. In terms of working — I networked the yard, which is now wireless, in ’91 — it’s unbelievable to go from house to yard, which puts you in a frame of mind, and then you go back inside and you’re full of sunshine and ready to go.
ALBERTO (above left): The inspiration for the backyard came when I found that there’s a lot of furniture and broken stuff that people leave in the streets in Los Angeles. I started picking up these things and fixing them and putting them in the house. One day the house got full inside so I started putting stuff outside in the garden. That’s how I started the recycled garden.
JAZZ: From time to time we change the decorations. We don’t like to see the yard the same. There’s a lot of meaning for me here. One time Alberto called me to come out and he’d spelled out my nickname, Jazz, with glass beads in a heart. He said, “You are my heart, my moon and my stars.”
ALBERTO: The backyard is all about love. That is the point of the garden. We do everything with love. It’s like therapy — you do it and you relax. When we have dinner, we sit out here and enjoy all these little details. In two or three months the whole thing will be completely different. Every single area has a different meaning, but everything is in relation to love — but it’s love expressed in different ways. My favorite area is the bottle corner — I have a fireplace one of my neighbors gave me, and I put candles out there and I go out and have a little spiritual thing. The area with the eggs I call The Reproduction — how life reproduces, a man and a woman, they get older and then they die. It’s all about recycling.
JAZZ: And it’s about friendship.
ALBERTO: I have a lot of friends who’ve passed away, and I decided to make something for every friend I have — a kind of Walk of Fame in the sidewalks back here. Friends put their footprints and handprints in the concrete, and they’ll come back to see their spaces, and they’re so happy. They leave something here. I feel like the keeper of the spirits for the people who die. Everything comes back — you recycle things, you give something to the air, and the air gives something to you. When you have love, you want to give love to everybody.
KATHLEEN: I rented this property, which has two houses on it, for 10 years before we bought it. We’re sitting where the parking spaces used to be.
RICHARD: We took the place over two years ago, and the changes have been rapid. We drew up many plans — few of which are what we wound up with. It’s been an organic process to understand how we want to live.
KATHLEEN: Our house is very small, so this has become an extension of the house — typical California indoor-outdoor living. Gardening became a hobby after I started volunteering at Aidan’s school. Richard and I both did the master gardener program — it’s aimed at low-income families to do community gardens — through the University of California Cooperative Extension, which is out of UC Davis. They do great research on integrated pest management, and they have a program for people who volunteer. I work in my son’s school as well as with groups such as TreePeople, and we often consult with schools so they can get gardening programs going.
RICHARD: She’s the plant chick and I’m the brick-and-mortar guy. We’re able to edit each other and push each other and challenge each other. I remember reading Scott Nearing and Mother Earth News30 years ago as a teenager and being really inspired by the back-to-the-land movement. I’ve been working with Nader Khalili, who does earth architecture, in Hesperia for 10 years. We’ve been putting some of those practices — using his recipe of earth and concrete — to use in the yard.
KATHLEEN: The herb spiral that’s in the center of the yard is an earth-and-concrete mix. Our fence is plastic and wood pressed together — it’s called Trex — and is no maintenance, no painting.
RICHARD: It’s been an interest of mine to recycle water, and we’re figuring out the mechanics of how to do that. I get a lot of the materials we use from demolition jobs — reclaimed lumber built the chicken coop, and Spanish roof tiles made a good raised bed for plants. Not being one to move to the country myself, this is my way of reconciling that love of homestead and self-sufficiency and the idea of needing to recycle and consider our environment more preciously.
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