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
Dustin Nguyen, actor, & Angela Rockwood Nguyen, model-actor, Mid-Wilshire
DUSTIN: When I sit back here, it really reflects my spirit. When the yard gets a little bit overgrown, I tend to get a bit agitated, my spirit gets a little unwrapped. And then you go and do some editing and cutting here and there, and everything is calm again.
ANGELA: We had just moved into this house — there was just dirt and a lemon tree in the back — and five weeks later I got into a car accident. Dustin put a ramp in for me to get my wheelchair through the back.
DUSTIN: Even before the accident we had wanted this kind of garden back here, and we got estimates from a few landscapers, but it was way too much money. We had just moved in.
ANGELA: I wanted a pond and I wanted him to build me a bridge — and we never had a chance to do it. Then the day before Christmas, Dustin went to the nursery. I thought he was going to get some houseplants. He was gone the entire day. He came home at 6 and a huge truck pulled in, and it was like Hawaii was dumped right in the front yard. There were birds of paradise, palm trees, banana trees — they were only 2 feet tall. The next day Dustin and a few of his friends planted everything. That was the best gift. It’s very therapeutic to come back here and just relax and unwind.
DUSTIN: It’s nice to have the feeling that you’ve done it yourself. Sometimes it blows my mind sitting here and realizing that I did all of this. You make some mistakes — but nothing major. I’m sure even the pros make mistakes. This is the first backyard I’ve ever done. What I’ve realized is that the backyard is a reflection spiritually of how we feel.
Ben McGinty, Underground Arts Society Gallery owner, tilemaker and mountain man, Altadena Shannon LaBaw-O’Sullivan, tattoo artist-owner of Shangri-la, with daughter Rose & son Mars, Altadena
BEN: Part of the idea for the backyard comes from watching the Little Rascals — my favorite show growing up — and having things in little areas, rooms almost. You can’t go in a straight line. You see more as you’re walking around everything. And there’s the centerpiece, a red trumpet vine — native of Mexico — which was probably planted when this space was built in 1950.
SHANNON: This beautiful plant totally encircles the property — it’s almost as if it hugs us, protects us. My shop name developed partially because of the garden out back. Shangri-La is a mythical city that is invisible unless you are led to it. The shop is basic looking, and then when you lead someone back here, they have a Shangri-La freakout reaction — seeing this shiny place of magic and wonder.
BEN: I have a sign over the back door of the gallery that says “Surprise Room.” Shannon, who’s the plant fiend, works her magic on the north side and I work mine on the south — but parts of each of us are on both sides. Actually, it’s time to spin things around. I’m anxious to do some pushing and shoving and rearranging. It’s good to make change, open things up and then put them together again.
SHANNON: Ben loves to move things around. He has changed the positioning of every single thing here a dozen times. And he’s constructed these makeshift walls out of old doors — it’s like a clubhouse. So little of our money has been laid out furnishing the yard — we pull tons of stuff out of the trash, thrift stores. Except for the few annual flowers I get from the local nursery, most of my plants are rescued from the trash.
BEN: We both prefer being outside more than inside. I don’t want to be cooped up between four walls, and you don’t open your windows because you’re afraid someone is going to look in. This gives us seclusion, and we can experiment with things — when you build with baling wire and drywall screws you can change things around really fast and easy — it’s not permanent.
SHANNON: I walk all around this town, and I don’t hear people in their backyards and I don’t see people in their front yards. We’re getting to be a culture of inside people — inside our cars, inside the house, inside the mall, in in in. Breathe fresh air, use backyards!
Recommend: Estate sales (not garage sales) and flea markets.
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