Los Angeles is a city where people are obsessed with their gardens, where conversations at a party are as likely to touch on horticulture as they are on sex, where houses explode with wisteria in the spring and bougainvillea in the summer, and the mild-mannered dude down the street — the one you never see except on trash day — may turn out to harbor 200 kinds of roses in his postage-stamp backyard. Gardens bring Los Angeles into steamy, fecund life.
The west side of town, where the climate zones shade cool and your grandmother’s fuschias swarm like hot-pink bees, has its own set of garden gurus. But on the hot, urban slopes of the lands east of La Brea, Judy Kameon is the auteur who makes the gardens sing, spreading her exuberant, architectural compositions across the landscape from Hollywood to Glassell Park, one yard at a time.
“Los Angeles is the best place in the world to be a landscape designer,” says Kameon, cuddling her 3-week-old baby in her bright Elysian Park dining room. “The climate is Mediterranean. The best growers in the world are here. There is a lot of space — even a bungalow yard gives you a lot to work with. We have Hollywood, where people are not afraid to spend money on dreams. And Los Angeles is not like Paris — we don’t always have gorgeous places to walk, so people are passionate about creating private gardens as a relief from all the concrete.”
Have you ever seen one of Kameon’s gardens? Her designs are lush, strong and clean, combining things like Japanese maple and pampas grass, agaves and juniper, ivy and sage — the lingua franca of the Los Angeles gardens we all grew up with, but sliced and diced and remixed into saturated blocks of pure color, like a talented hip-hop DJ weaving scraps of the Delfonics and the Isleys into something that smells a lot like art. Kameon’s gardens couldn’t exist anywhere but L.A.
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“Some people see gardens as a beautiful but essentially passive experience,” says the one-time fashion designer and art-world hostess. “My colleagues in Elysian Landscapes and I design gardens to be lived in. You have a floor (lawn, rock), walls (bamboo, pittosporum), a ceiling (a canopy of trees; the sky). We’re basically building rooms. And when we’ve done our jobs right, the garden becomes so compelling yet so functional that you use your outdoor space as much as you use your house.”