Photos by Lucas Michael

IVETTE SOLER'S GARDEN LAYOUTS ARE ANTI-MATHEMATICAL AND eclectic. For a landscape architect, the path is more important than what's planted around it; for a garden designer, such as Soler, it's all about letting the plants take the spotlight. She prefers simple landscaping support: gravel, colored concrete and arsenic-free timbers. And she has no qualms about planting baroque purple irises next to agave, rose bushes against yucca, day lilies with salvias. Seeing a black ruffled poppy in a book by Brit gardening doyenne Penelope Hobhouse, Soler, a CalArts grad who's had bit parts in such films as The Grifters and The Heidi Chronicles, searched until she tracked it down at a specialty nursery and bought dozens of seedlings. As the flowers grew, she realized that these were opium poppies — a fact that evidently didn't escape some passerby: She found pods that had been harvested.

After she and her husband bought a house in Eagle Rock seven years ago, Soler set out to transform her self-described black thumb. “I got the Sunset Western Garden Guide and read it cover to cover. I became obsessed with plants, going to nurseries and buying plants. I realized that just like in fashion, there are supertrends in gardening.” A year later, she mentioned her interest in gardening to her friend Judy Kameon, who shortly after launched Elysian Landscapes and brought Soler in on the first job, planting bougainvillea on the steep hillside at the home of restaurateur Sean MacPherson. Six years later the two still do many jobs together, although Soler has cultivated her own client list as well: She worked with artist Jorge Pardo on the house he built in Mount Washington with the help of a MOCA grant, and they have a number of current projects going, including residences for visiting artists in Denmark.

Petal pusher: Ivette Soler
lets go with beauty — and
the beast, her dog Dexter

— in her Eagle Rock garden.

After a dry winter, Soler is emphatic about drought-tolerant planting, but is not inspired by the strict use of California natives: “I want lushness, not only scrub. Color and texture are just as important as drought tolerance. Plant flowers — let go with beauty! And there are plants such as salvias and exotics from Australia, South Africa, Mexico that are drought-tolerant and thrive in this climate. New Zealand flax makes up such a beautiful structural plan, and it comes in amazing colors. It needs a little more water than a native garden, but nothing like a lawn. I wish everyone would get rid of their front lawns, even half the lawn, and make it a planting border. They'd be amazed how much water and money they save.”

Ivette Soler can be reached at Elysian Landscapes at (323) 226-9588 or by e-mail.

LA Weekly