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Exquisite Little Jewel Boxes
updated: Aug 06, 2011, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Two very talented landscape designers invited me to Eye of the Day Garden Design Center in Carpinteria last week - something about "new demonstration gardens." I smelled a story. Gas prices and carbon footprint be damned, I drove the 12.8 miles from my downtown SB pad and liked what I saw.

If you're yearning for inspiration for your own garden, or in the market for a focal point to nestle in a flowerbed, you might want to pop down to Eye of the Day, too.

Shining in a chain-link fenced, jumbled storage yard chock full of owner Brent Frietas's garden wares, sit four exquisite little jewel boxes - mini-gardens created from a seemingly limitless selection of pots, statuary, fountains, and garden ornaments.

And, oh, the plants! Santa Barbara landscape designers Arianna Jansma and Jennifer Voss, each with an impressive background in botany and art, have a gift for combining form, flowers, foliage, and texture to create stunning compositions.

Milky-green Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon', sunny Chamaecyparis ‘Goldcrest', and cloudy Euphorbia species create a subtle tapestry of foliage.

Since the earliest manifestation of Eye of the Day in Santa Ynez, Brent has been a fusion reactor of design and marketing ideas. He told me years ago about his vision for an outdoor showroom that would display his merchandise "in real garden situations" while offering a local designer an opportunity to strut their stuff. After a long gestation period, the idea has hatched.

Though Jansma and Voss knew each other years ago through a shared interest in horseback riding, they bumped into each other recently on a garden tour in LA and rekindled their dormant friendship. A few months ago, on a road trip returning from Native Sons Nursery - one of the premiere wholesale growers of Mediterranean-climate plants - opportunity knocked. (Correction: Arianna's phone rang.)

[Billy's Journalistic Confession: I didn't specifically ask who was driving, but I will assume that given these women's intelligence and care for humanity, highway safety was of paramount concern, and the passenger, not the driver, fielded the call.]

Eye of the Day was on the line. They were looking for an interested designer. After a bit of excited discussion, our can-do designer duo hatched a plan to join forces.

"It was too much fun to pass up," said Arianna. "We would have thousands of dollars worth of stock to choose from and a generous plant budget. And Brent gave us complete artistic freedom."

In just four weeks, the ladies sorted through thousands of pieces, developed a concept that would make the most out of the 40-foot by 30-foot space, and put Brent's brawn and forklift to work. They divided the space into four gardens, each with a distinct style: English, French, Italian, and a contemporary-meets-Asia mash-up. After covering the area in gravel, they laid out the bones of the gardens, using tall pots and upright plants to define the edges, then adding a focal point to anchor the space. The real artistry came next.

Putting two talented, imaginative people together to create a project like this isn't always a slam-dunk. I was curious about their collaboration.

"Jenn provided the initial passion and spontaneity," Arianna told me, describing their partnership. "I was more structurally oriented and more elaborately into preplanning. But it all flowed so organically and easily from a loosely designed concept."

The designers created stylistically appropriate framework for each vignette using large containers. In this French-themed garden, a wrought iron cross and symmetrical plantings create a commanding focal point.

"We're a lot alike. We both have strong backgrounds in botany and art, like to get our hands dirty, and work with the crews," Jennifer offered.

The English garden is slightly obscured from view by a line of staked vines in pots. Inside the garden, a pair of clipped boxwood globes add a touch of formality, and around the perimeter, flowing white roses and soft gray foliage complement limestone and gray concrete pots.

My favorite space is the Italian garden, where the designers combined the rich earth tones of terracotta with traditional plants like rosemary, pine, and olive.

Caramel-colored Heuchera ‘Tiramisu' is a perfect complement for this delicately crafted terracotta statue.

Unlike the three traditional Euro-style spaces, the last is an exercise in contrasts and improvisation. The centerpiece is a giant circular millstone with a square "window" in its center. At its base sits an eye-poppingly dramatic arrangement of succulents. This is where Jennifer's special talent with container arrangements shines.

Near-black Aeonium ‘Zwartkop' dominates the center of the planter, flanked by bronzy Sedum nussbaumerianum, and skirted with the delicate texture of chartreuse Sedum ‘Angelina'.

Eye of the Day is one of those places I've always popped into when I'm stuck garden décor ideas. It's like visiting all the "lands" at Disneyland, without being stalked by Goofy. Now it's even better. For those seeking a special garden bauble or the bubbling water music of a fountain, Eye of the Day and their new outdoor showpiece provides a feast of ideas.

And their good taste extends to the designers they attract. What Jansma and Voss have created is no small feat. These gardens required not just an artistic vision and a deep knowledge of garden history and style, but the ability to refine their ideas down to the finest details. If they can pull something like this off in a storage yard, imagine what they can do with a real back yard.

:: :: :: :: :: ::

Jennifer Voss is the owner of Gardefacts, offering a range of services that includes design, installation, care, lighting, and real estate staging. Visit her website (www.gardefact.com) or call her at 805.450.1096.

Arianna Jansma likes to talk to potential clients right off the bat, so she doesn't have a website. You can reach her at 805.845.2723.

Eye of the Day Garden Design Center is located at 4620 Carpinteria Avenue and is closed Sundays.


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