Stephen Suzman and Jarrod Baumann of ZETERRE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE continue to surround refined interiors and architecture with their beautifully designed and sculpted gardens.
CaenLucier: How did your interest in gardens and landscape design begin?
Stephen Suzman: I grew up in an Edwardian time warp in Johannesburg, South Africa with large gardens that included two major perennial borders which consisted mainly of plants that could be found in pre- war English Gardens. South African natives, other than Agapanthus, Freesias Nemesia and Lobelia were not popular at the time.
My mother and my nurse taught me the common names of huge numbers of annuals and perennials before the age of five. Until I left South Africa in 1967, I was intimately involved in many aspects of our garden planning.
Later on when I lived in Italy, then in France and England, I began to explore some of the great gardens of Europe. Villa Gamberaia, Stourhead, Vaux-le-Vicomte and Hidcote Manor were some of my earliest inspirations.
I began my serious pursuit of landscape design after I had been actively gardening in San Francisco for eight years. A close friend, visiting form the east coast, invited two of UC Berkeley's professors of landscape architecture to tea. When they saw my garden, they suggested I join the summer school at UC and the rest was history.
Jarrod Baumann: I was raised on my family’s ranch in the oak woodlands near Yosemite. My grandfather purchased 800 acres of beautiful land from one of the Getty Trusts. The home that I was raised in was built in 1882 and had been inhabited by some of California’s oldest and greatest families. I created a secret garden with the use of some old stone walls that had once been a sheep-herders pen. Every penny that I could get my hands on went into collecting rare plants. When I left for university to study landscape architecture, I had over two hundred plants thriving in my garden including everything from heritage roses to black arum, calla lilies to honey bush, and the uniquely Californian native Redbud Trees.
CL: South Africa has plant species that are unique to the region. What particular species have found their way to North America by trend or through the hand of your design?
SS: South Africa is a treasure house of plant material. Many of these plants arrived in California during the 20th century. I have an extensive, illustrated lecture on South African plants used in California. I have just counted well over a hundred different species listed in the Sunset Western Garden Book. The Western Cape is one of the five Mediterranean climate zones (the others being central Chile, the Mediterranean itself, California and parts of South West and South Australia) where most rain falls during the winter. Plants of other climate zones in South Africa are also well adapted to California, because of their drought tolerance.
Many South African plants have established themselves and even naturalized in California. Agapanthus, Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies) Calla Lilies, Asparagus ferns, Bird of paradise (Strelitzia), most Pelargoniums; succulents like Aloes and Ice Plants; innumerable bulbs such as Watsonias, Oxalis, Ixia, Dierama, Babiana, Freesia, Gladiolus, Eucomis and Dietes (the freeway Iris!). There are grass-like and rush-like plants called Restios, as well as the Plumbago, Proteas, Leucadendrons shrubs; trees like Podocarpus, Cape Chestnut and Erythrina. Many members of the Daisy family including the Felicia, Euryops, Osteospermum, Dymondia and Gerbera are commonly found in California nurseries. I keep in touch with current hybridization experiments in South Africa and use quite a number in my garden design.
CL: Is Zeterre known for a particular look or does the site and client’s vision play a more important role?
SS: At Zeterre, we are deliberately non-iconic. We feel that it is critical to be site specific and architecture appropriate. We also supply the client and other designers on the team with a questionnaire to identify specific desired program elements as to materials, colors and plant selections. Accordingly, we have considerable experience in both traditional, formal and cutting edge or minimalist contemporary gardens of many different styles and sizes. We prefer to treat each garden as a unique design exercise.
JB: A landscape becomes special when it becomes an extension of the people it surrounds. It should mimic a perfectly tailored original garment that fits your lifestyle, makes you feel great and hints at the person you are inside. It is a one-of-a-kind garment, not a look seen all over town.
CL: In the estate of your dreams, what shape would the landscape architecture take?
SS: My dream garden might incorporate stylistic elements of diverse inspirations such as Capability Brown, Gertrude Jekyll, Fernando Caruncho and Luciano Giubbilei. It might be situated in the more intensively situated garden locales of South Africa, the South of France, western England or Sonoma. I prefer strong, rather formal bones with more casual planting inside the boundaries. I like surprise and tension between enclosed spaces and long, open views. Sometimes, I crave simplicity and serenity and sometimes complexity and novelty. There would be a number of garden rooms which might focus on a style, a season, a color or mood. It could be a minimalist garden, maybe a fall color garden, a white and silver garden, a sinister garden or one that is sculpted. There would always be an extensive kitchen garden and orchard for me to indulge my culinary exploration. There would always be an area devoted to plant experimentation to test new hybrids and extend my plant repertory.
JB: We just bought 40 acres in Sonoma, where I am working on designing my dream garden. I love the French garden aesthetic, especially the old Bastide gardens of Provence. There is such elegance in simplicity. I love simple, tailored gardens with old stone and antique pieces hidden throughout. Order gives my mind peace. However, I do love surprises in the garden. I might hide a blue garden behind the house with seductive blue agave’s mixed with blue atlas cedars and dreamy blue palms. Most people would probably expect me to want a very contemporary garden because of the gardens I have designed. I do love contemporary gardens, because of the freedom to create elements that have never been done before. But it’s the gardens of old where we look to learnstructure and discipline.
CL: When redeveloping a property, at which phase do landscape architects usually join the project?
SS: I feel it is critical that the landscape architect and designers join the project early on to assist the architect and clients with the placement of the main structures.
We can often eliminate unnecessary retaining walls and take full advantage of sun and shade issues. I have never forgotten a project which boasted a 76’ long kitchen/family room. If the kitchen had only been three feet shorter, our client would have had ample room to turn around a large SUV.
JB: I agree with Stephen. As landscape architects, we spend much or our university studies in site planning to be aware of seasonal cycles and sun patterns. Our best projects happen when our clients engage us early on to work with the architect to plan the home’s site.
CL: Do gardens of the past inform you on your design decisions today?
SS: Absolutely! Every garden I have created belongs to the past as well as the present. I am constantly refining my own designs which are encouraged by new horticultural, climate and client demands. Of course, I am beholden to gardens of the past. I have traveled widely in Europe, India, Morocco, and Thailand in addition to my native South Africa and the US to further inform my design language.
JB: I am working with a publisher on a new book called “The Modern Formal Garden”. The first portion of the book features gardens from my travels throughout Europe and parts of Asia. I have been very fortunate to have these gardens impact and inform my views on structure and design. One cannot create a successful, timeless garden without a complete understanding of time-tested design rules. They can be broken, but only after they have been mastered.
CL: You and Jarrod have forged a new partnership at Zeterre. How are you finding this new beginning?
SS: I am often asked, “Why did I join Zeterre”? I have admired Jarrod and his work for several years. It is exciting working with another plant enthusiast as many landscape architects end up using the same twenty five plants time after time. I was impressed by Jarrod's unusual and daring plant combinations. Jarrod also brings a tech savvy element to the table. After I saw one of his 3D fly through renderings, I was hooked. It is such an effective way to express ones ideas and clients enjoy the process more as it effectively facilitates the production of working drawings. We are all able to better understand the feeling of the new reality and can easily answer questions like “What is the view from the master bedroom”, “What does the view look like from the pool”, or “What will the screening look like in 1, 3 or 5 years"?
CaenLucier thanks Jarrod and Stephen for discussing their firm and their love of landscape architecture with our readers.
FOUNDER & PROPRIETOR
PRINCIPAL OF DESIGN
Jarrod Ryan Baumann
PRINCIPAL OF DESIGN
Stephen J. Suzman