Earth Work

Olives and pistachios give way to native oaks and Monterey pine trees at this Pebble Beach home, located on two acres in the Del Monte Forest.

IT’S NOT UNCOMMON FOR CLIENTS OF BLISS LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, a high-end residential landscape design firm based in Carmel, to start off with a list of all the activities they want out of their outdoor spaces: cooking areas, bocce courts, areas for dogs to run and kids to play. “They are pretty fired up about it, but we make a case for part of it just being quiet, particularly for views from intimate parts of the house, like a bedroom window or bathroom window,” says owner Michael Bliss. “We do not try to activate every part of it.”

Bliss and his six-person team spend up to two years in the design and permitting phase of projects, which includes multiple site visits at different times of day, trying to get a sense of the sounds, the wind and the light as it changes. “We typically work on projects that have an immediate connection to the environment,” Bliss says. “There’s the ability to connect with the natural world, the idea of placemaking.”

Many clients’ homes are located adjacent to wild places – think Tehama, Santa Lucia Preserve, Pebble Beach – and proximity to nature is why they live there. How to achieve that while supporting native plants (but taking out species that are unpleasant to humans, like stinging nettle and poison oak) while also accommodating human needs and paved spaces is a balancing act, part engineering and part artistry.

Marie Goulet, founder of Carmel Valley-based landscape architecture firm Wild Land Workshop, sees her work as a chance to build resilient landscapes even on a small, backyard-sized scale. “Our mission is to connect people to the natural world in a way that inspires people to protect and preserve it,” she says. “A big part of that is replacing and re-creating the things that are taken away when we develop.”

That can mean using local stone and native plants, collecting water onsite or growing food. Recently, it meant milling part of a 350-year-old redwood that was felled by the Soberanes Fire into a blocky artwork at a home on Garrapata Ridge in Big Sur.

Both Bliss and Goulet are members of a new generation of landscape architects who worked for established leaders in the industry (Bliss at Ground Studio for 12 years, Goulet at Rana Creek for 10) and have within the past five years struck out on their own. And during the pandemic, they’ve found there is a growing demand for work.

“We’re seeing a lot of younger families reinventing their lives,” Bliss says. “They figured out they can work remotely and get out of Palo Alto. They buy a raw piece of land, design a home and a landscape, get their kids into new schools – they’re creating a lifestyle for themselves.”

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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