Explore the Inner Courtyard
The space created by the U of the adobe house built in the 1840s was the hub of activity supporting the busy ranch operations for both Temple and the Bixbys. The wall with large double gates could be secured at night, were opened during the day to welcome the weary travelers passing through their land holdings. Hospitality was the law of the land, and the inner courtyard was the access point for deliveries and wayfarers alike. Horses could be rested, or repairs made in the blacksmith shop. The serving of refreshments and the exchange of news would occur in more congenial surroundings. Horse, mule and oxen were the power pulling the transportation of the day and they would have left their mark. The adobe clay soil would be compacted and then pulverized into a fine dust that would stir with every footstep. In the years when rain came this would turn into a quagmire of thick caking mud. Little if any landscaping was attempted in this space dedicated to industry, though a few trees struggled to survive from time to time.
Cornell’s 1931 design changed the traffic pattern converting this once bustling industrial zone into an intimate garden. Cornell’s views of small gardens were that they were, “…far more livable and lovable and potentially a part of the daily routine.” The old California adobe’s courtyard follows an architectural style deeply rooted in the core of the Spanish revival style. Rather than embellish the space with elegant imported mosaics Cornell repeats the simple fired bricks and introduces native flagstone keeping to the humbler theme that reflects early California.
For Cornell when a house is part of the garden boundary it must be considered in the design, the relationship of the space to the building affects the possibilities of the use of the space. The grade was steep so to put that “problem” to good use, a terrace was built to match the grade of the main wing of the house where a sun porch had been added. This glass boundary worked two ways a terminus for the garden that became the focal point from within. Enclosed under the terrace was room to accommodate the furnace. Each wing now had a covered brick veranda bordered by a clipped Buxus hedge, with steps down from the terrace. For the first time one could move from wing to wing under the cover of a sheltering roof. The linear arrangement of the structure dictated a significantly more formal garden here than the rest of the property.
At the base of the terrace a garden floor was fashioned. The drop in elevation gives a greater sense of space, especially viewed from within the home. Native flagstone paving steps down slightly from the brick verandas and surrounds a modest rectangular pond with a bronze toad that adds water and becomes the primary focal point. The motion and sound of water adds a critical component to this space, in a place where water is a precious resource here it is duly celebrated by a variety of birds and dragon flies. The ponds itself was filled with aquatic plants including water lilies. The walkway that bisects the courtyard had a clipped holly at each corner, reinforcing the formal tone. Initially on either side of the pond flowering ground cover softened the hardscape but was eventually replaced with grass. This planted area is again a bit lower than the flagstone. These minor changes in the grade add interest by changing not only the depth but the texture and color as well.
To shade the terrace two citrus were planted at either end with flowering shrubs easing the transition to the groundcover. While below the flagstone path, turf runs down slope with more flowering shrubs and perennials on either side. To lift the eye and counter the heat sink phenomenon, sycamores, olives and a flowering peach tree offered a cooling shade. Cornell wrote, “California does have a climate that invites outdoor living and that adds tremendously to the potentialities of the small garden and its values.”