When Nancy Goslee Power enters a garden, she leaves behind a big impression. That's because the 76-year-old is an icon in the world of landscape design. Her aesthetic, which blankets Southern California, is as recognizable to a garden lover as a Frank Gehry building is to an architect. Her distinctly whimsical flourishes and her innate curiosity about outdoor space have captured all who have tread where she’s left her gigantic mark.
We caught up with Power, an Janet Mavec enthusiast, in her Santa Monica home, shortly after she released Power of Gardens.
Note the balance of her vision even when it comes to designing her own Janet Mavec charm necklace (below) from our many pendants. Summer meets autumn AKA sunflower + gunmetal acorn = sumtumn! We might need to package this duo and call it the Power Gardener necklace.
You’ve called all the architects you’ve worked with collaborative: Rem Koolhaas, Marmol Radziner. Even the famously ornery Frank Gehry?
Yes, Frank Gehry was collaborative. He once said to me when we were working on the Norton Simon Museum, ‘Nancy, cover up the building however you want. But just don’t f*ck it up.’
Your garden design firm hired filmmakers, writers, artists. Why?
They’ve got insatiable curiosity and high energy. They are passionate people about their disciplines and about life. It’s amazing. You can train people to learn plant material. But you can’t train people to have an innate curiosity.
I also believe those that like gardens are die-hard romantics—and people in those fields must be die-hard romantics, too.
Any tips on how people can tackle their own outdoor spaces?
Think about how you live in the space. I like to make sure that from every window of the home, there is a view of greenery. Windows are frames to the outdoors.
When I analyze a garden, I concentrate on the area closest to the kitchen. That is the area you will use most. Plan something there. Porches and terraces are great, but they have to be convenient.
How have gardens changed over the years?
Kitchen gardens have had a resurgence. An even more recent phenomena is the whole introduction of outdoor kitchens. A few people are spending as much money on them as they would on a new Porsche. That seems extravagant. Personally, when I’m outdoors, I can cook on one tiny fire. And I definitely don’t need a refrigerator outside.
What about gardens for people with pets?
Dogs and cats and gardens go together. But I’d first ask the dog’s age and breed. If you have a black lab, for example, who is over 4, we can work with that. But younger? They are still puppies and can be rambunctious.
How has climate change affected your design?
I’ve always used drought tolerant material. I’ve always used plants that are appropriate for Mediterranean climates (California), and that hasn’t changed over the years.
What about gardens for people living in wildfire zones?
There is no such thing as fire resistant materials. That’s a myth. Our fires are so hot now that they melt cars. There are things you shouldn’t plant (Eucalyptus or conifers), but there’s nothing that you can plant to keep fires away.
What plant do you have a fondness for?
The agave. It’s on my stationary and card.
Do you have any indoor plants part of the family?
No way. When I see indoor plants, I look at them and think they are slowly dying.
What’s next at 76?
I’d like to write a book about the next generation of garden designers. I’m curious. Writing a book forces me to look at all the new work out there and help young designers get their work published and shown. Today, it can be hard to get noticed. Who knows? Maybe a memoir or short stories … Knowing me probably all three at the same time. I do not know restraint.
We are thankful that she doesn't!
We highly recommend walking into Nancy's world. It is, dare we say, Power-ful? The transformation of self through garden design. Visit Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and Beverly Canon Park in Beverly Hills.
A list of Nancy’s favorite plants and the lessons she’s learned are compiled in The Gardens of California and Power of Gardens.