Like most Southern Californians, Raun Thorp makes little distinction between outdoors space and indoors, reflected in the title of the recent book “Outside In: The Gardens and Houses of Tichenor & Thorp”(2017) that she co-authored with her husband and business partner, M. Brian Tichenor. Before solidifying their own reputation, they worked with famed garden designer Nancy Goslee Power.
Raun is literally at home in Los Angeles, having mostly grown up there, and having blown the dust off its historic properties, including restoring the former Cecil B. DeMille residence, the former William Powell Estate, and Hollywood’s landmark Capitol Records building and grounds. The firm’s commercial and residential projects line the Southern California coastline from San Diego to Malibu and Santa Barbara, and Pebble Beach, with projects reaching as far as Wyoming and New York City
And, yes, like most Los Angelenos you might find her relaxing by the pool, plucking a fresh Meyer lemon from her backyard tree, or drinking in nature year round—and working virtually these days.
JM: What’s the aesthetic of your garden?
Raun Thorp: Our personal garden is actually multiple gardens, and outdoor “rooms,” as our house is a cruciform shape. It divides the area around it into four different gardens, plus the front garden and the pool garden.
Our house is a 1940 Harwell Hamilton Harris modernist house which we renovated and remodeled. We took some of that Asian influence, and it informs each garden in different way, from one secret Japanese-influenced garden to a sunken walled in living room courtyard with a fireplace and built-in daybed. The pool house is a riff on the iconic Mauna Kea resort in Hawaii—the surrounding garden and cabana evoke a Balinese lifestyle, but with plants that love California.
JM: Do you have an edible garden?
RT: Yes, many parts of our garden are edible—it’s California! We have herbs, kumquats, Meyer lemon, Black Mission figs, and a lone pomegranate tree.
JM: What about herbs?
RT: Most of our herbs are planted in our terraced front entry garden; we’ve been changing up what we are growing: various varieties of sages, rosemary, and thymes. Also, we’re experimenting with some Japanese herbs.
JM: What’s your favorite season?
RT: That’s an interesting question for someone living in Los Angeles. Many would say we have no seasons, but we actually do. Fall here, though it’s not the fall you might think of in other parts of the country, is warm and clear, and many trees and plants are just exploding in the landscape.
JM: What gardens have influenced your work?
RT: That’s a long list, among them The Alhambra in Granada, Spain; the Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh; Victorian architect Harry Peto, who worked on Hestercombe and lford in England; some of the extraordinary gardens in Kyoto, Japan and in Suzhou, China. And, last, but not least, the Bagatelle in Paris, Vaux le Vicomte and La Fondation Maeght in France.
JM: What’s gardens have you visited recently that you loved?
RT: Last year we visited Anne Bass’s house and garden in Dallas/Fort Worth. People were literally weeping when we first walked in. The impeccably maintained garden is the magnificent work of the late Russell Page, and the house is by the late Paul Rudolph. This iconic white, modernist, steel and glass house in this stunning and iconic garden took our collective breath away.
JM: What’s one of your favorite resourceful/inspirational books on gardening?
RT: There are so many! Brian has amassed a rather huge garden library, which also holds many out of print volumes. It’s hard to narrow this down to only one, but “California Gardens” by Winifred Starr Dobyns is a seminal work on California garden design that is still very relevant and influential. Also, the iconic Russell Page book, “The Education of a Gardener", and the book on his own work, “The Gardens of Russell Page” by Gabrielle van Zuylen. This has always been a “go to” reference for us.
JM: What are your top 3 favorite plants and why?
RT: Magnolias, because they are beautiful and smell so good. We use a “dwarf” variety called St. Mary (“dwarf” because no Magnolia is really ever that small); the flowers are intoxicating.
Little Ollie, Olea europaea (dwarf olives) is drought-tolerant, reliable, and beautiful, and it works in pots as well as hedges.
Echeveria harmsii is another one—it works almost anywhere here—and, as succulents go, is pretty lush looking. As a bonus, it has fantastic orange flowers.
JM: What plant gets no love and why should we pay more attention to it?
RT: The workhouse plant Pelargonium (aka geraniums). It’s almost indestructible and easy to grow. We have it in a vertical garden on our pool-house library tower, and it just doesn’t quit—not to mention, some of the varieties smell incredible, in particular, the mint geranium, or P. tomentosum.
JM: What’s the one garden tool you can’t live without?
JM: When did you last hug a tree or what’s your most memorable interaction with one?
RT: I was about 12 and my parents had a silver dollar eucalyptus tree with roots that were supposedly damaging the neighbor’s swimming pool. They came to the decision that the tree would have to be cut down. I climbed up the tree and stayed in it all day into the evening, again the next day, but I had to go to school. When I came home, the tree was gone. It was one of those experiences you don’t forget.
JM: What’s exciting for you this year?
RT: We have been working for some time on the new headquarters and campus for the Los Angeles Times. It includes extensive gardens and landscaped outdoor spaces, including a rooftop. We’re finishing up a large project in Pebble Beach, which is influenced by the gardens of the Veneto, but designed with California plant material; and we’re finishing an eight-acre garden on the bluffs in Malibu. I am secretly hoping that we will start yet another garden project at our own house.
JM: How’s working in landscape and architecture going during a pandemic?
RT: It’s been a challenge to go virtual nearly instantaneously. But Los Angeles has its advantage: plenty of light, air and garden space for welcome breaks from zoom meetings and screen time. When we do need to go to our office, it has plenty of social distancing space with rooftop gardens and airy interiors. Exploring different parts of the garden has really taken on a much bigger focus than ever before—plus, our living room courtyard has literally become our dining room.
Raun wearing Janet Mavec's Earrings. Image by Brian Tichenor.
All other images by Roger Davies for Outside In: The Houses and Gardens of Tichenor & Thorp, Vendome Press