The owners and master gardeners of Masterpeace Gardens from Redondo Beach, CA gave Caskey & Caskey a detailed tour of the gardens featured at the 2014 Sunset Magazine Idea House in Manhattan Beach, CA. Read on to learn about the challenges of the project, their proudest moments, and what makes the Sunset Western Garden Collection special.

Chris Canaday, one of the owners of Masterpeace Gardens, works on the standing garden in one of the gabion planters at the Idea House.

The signature on any of Sunset’s Idea Houses comes in the form of their gardens. With a monthly readership of nearly 5 million people and over 30 million copies of the Sunset Western Garden Bookin circulation, Sunset is without a doubt the “Godfather of Gardens”.  Millions look to the publication for landscape design ideas and new trends in styling outdoor spaces. The Western Garden Collection is specifically designed for gardens in the Western region of the U.S. 

Illumination ‘Flame’ Digiplexis of the 2014 Collection

Being selected by Sunset Magazine to not only have one’s designs highlighted, but to ultimately be responsible for the first public appearance of the brand new plants produced for the 2014 Western Garden Collection is a high honor for any landscape architect and/or designer. Local owners of Masterpeace Gardens, based right here in the South Bay, were awarded the task of bringing the gardens at the Idea House in Manhattan Beach to life. The husband/wife team of master gardeners Howard Huckeba and Chris Canaday has been in the business of landscape architecture and design for over 20 years and has been featured on HGTV. 

When approached by Sunset Magazine with the opportunity to join in on the project as the landscape design team, Chris and Howard were not only faced with a monumental task, they had to reach completion for the public Home Tour launch on August 1, 2014 having come into the project three months behind everyone else involved, because they weren’t on the initial contractor list.

They quickly had to familiarize themselves with a brand new product line as Sunset‘s own growers develop each year brand new varieties of plants exclusive to Sunset, and this was to be the first ever installation of the 2014 collection. They then had to take into regard all of the standards set forth by Sunset for the project: the project had to include raised planters and edibles and needed to be a sustaining landscape. “They wanted us to accomplish a sustainable design, that wouldn’t overgrow, with a thought-out aesthetic.” As they went to work creating the landscape design, Chris said a wall of their office looked like a crime scene investigation, with a storyboard laid out of photos connecting to photos, connecting to plans, connecting to stone finish, connected to hardscape layouts and more, so they could quickly move parts and bring the final plan to drawing. “We committed 100% to the palate set forth by Sunset“, says Howard Huckeba. “We had worked with Phormium before, of course, but never a black one. It was helpful having these deeper colors to work with complimenting the darkness of the pool, but also being able to offset that by bursts of color from the ‘Everillo’ Carex oshimensis. It really is a dynamic collection to work with.”  

CLICK HERE TO VIEW the entire Sunset Western Garden Collection

The landscape plan was designed to compliment the contrast of the dark pool.

The biggest consideration in the landscape design was the custom pool that had already been constructed by Dynamic Pool & Spa Construction of Redondo Beach. The pool is outstanding in its original design, but prior to the Masterpeace Gardens landscape design, it was hard to envision the yard without being dominated by the massive pool. Chris and Howard’s ultimate design compliments the large, dark, square, above-ground pool design by anchoring it with two gabion planters on the north side of the yard. These planters serve to achieve the Sunset standard for standing planters as well as balancing the visible weight of the pool structure. The gabions are decorative and functional, filled with dark river rock to tie in the river rock that was planned by the pool designer to edge the water feature portion of the pool. The same stones also carry over into the sunken conversation area by the gas fire-pit.

To Chris Canaday, the gabions were her favorite thing that Masterpeace Gardens had brought to the Sunset House. They were her big idea, contributing to the many ideas presented in the Idea House. She has used gabions before and knows that it is hard for clients to wrap their head around until they see them assembled and in person. With that in mind, she had to move fast upon installation so as not to throw the builder off guard. “We had to get these in, get them filled and planted ASAP so when the designers and other sub-contractors on site saw them for the first time, it was an ‘Ahhh!‘ moment, rather than an ‘ehhh??’ moment. Having visited the property many times now and under all different settings, these gabions always come to mind when asked what one of the favorite features of the home is for us as Realtors. They execute exactly what Chris had planned for in her original concept; they tie in the composition of the landscape as well as balancing weight of the massive pool. They also gracefully echo all the strength of the wood, steel and glass the home is made of, while softening the boldness with movement and color. 

A pair of custom gabion planters are the brainchild of landscape designer, Chris Canaday who built them to off-set the large pool while also functioning as standing gardens.

Sunset had required that Chris and Howard also utilize the Woollypockets (living wall planters) that are seen hanging from the wall on the south side of the yard. These were sponsored planters provided to the Idea House and had to be incorporated into the overall plan. Masterpeace Gardens wanted to fully utilize the product line to its full potential to really compliment the sponsor. Chris has planted three clusters of Woollypockets, each with a different theme. The one closest to the outdoor kitchen area is chock full of herbs, with some exotic varieties such as chocolate mint and tarragon. The one in the center bursts with color, texture and life as it brings the eye up past the conversation pit to follow the sight lines that lead to either the pool or the outdoor kitchen. The splash of color ties in beautifully with the low laying plants, grasses and shrubs. The final cluster of Woollypockets is designed to mimic the movement of the water over the edge of the pool and hint at the entry point to the pool area. 

Tending to the herbs in the living garden planters

One citrus tree bears six different varieties of fruit!

Even cleverer of a use of space was the use of edibles along the southwest corner of the lot, where you will find three citrus trees, each bearing over five different varieties of citrus on a single tree! On one tree you will find Valencia Oranges, Meyer Lemons, Bearss Limes, Minneola Tangelos and Washington Navel Oranges! Opposite the pool are two single citrus trees that bear grapefruit. 

As they worked with their hardscape plan, Masterpeace continued to compliment the clean, bold lines of the house as they created a backyard that was more of an entire outdoor living room than a “yard”. When Dynamic Pools and Mike Davis Custom Homes moved forward with their unique pool design, it allowed them to move the pool equipment underground, thus pushing the back edge of the pool only 5 feet from the rear property line. Masterpeace Gardens then came in and designed decks to flank both sides of the pool, each with different elevations, and they then created a pathway that naturally leads to the covered patio areas, which in turn sends a subtle invitation to relax in the sunken fire pit area.  What they all accomplished as a team was developing a setting that fully utilizes the potential use of the lot. Every inch of the backyard participates in function of one form or another.  

Red fescue is a type of grass that only requires water once a week

In front of the gabions is a large area of lush red fescue, which Chris and Howard refer to as the “no mow” lawn. The grass grows in lovely wave patterns and requires minimal trimming, only if you desire. It feels like a cool carpet when walking barefoot on it and it only needs deep watering once a week. In fact, we were told that the entire backyard is designed to only require a once a week deep watering in order to stay lush, thus fulfilling the sustainability requirement set forth by Sunset. It’s a very water conservative design, with virtually every bed on a drip or bubbler system.

You may realize that with any new construction project, the landscape team comes in at the very end to ice the cake. With an accelerated deadline on the Idea House, everyone involved was working at top speed to reach completion, and the Masterpeace crew had to accomplish their entire installation in just 4 days. When asked to compare this to a normal installation, Howard told us that for the soft-scaping only it would be a three week process; include hardscape and a project of this scale typically takes 6-8 weeks. “It was an ‘all hands on deck’ project to pull this off on deadline”, says Chris. “We had hundreds of plants in the front and back yards and worked from sun up to sun down to get them all in.” 

In the end, Chris and Howard are not only personally pleased with the outcome of this challenge; the biggest compliment they could receive came in the form of all the positive feedback from the sponsors, interior designers and, most importantly, from the people at Sunset Magazine in the application of the product lines. “It was just flattering.” 

A second Woollypocket erupts with color and texture on the wall

“We took this project on with the ultimate goal of creating a landscape that enhanced the property without detracting from the house. We had to take their [Sunset Magazine] idea, make it our idea and then bring it to life.”  After hearing Masterpeace describe the process, we equate it to a “Top Chef” challenge, where you are given a box of mystery ingredients and one hour to come up with a full course meal of 5-star quality.

If you see and love the plants at the Sunset Idea House in Manhattan Beach and want to incorporate them into your own landscape design, The SunsetWestern Garden Collectioncan be found at local retailers here in the South Bay. Home Depot, OSH and Armstrong Garden Centers all come up on the zip code search on the Sunset website.

Come experience the gardens for yourself on the Sunset Home Tour which is going on each Friday, Saturday and Sunday between now and September 7 (ticket revenue will go to charity). Tickets are available via the Sunset website or you can enter to win a complimentary pair from Caskey & Caskey by CLICKING HERE.