California is known for its quintessential indoor-outdoor living. And let us tell you, it takes talent to meld the two fluidly. But, when done right with the power of thoughtful design, one space can seamlessly feel like an extension of the other. This brings us to our next guest, Landscape Architect Ryan Gutierrez of GSLA Studio! She’s the green thumb behind the contextual gardens and outdoor scenes that we all love at Amber’s home. Through rustic touches of reclaimed timber, cobblestone, and gravel, she guided Amber to set the foundation of her outdoor living space and then topped it off with various plants to reflect the California coast. From the ancient olive trees to the clusters of westringia, there’s beauty everywhere you turn.
We got the opportunity to sit down with Ryan to learn more about how she got started in the design field, her process over at Amber’s (which includes all the plant details!!), as well as tips and tricks for everyone at home looking to bring beauty to their outdoor space.
Without further ado, roll up your sleeves, grab a sun hat, and take a seat with the master herself, Ryan Gutierrez!
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey. How did you get started and how did you get here?
I always knew I wanted to be a designer. Growing up I thought architect or interior designer, but then my first job out of college was at a tiny landscape architecture firm in Vermont. When I realized that my love of design could be applied to the outdoors, I was sold. In landscape, you really have to learn to partner with the natural world and relinquish the idea of control because gardens are ephemeral and ever-changing. After that first job, I went back to school for my Masters in Landscape Architecture and then worked for two incredible firms, Reed Hildebrand and Nancy Goslee Power and Associates, before starting my own firm with my business partner, Joe Sturges. Just as we were discussing the idea of striking out on our own, we were offered a couple of amazing jobs and we decided to go for it!
Walk us through the thought process behind designing Amber’s home landscaping. What was the design inspired by?
Working with Amber and Mike was a dream! They had a ton of inspiration images for the outdoors, so we went through those to distill the vision into a cohesive design approach. Once we knew the look we were going for, loose and bohemian, but with a little structure- we set to designing the hardscape as a framework for the plants. If you have a strong hardscape, that really frees you up to play with the plants.
That’s one of my favorite areas of the garden too. We included a background of Boxwood balls and Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’ (Coast Rosemary) to provide some structure, then did a mix of Festuca mairei (Atlas Fescue) and Carex divulsa (Berkeley Sedge) grasses, punctuated by some Agave ‘Blue Glow’ and Crassula multicava (Fairy Crassula). But those ancient olive trees are really the stars of that area! And because gardens are always evolving, in early pictures, there was Santa Barbara Sage in the background, but that got a little unruly given what we were going for at the entry, so we took it out and replaced it with more Westringia, which is an Amber favorite.
Let’s break down the backyard landscaping, too! Tell us what plants were chosen here.
The backyard is huge! We had an amazing, giant flat space to work with and we knew we wanted to create some depth as well as distinct areas to occupy. The very back layer of the garden might become a guest house/chicken coop/pottery studio area someday, so we didn’t want to invest too much effort into that zone at this point. And we knew that a big entertaining area, pool, and lawn were immediate priorities, so we located those front and center, then used a meadow dotted with olive trees to create the division between the pool area and future development in the back. Closer to the house, we wanted a more lush flowering palette that you experienced from both inside the house and while out in the garden.
Near the house we used Lavandula x heterophylla (Sweet Lavender), Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ (Provence French Lavender), Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’ (Spanish Lavender ‘Otto Quast’), Rosemary- both prostrate and upright, Little Ollies, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Walker’s Low Catmint), Erigeron karvinskianus (Santa Barbara Daisy), Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’ (Dwarf Mat Rush), Euphorbia characias wulfenii (Mediterranean Spurge), Gaura lindheimerii ‘Whirling Butterflies’, Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ and Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’.
In the meadow, we did a mix of Pennisetum spathiolatum (Slender Veldt Grass), Sesleria autumnalis (Autumn Moor Grass), Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’ (Dwarf Mat Rush), Miscanthus adagio (Adagio Maiden Grass), Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer Grass), Muhlenbergia ‘Pink Flamingo’ (Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass), Festuca mairei (Atlas Fescue), Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’ (Canyon Prince Wild Rye) and Carex divulsa (Berkeley Sedge). We punctuated the grasses with Agave weberi, Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy), Gaura lindheimerii ‘Whirling Butterflies’, Westringia ‘Wynyabbie Gem’ (Coast Rosemary), and Erigeron karvinskianus (Santa Barbara Daisy).
Along the edges of the property, we didn’t want it to feel like they were boxed in by a hedge, so we did a mix of taller plants such as Echium candicans (Pride of Madeira), Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree), and Rhamnus californica (Coffeeberry).
What are the factors taken into consideration when selecting plants for a space?
I believe that every garden has a soul and our job is to cultivate that. We take into account the setting, the style of the architecture that surrounds the garden, the look the client is going for, and of course the environment we’re working in. California is in the midst of a serious drought- we need to respect that and create plant palettes that are climatically appropriate.
Can you share some advice for those wanting to freshen up their own yards?
Edit! Start by taking out everything that doesn’t look good anymore. Plants have a lifespan, don’t be afraid of replacing tired-looking plants. And a nice shredded mulch goes a long way towards making a garden look cared for.
Do you have any “go-tos” when designing? Any “stay-aways”?
Every garden is so different, I don’t have any go-tos, but I do have favorites! I love Little Ollies, Sweet Lavender, and anything Australian. Australian plants, such as Banksias and Grevilleas, have the most wild looking flowers, like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. My stay-aways are invasive grasses such as Mexican Feather Grass and Pampas grass. They’re both gorgeous, but spread like crazy and are impossible to control.
What are five things you can’t live without right now? Keep them short and sweet and provide links where you can!
Hugs from my kids, straw hats from the hardware store, morning coffee in a handmade mug- my favorite is my zigzag mug from Mt. Washington pottery, fresh flowers from the farmer’s market and Essentials by Amber Interiors 1977 candle (coming back soon!)