“Trust your instincts and throw fear away” is the advice Nancy Power gives to garden designers. Advice is seen in her own garden designs, which has brought her many notable awards, among them: House Beautiful Giants of Design Award for Landscape Design, Pacific Design Center Star of Design for Landscape Design, and an American Academy in Rome Residency in Landscape Architecture.
“I’m mad for plants and it’s hard to restrain myself when it comes to saying ‘yes’ to garden projects.” For the past 5 years Nancy has been the chair of the Board of Trustees for the Garden School Foundation and the garden designer for the 24th Street Elementary School.
The 24th Street School Project began when the LAUSD announced a plan to re-asphalt the school grounds. The neighbors wanted to create a school garden where children could experience growing fruits and vegetables in a beautiful and healthy environment.
Nancy was asked to create a garden plan and present it to the school board. The board approved Nancy’s plan, but trees and plants cost money. To raise money they had to become a non-profit, and so the Garden School Foundation was formed.
In the past five years, over 1,000 students have benefited from the garden curriculum. The students have become the proud chefs and boosters of the broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and greens that they grow. The garden changes how the elementary school students think about nature, about themselves, about food, and about what they want from life.
The Garden School Foundation is a continuation of Nancy’s work creating gardens for children, including Kidspace in Pasadena and the non-profit Children’s Institute in downtown L.A. Whether designing a school garden, the Master Plan for the 127-acre LA County Arboretum, the Norton Simon Museum garden, or a private home garden, Nancy has the same vision.
“People want the same things in a public space that they want in a private space and these goals can be achieved through design. Through the placement and choice of trees and plants and the use of space, color, light, sun and wind to create a sense of place.”
Nancy is from a long line of Delaware farmers and remembers her family farm. The farm and her mother’s interest in gardening influenced her values. Her real education, she believes, began when she lived and studied in Florence, Italy. Returning to the States, she worked in New York and then moved to California.
“I worked as the West Coast Editor for House Beautiful and scouted gardens for the magazine. For myself I created small landscapes, plants in terra cotta pots and so on. Other people liked them and asked me if I would do the same for them. I soon realized I was much happier when outdoors.”
A chance meeting at Merrihew’s Nursery brought Philip Chandler into Nancy’s life and he became her mentor. He was a well-known garden designer and a respected member of the Santa Monica College faculty. They talked about plants and from there things began to ‘just happen.’ Moving into garden design from her success at the magazine was a natural move for her.
“All the gardens I like relate well to their sites. I travel to see gardens. I’ve seen the Villa Gamberaia in Florence, Italy and the Courances in France, Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, the Winterthur Gardens in Delaware and private, home gardens all over the world. My favorite garden is a fabulous ruin in Sri Lanka called Sigiriya.
“‘My basic ideals have come from the Persian and Mediterranean gardens that are based on science and hydrology and from the American agrarian past. American farms are based on the efficient use of water and so we get orchards, rows of trees, and walled gardens, but you have to be able to see out. Gardens have evolved and they keep evolving and adapting to their climate and their conditions.”
The same ideals are true in the home garden. Nancy’s advice is to “look outside and think about what you see and imagine what you’d like to see. Then stand outside and look at the house and think about what you see and what you’d like to see. Think of wind, sun, shelter, calm. The more you define your space the larger it becomes.”
California historian Kevin Starr has named her style, ‘eclectic boldness,’ and describes her as blending culture and landscape, color and light, and human use and comfort. Nancy says of her self, “I’m really very old fashioned and believe in the Aristotelian golden mean of beauty.” You can see for yourself the gardens she creates in her book, Power of Gardens.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com