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Garden of reimagination: Point Loma couple add whimsy to their outdoor spaces

Guests who step behind an architecturally striking stucco home atop a Point Loma Heights ridge will experience a sort of wonderland. Following the sinuous path leads to discovery of a garden filled with repurposed discards, whimsical thrift shop finds and stained-glass treasures, along with containers artfully filled with lush drought-tolerant plants.

Visitors may even catch a glimpse of Max, a black-and-white cat tripping daintily over rocks amid the pond’s lily pads while stalking the resident goldfish.

Rosie the Old English sheepdog and Ginger, Max’s tabby feline companion, also hang out in the peaceful oasis.

Rebecca Long and Eric Johannesen bought the property 15 years ago, starting their marriage fresh in a new abode. Their home, built about 1963, began as a ranch house but, after remodels, morphed into a multilevel midcentury design with twin peaked roofs and vaulted ceilings, which Long described as “modern midcentury meets Victorian.”

“We have a passion for beautiful old stained glass. We integrate it throughout the house and garden,” Long said.

The 6,300-square-foot lot overlooks the sea at Ocean Beach and offers expansive views toward Mission Bay and Mount Soledad.

The 2,700-square-foot house — with four bedrooms, three baths and attached and freestanding garages — needed only basic updates when the couple purchased it, but they knew they wanted to overhaul its landscaping.

When they bought the house, large ficus trees dominated the front and back, with two palm trees in front and birds of paradise, a red camellia, daylilies, alstroemerias and grass in the rear. The ficus trees provided heavy shade but limited what the couple could grow in their garden. The trees also are notorious for having invasive root systems that can damage plumbing and sewer lines.

“We removed almost all the landscaping, especially the ficus and palm trees, and brought in rock,” Johannesen said.

“The red camellia was the only thing we kept,” Long said, though the alstroemerias continued to spread despite repeated removal efforts. After making peace with the invasive flowers, the couple say they now enjoy the pops of contrasting color the blooms offer amid predominantly green succulents.

Johannesen, an antiques dealer, had greatly enjoyed gardening at his previous home in North Park and was eager to take on a fresh challenge. Long, who retired from a career as a nursing manager after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, was new to gardening but had grown up in a Missouri farming community in a family that treasured its abundant vegetable gardens.

Plunging into gardening and embracing its calming effects and creative inspiration, Long decided to improve her knowledge by joining horticultural organizations, including the Mission Hills Garden Club, where she’s now leaving her post as president.

“Gardening brings me back to my roots,” she said. “I grew up in a family with hands in the dirt. It brings me full circle.”

Johannesen designed the landscaping, with initial advice from landscape designer Jim Bishop, past president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. Bishop recommended adding eye-catching purple smoke trees and Podocarpus, softening the lines of the rear freestanding garage, which doubles as Long’s private retreat. Before the new landscaping, the block-like white stucco building sat amid grass, with a few plants around its base, shaded by the large ficus.

The couple transformed the structure, filling its window frame with stained glass and hanging birdcages along the walls filled with antique religious art and tillandsia. White alyssum, ferns, society garlic, aloes, aeoniums and other succulents surround the adjacent pond and nearby waterfall.

“Jim inspired us to be free with the design, not too structured,” Long said. “Eric had a vision,” which resulted in a garden that feels more vintage than modern, she added.

The couple have done the work themselves, though Johannesen brought in professionals to install the pond and waterfall.

The reimagined front yard — planted with California poppies, lantana, daylilies, aeoniums, coreopsis, asparagus ferns, jades, aloes, Japanese maple and pygmy palm trees — is complete. The garden behind the house is still evolving as Johannesen and Long experiment with new plants.

Recently they discovered versatile bromeliads, which they’ve incorporated along the pond and elsewhere in the garden. They find that the colorful, drought-tolerant plants complement Long’s favorite kalanchoes and Johannesen’s preferred aloes, along with many varieties of tillandsia, sedum, jade, agaves, aeoniums and other succulents — all low-water-use choices.

One of their greatest challenges in installing the garden, Johannesen said, is the sandy character of the soil. “It gives amazing drainage but has to be watered regularly,” he said. “I water weekly by hand. It’s more efficient.”

They have a clear division of labor, Long said: “Anything planted in the ground is his, anything in pots is mine.”

Long learned through trial and error how best to combine plants in pots for color, texture and compatibility. As her reputation has grown for creating beautiful designs in found or repurposed pots, she’s often asked to speak to garden clubs and horticultural organizations about container design.

She pointed out an old birdbath base topped with a sculpture of a woman’s head, which she draped with pale green Sedum morganianum, or donkey tail, ringed with green, blue and pink Echeveria. Pink and white geraniums replaced the crown.

Near the home’s rear sliding doors, which open to a seating area and nearby fireplace, Long combined several colorful Mexican Talavera containers and baskets, filled them with a mix of succulents and annuals and set them before a wall tile of sunflowers. Nearby, she arranged a display of classical pots and sculptures, filling them with succulents and flowers complementing their shape.

Sitting throughout the garden are arrangements of plant-filled found objects, such as an old oil funnel Long brought from her family’s Missouri farm and converted into a flower pot and hung from a repurposed old metal chair. Sculptures and religious art also dot the landscaping.

“I think of the garden as a beautiful painting,” Johannesen said. “When we’re sitting in front of it, we’re looking at expansive greenery,” which he said guests also enjoy when the couple entertain on the patio.

“Gardens are meant to be shared,” Johannesen said.


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