Magical Garden: The Point Loma pair brings a whimsical touch to outdoor spaces

Guests stepping behind an architecturally stunning stucco home perched on a ridge of Point Loma Heights will experience a magical wonderland. As you follow the winding path, you’ll discover a garden full of repurposed trash, quirky second-hand finds and stained glass treasures, and containers artfully filled with lush, drought-tolerant plants.

Particularly lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of Max, an adorable black and white cat, who gracefully stumbles over rocks amid the pond’s lily pads while preying on the resident goldfish. Rosie, the Old English Shepherd, and Ginger, Max’s tabby cat, also hang out in the peaceful oasis.

Rebecca Long and Eric Johannesen bought their Point Loma Heights home 15 years ago and started their marriage fresh in a new home. Built circa 1963, it began as a ranch house, but after renovations transformed it into a midcentury, multi-story design with twin pitched roofs and vaulted ceilings, which Long described stylistically as “midcentury modern meets Victorian.”

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

Set on a sprawling 6,300 square foot lot, the property overlooks the ocean at Ocean Beach and offers expansive views of Mission Bay and Mount Soledad.

The 2,700-square-foot home, with its four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and attached and detached garages, needed only basic updates when it was purchased, the couple said, but they knew they wanted the landscaping overhaul.

When the couple bought the house, large ficus trees dominated the front and back, two palm trees and birds of paradise in the front, a red camellia, daylilies, alstroemerias and grass in the back. The ficus trees provided plenty of shade but limited what the couple could grow in their garden. They are also known to have invasive root systems that can damage plumbing and sewer lines.

“We removed almost all of the landscape, especially ficus and palm trees, and introduced rocks,” explained Johannesen.

“The red camellia was the only thing we kept,” Long said, noting that alstroemerias continued to spread despite repeated removal efforts. Having made peace with the invasive flowers, the couple now enjoys the contrasting pops of color the blooms offer amidst mostly green succulents.

Johannesen, an antiques dealer, enjoyed gardening at his former home in North Park and was keen to try a new challenge. Long, with an intense career as a care manager from which she retired after the pandemic, was new to gardening but had grown up in a Missouri farming community in a family who valued their lush vegetable gardens.

Immersing herself in gardening and embracing its calming effects and creative inspiration, Long decided to increase her knowledge by joining horticultural organizations including the Mission Hills Garden Club, where she is now leaving her post as President.

“Gardening brings me back to my roots. I grew up in a family with their hands in the dirt. That closes the circle for me,” she explained.

Johannesen designed the landscaping himself, 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 to soften the lines of the detached rear garage, which doubles as Long’s private retreat. In front of the new landscaping, the blocky building with white stucco stood amidst grass, with a few plants around its base, shaded by the large ficus.

The couple transformed the structure, filling the window frame with stained glass and hanging birdcages along the walls filled with antique religious artwork and tillandsia. White boletus, ferns, garlic, aloe, aeonium and other succulents surround the adjacent pond and nearby waterfall.

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

“For me, the garden is a beautiful painting,” said Johannsen. “When we sit in front of it, we look out over a spacious green”, which your guests will also enjoy when they are entertaining on their terrace.

The couple did all the work themselves, although Johannesen called in professionals to install the pond and waterfall.

While the newly landscaped front yard—planted with California poppies, lantana, daylilies, aeoniums, coreopsis, asparagus ferns, jade, aloe, Japanese maple, and dwarf palms—is complete, the back garden is still evolving as Johannesen and Long experiment with new ones Plant.

They recently discovered versatile bromeliads that they have incorporated around the pond and elsewhere in the garden. They find that these colorful, drought-tolerant plants complement Long’s favorite Kalanchoe and Johannesen’s favorite Aloe, along with many cultivars of Tillandsia, Sedum, Jade, Agave, Aeoniums, and other succulents, all low-water-using options.

One of her biggest challenges in creating the garden, Johannesen said, is the sandy nature of the soil. “There is amazing drainage but needs regular watering,” he explained. “I hand water weekly. That’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 colour, texture and compatibility. As her reputation for creating beautiful designs in found or repurposed pots has grown, she is often asked to speak to garden clubs and horticultural organizations about container design.

She pointed to an old bird bath base with a sculpture of a woman’s head, which she draped in pale green sedum morganianum, or donkey’s tail, ringed with green, blue, and pink echeveria. Pink and white geraniums replaced the crown.

Near the rear sliding doors of her home, which open to a seating area and a nearby fireplace, Long combined several colorful Mexican Talavera containers and baskets, filled them with a mix of succulents and annuals, and placed them in front of a wall tile of glowing ones Sunflowers. Nearby, she arranged a display of classic pots and sculptures and filled them with succulents and flowers that complemented their shape.

Throughout the garden are numerous charming arrangements of plant-filled finds, like an old oil funnel she brought from her family’s farm in Missouri, then transformed into a flower pot and hung from a repurposed old metal chair. Sculpture and religious art also feature in the landscape design.

With their artistry, the couple have created a relaxing urban retreat that is ideal for entertaining.

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

Nicole Sours Larson is a freelance writer.

Leave a Comment