Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An inspirational artist and gardener

Hortense's lovely, time-weathered hand
Recently, I had the immense pleasure of touring the delightful home and garden of Hortense Miller with my good friends, Janine, who writes the blog Laguna Dirt, and Jill (Jill's mermaid garden was also featured in Laguna Dirt).

Oh my, What an afternoon! Wandering through the rugged 2.5 acres that overlook Boat Canyon, on the same paths that Hortense wandered was simply heaven. Feelings of peace and oneness with nature, I completely understood Hortense's deep appreciation for the plants, animals, and nature that surrounded her and encompassed her home.

Wild gardens


More wildness

Hortense was an avid gardner, and knew the names of every plant that inhabited her hillside haven . She didn't care much for manicured gardens, which is quite evident in her own garden. Although her garden has become unruly since her death, something tells me she would have found humor in that and admired  her obstinate plants all the more. Hortense shows her light side when she was quoted saying, "Age hasn't done a thing for me, but it's done wonders for the garden, it gets better all the time."

Hortense designed and often built these fences made from bamboo and rope.
She would open the gates for the deer each morning.
Photo by: Janine Robinson
 Miller moved into her retreat in 1959 at 51 years old. Sadly, her husband Oscar passed away just 3 months after moving into their hillside paradise. From that point on, Hortense lived alone with her beloved Cockatoo, Dody, and could be found working in her garden daily. She maintained her outdoor post until the age of 93 when she found she could no longer navigate the steep terrain.

Looking at the house from a garden path
I can't believe that I didn't take more garden photos! I guess it's hard to point and shoot when you're enraptured with your surroundings. A true photographer I am not!

Another garden gate. Check out these cool hand-made pottery hanging sculptures

The Gazebo sits on a hill of Korea grass and overlooks the house

A detailed look at the Gazebo. Notice the hand-painted mural on the right.

Hortense's outdoor reading nook. I'm swooning over those Walter Lamb chairs!
But now I'll move on to her fabulous Mid Century Modern home, designed by architect Knowlten Fernald, Jr. and completed in 1959, it's the place of Mid Century fantasies. It is that simple, indoor-outdoor living that MCM fiends (like me!) adore! Her home was perfection and the place where her true artist self could be explored. She painted murals and whimsical drawings and sayings in the most unexpected places (like her bathroom!). I found a mention of her home being featured in Home and Garden Magazine in 1959, but darn! I couldn't find any photos or story to back that up.

The sun-drenched dining room. Are those Wegner chairs paired with the Saarinen table? 

The ultra modern kitchen. 

Can't you just picture Hortense sitting at this desk, journaling and documenting her plantings

A wonderful airy space. Notice the bird cage on the left. It was originally for her Cockatoo, Dody, but Dody was never, ever  put in his cage!

More to gush over. The handmade globe hangs from a thin wire from the ceiling.

The sun streams through the glass between the bricks

The brick wall continues past the glass wall into the garden. Hortense's garden hats
are still on the rack. I wonder which was her favorite?

Musings on the bathroom wall

The desk in the guestroom. I love the way Hortense put things together.
She had quite an eye for detail.

A sitting area in the Master Bedroom. I die for those red Wegner chairs!

Oh, the joy! That lamp, that chair, that fireplace...
And I wish I took a close-up of that ultra-cool mural!
One view of the Master Bath. I adore the fainting bench! 
Hortense died in 2007 at the age of 99, just six weeks shy of her 100th birthday. An ardent environmentalist, a progressive-minded feminist, an artist and devout naturalist, Miller was the kind of woman that I wish I could have known.

I'm sure she was thinking of her next project,
whether in the garden or on some unsuspecting wall.
If you're in Laguna, and want make a reservation to visit this a-maze-ing place, call the Laguna Recreation Dept. at least 2 weeks in advance: 949-497-0716. I highly recommend it! I really can't wait to go back. Springtime in this garden must be what dreams are made of!


  1. What an awesome woman and amazing home! thanks for the tour!

  2. Truly awesome! Can't wait to go back for more!

  3. A must see for the next time I'm out that way!! How inspiring! How beautiful!

  4. This is my first time visiting your site, and I love it! I lived in Laguna Beach about 15 years ago, and just now found you through Janine. What a lovely tribute to Hortense - I'm sure she would've been so honored to read what you've written about her. I'll definitely remember this garden and hopefully make reservations next time I go down south!

  5. Rebecca, welcome, and thanks so much for the kind words! Did you know Hortense when you were living in Laguna?