ANGELES — Julie Burleigh has designed highly tailored
organic gardens for clients all over Los Angeles, but at
home in the West Adams neighborhood, her personal garden
reflects a more freewheeling sensibility.
California natives and hearty gray-blue aloes snipped
from a neighbor’s yard share space with giant ageratum
with ethereal, lavender-colored flowers, and herbs such
as African blue basil and winter savory. Bright red
geraniums, figs and other familiar plantings are
interspersed with less common white sage and the
aromatic edible lovage, which tastes like celery and can
be harvested for soups and salads.
plant palette outside the 1908 Craftsman is something of
a "live painting," said Burleigh’s partner,
photographer Catherine Opie.
is not afraid of merging things in an atypical
way," Opie said. "I am always in awe of what
is coming up or what there is new to eat."
approaches her landscape with a loose hand, the kind of
less-deliberate style and experimental sensibility that
is resonating with gardeners who aren’t captivated by
the hyper-orderly, geometric plantings that have come to
define modern gardening. The casual approach, she said,
allows her to treat the changing landscape as a place to
couple moved here 11 years ago because they wanted a
large house in a diverse neighborhood, but after Opie’s
portrait and photography studio was added to the
backyard, little ground and sunlight were left for
didn’t discourage Burleigh, who grew up on a farm in
Louisiana. She responded by growing blueberries and
blackberries in planters and building a raised bed for
more edibles in the front yard using old scaffolding.
Burleigh said her less-regimented approach stems from
her background as a painter.
feel like I’m pretty good at staring at a garden and
thinking about what I need: something spiky here or
dynamic there. Or something soft," she said.
"I allow myself to stare at it and think about what
colors and shapes I’d like to see."
also has no problem editing herself. "Gardening is
like anything: The more experience and chances I take,
the more ruthless I can be. If I don’t like something,
I’ll pull it out and find a home for it."
has animated Burleigh’s garden more than four chickens
— a Salmon Faverolles, two Ameraucanas and a
let them have free rein, but they were eating everything
in the garden — even the succulents," she said,
adding with a laugh: "I am just too vain to let my
garden be a mess."
chickens were also hopping out of the yard and into the
street. Her solution: an enclosed chicken run alongside
the house that connects the chicken coop in the backyard
to a pen in the front, facing the street.
created it so they could have more room to roam,"
Burleigh said. "But I also thought, how can I make
it look good?"
started with old-fashioned double-loop wire fencing —
"granny fencing wire," she called it —
discovered on Craigslist. She attached metal poles
secured in concrete. To keep their dogs out and the
chickens in, Burleigh topped the curving track with deer
fencing, which is so sheer it’s almost imperceptible.
She then lined the ground with mulch and pine shavings
and other organic matter; the chicken manure goes to her
coop in back was constructed from simple fence paneling
painted white and brown, and doors came from old kitchen
the front yard, Burleigh installed drip irrigation to
draw bugs for the chickens to snack on.
started getting more eggs from the chickens once they
started eating all that protein and enjoying more
sun," she said. Running bamboo along the side of
the house creates a wall of privacy and shields the
years later, Burleigh admits she’d construct the
chicken run differently today. She regrets placing the
run so close to the house because in the winter "it
can get smelly." But there’s no denying the
chicken run is a delight, not only for the couple and
their son but also for the neighborhood. By extending
the chicken run to the front yard, she stays connected
to her street.
like the lively quality the chickens add to the
garden," she said. "They always sound like
they are worrying or complaining. Our neighbors often
stop by with their kids and watch them."
Opie: "It has been an incredible thing to watch and
see. It went from being a messed-up lawn with two dead
palm trees to this wonderful environment where all the
creatures are incredibly happy."