Serene Scene

Los Angeles Times Magazine
Oct. 29, 2000

Jean and John Isaacson didn't want to drop a Japanese garden, stone by stone, plant by plant, into their Mandeville Canyon lot. Though the couple wanted a garden that would suit their 1960's Pacific Rim-style house, a strict adherence to one aesthetic has never been their style. Jean, a Japanese American, is from Hawaii, John grew up in Brazil. Oriana, their daughter, was born in Chile. So, rather than copy specific scenery, they sought a Japanese essence they had admired in Balinese gardens and in Hawaii and Brazil, where lacy bamboo groves are often charged with the wilder spirit of the tropics.

Bamboo, in fact, was already growing around the couple's house when they purchased it six years ago, along with a large multi-trunked sycamore, a few ferns and some camellias. There was a small koi pond below the living room, but an ugly spa and yards of deck all but canceled its effect.

They did some research and found a Colorado-based designer, Martin Mosko, who had studied gardens in Japan. They flew to Boulder to review his work, which mixed a reverence for traditional elements (flowing waters, rugged stone) with a sensitivity to Western landscapes. They invited him to California to design their garden, and during his visit, recalls Jean, "He took a spiritual approach. He'd disappear up the hill, and once in a while I'd hear a flute."

Once Mosko had a feel for their bowl-shaped half-acre, he devised terraces of natural stone and linked three koi ponds with a dry streambed and a teahouse that serves as a focal point and viewing spot. He added paths for garden access and plants - red-trunked cherry trees, a few evergreens, irises and more camellia...

"Whenever I can't find John," Jean says, "he's usually reading in the teahouse. If I'm missing, he'll say, "Check the ponds - she's most likely with the fish."