Credit: Medeighnia Westwick

Address: 1605 Mountain Avenue
Status: Not for Sale

Rather than keep strangers out, the low stone wall around the 1920s-era cottage at 1605 Mountain Avenue is the perfect height for neighbors to stop and sit on for a spell, or to pause for a chat while they’re walking their dogs.

It’s not only neighbors who have taken notice of this welcoming wall and the thoughtfully curated front yard inside it. Stephanie Poole and her family have received accolades for their landscaping from near and far. Last month, the project received the grand prize in Santa Barbara County’s 2020 WaterWise [CQ] Garden Contest and was also named America’s Best Front Yard by Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

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Poole, an architect, has lived in this Westside home with her husband, Bruce Hickey, and their son, Liam, since 2006. Poole had been gathering ideas for transforming the yard, but the availability of local sandstone after the January 2018 debris flow spurred them into acting upon their plans. They enlisted the services of local landscape contractor Ashley Farrell for the execution of the project.

The home sits right across the street from Harding School on what appears to be one of the friendliest blocks on the Westside. When I stopped by one evening last week, neighbors were out strolling, one couple was having dinner on their front porch, and kids played on the grassy median near the school.

Poole says one of her mantras with yard design is “more is more.” With closely placed clusters of plants in varying heights, shapes, and colors, I could see right away what she meant. The overall effect is informal and fun, with oversized stepping-stones meandering through a profusion of species that complement the colors of the house itself. It all looks casually pulled together, but in fact, every plant was carefully chosen.

Even the names of the plants are lyrical. Blue-green senecio, Elijah Blue fescue, and Dymondia mix with butter-yellow yarrow, lantana, and lady banks climbing rose. Vibrant orange kangaroo paw, red hot pokers, and an African tulip tree contrast with the dark browns of New Zealand wind grass, red crape myrtle, and a Japanese maple tree. They are brought together with the calming greens of the foxtail agave, deer grass, feather grass, and a trio of king palm trees.

A bocce-ball court in the driveway stands out as a favorite addition. Poole said that she had long thought the flat driveway would be ideal for bocce, but she didn’t relish the challenge of getting a court permitted and approved. So instead of getting rid of the driveway, they put layers of gravel and decomposed granite on the top. Now it is both a driveway and a playing court.

As an architect who is all too familiar with the local permitting process, Poole found this project liberating since the only worry was about storm-water management and irrigation. Since the drought-tolerant plantings were replacing a lawn, the process was a breeze.

Permeable pavers at the driveway apron are slightly mounded to hold in the decomposed granite and prevent water runoff when it rains. In addition, rain barrels can collect up to 150 gallons of rainwater, which gets saved and diverted into the garden.

Alongside the bocce court, a new steel fence with laser-cut metal panels in a palm leaf design mimics the palm trees in the yard. On the side of the driveway, vertical pockets are planted with vegetables. Poole says this small-space garden provides almost all of their produce and has been a fun new hobby.

A seating area with a fire pit in one corner of the yard is close enough to the bocce-ball court for spectators and close enough to the front wall to function as a gathering place when neighbors stop by. The wall itself is beautiful as well as functional. It sparkles with inlaid geodes that were collected on a family trip to Canada, and succulents peek out along one side.

When asked her advice for those embarking on a landscape overhaul, Poole recommends to “gather ideas from other people’s yards and take photos of what you like, but make decisions based on your own yard and your own lifestyle.” She also reiterates not to rush to plant a tall hedge or build a tall fence. “It’s easy to engage when walls and fences are low.”

Poole says their new front yard has allowed them to be more involved with their neighborhood. Even during the recent months of masked downtime, the bocce court has kept the family entertained, and neighbors stop by to watch and chat, and they sometimes perch on the welcoming front wall. Poole reflects, “I appreciate the neighborhood rhythms now more than ever.” Santa Barbara County’s WaterWise Garden Contest recognizes gardens throughout the county. Descriptions and photos of this year’s winning gardens can be found at The Better Homes & Gardens contest details can be found at

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