In the Garden With Stephen Block

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Stephen Block, President and Owner of Inner Gardens, knows a thing or two about plants. He studied horticulture at the University of Florida before moving to Los Angeles and opening what is now considered one of the largest and best resources for all things garden in the United States.

Nestled in Culver City, California, Inner Gardens boasts a comprehensive inventory of carefully curated garden accessories and plants spanning half an acre. Block opened Inner Gardens in 1989 in an effort to offer the Los Angeles community an array of exquisite garden artifacts, sculpture, rare plants, and landscape architecture services. More than 25 years later, business is thriving, and Block’s team stays busy with clientele of the likes of Elton John and Martha Stewart.

Block still manages to handpick every item for the store. He frequents antique markets around the world and has a network of antiques dealers sourcing objects. He makes regular pilgrimages across the United States and to the south of France, Brussels, Morocco, Spain and China in search of beautiful objects and inspiration. His proprietary line of containers, Multiples by Inner Gardens, features a mix of vintage reproductions and stunning original designs.

We were fortunate to spend some time with Block, learning more about his design philosophy and what he loves most about his work. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

When you’re working on a project, what’s the relationship between the interior of a home or building and what you’re designing for the exterior? How does the interior design style inform the landscape?

To me, the garden is dictated by the architecture, vis-a-vis the interiors. We’re always severely conscious of the architecture of the home, and to the interiors, because both speak to the client.

It gets tricky when the client is creating a home that goes against the grain of the architecture. I just did a garden recently that was a Paul Williams home. It was a challenge to give the client what they wanted, which was a modern garden. I had to really meld two types of design. But fortunately, our modern gardens are very lush and full. They’re not what you’d expect from a modern garden.

I understand you have a fondness for beautiful, unique planters. What is the process like for choosing the right container for a given plant?

Planters are a huge part of my business. Objects, planters, gardens, tables...they’re all a big part of what we do. We finish gardens. We don’t just do the plantings and the layouts. We do the furnishings.

One of the biggest things is scale. I find that people under-scale things. They under-scale objects, they under-scale benches, they under-scale gardens. I have a very big scale. I like things big, grand, substantial. It’s important to find the right scale, and be true to the architecture.

How do you structure a garden that has beauty and meaning over the course of all seasons?

I don’t generally build gardens to accommodate a particular season. I don’t plant annuals, I plant perennials (that bloom, of course). Most of my gardens tend to be more green Italian style gardens: layered textures, tone-on-tone, lots of green and gray. My gardens also tend to be naturally drought-tolerant. But I’ve always just planted things that I love.

If someone wants plants that bloom at all times, that’s a structured garden and would take careful study to accomplish. That’s not how we design. Instead, I use a lot of Arabian Lilac that blooms a couple times of year, Euphorbias that bloom in the spring, Rosemary… There’s always something going on in the garden, but it’s not by design.

What’s the biggest challenge in your line of work?

I love doing what I do, so it’s hard to say. It’s just not that hard! Unless people get in the way of the process (chuckle).

I guess the hardest part is the creative process. The first part of the creative process is confusion. There’s confusion and pain, and that’s just part of the process. But I have great clients so it never feels challenging in a bad way.

Tell us about one of your most challenging projects - or rather, a time when you were really stretched, creatively.

I once had to find a way to transport olive trees 14 stories onto a rooftop terrace at Soho House in West Hollywood. About five years ago, I was approached by the designer to accessorize this beautiful outdoor space with everything from garden furnishings to a full range of plants to mature olive trees. I wouldn't say moving 100-year old olive trees are part of the day to day at Inner Gardens, but it isn't unheard of in this industry. Getting them up onto a rooftop terrace, though? That was a new wrinkle.

What’s in your own garden?

I have ligularia (round leaves), furcraea striata, olive trees, sycamore trees, hydrangea, boxwood, agave…here, let me show you some pictures!

What’s the one thing people should keep in mind when choosing a landscape motif for their home?

Pay attention to the architecture, and make sure you have the appropriate scale. It’s not about color, it’s about scale and proportion.

Inner Gardens is located at 5838 Perry Drive in Culver City, CA. Inner Gardens sells directly to consumers, as well as designers, both retail and trade, depending on the scope of the project. Their showroom is open to the public seven days a week.

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