Tracey Andruscavage still recalls the first plant she ever owned. She’d been helping her father in his garden since the age of 7, but her enjoyment went beyond the tactile pleasures of planting marigold seeds, smelling fresh-cut grass and watering the flowers — she even wanted to learn the Latin botanical names of the vegetation around her. “My first one was for the common maidenhair fern: adiantum,” she says. “I remember looking at the plant label at Cost Plus in San Francisco, committing that to memory and really coveting that plant. I used my slim allowance (which set me back for a good month) to spring for that one small 4-inch plant.”
Andruscavage’s knowledge and love of plants would continue to grow throughout her life, blossoming into the spectacular garden she now cultivates at her home on Valley Spring Lane — which features an estimated 70 different varieties of flora on its relatively small plot of land. “Yes, it’s exuberant!” she says. “It’s also a small demonstration of diversity, in its own way, living together and thriving. I enjoy getting to immerse others and myself in this exquisiteness of nature, even if just for the briefest of moments.”
When Andruscavage moved to the neighborhood from the Burbank Hills area five years ago, she was inspired by the scenic serenity of Toluca Lake. “It’s a quiet oasis and safe amid the hustle and bustle of everything that is Los Angeles,” she says, listing Pergolina, Olive & Thyme and Sweetsalt as a few local favorites. “Driving down the spacious tree-lined streets with the beautiful homes reminds me of an earlier and simpler time.” She promptly set out to create a garden for her new home, largely from scratch. “There was an established hedge of roses that I kept; everything else is new and has evolved over the five years,” she explains.
As might be expected from someone who started memorizing Latin plant names as a child and now has “quite a mental catalog” of them, Andruscavage is a voracious learner who constantly seeks out gardening information — attending lectures, belonging to multiple garden societies, poring over books, taking landscaping classes through the UCLA Extension and UC Master Gardener programs, and earning a Certificate for Dry Garden Design through the Ruth Bancroft Program in Walnut Creek. She also visits gardens wherever she goes, naming Heronswood in Washington as one standout. “Looking at a space that works and dissecting why it works is a great teacher,” she advises. “You can do the same with photos of famous gardens or simply gardens you like.”
But first and foremost, “The main way that I’ve developed my skills has been by diving in and just doing it” — starting at age 10, when Andruscavage and her brother created a garden on a neighbor’s open plot of land, which grew enough vegetables to feed the whole neighborhood all summer long. (“We had to snake our hose from our house under multiple sets of neighbors’ fences to our new garden to provide water,” she remembers.) With her current garden, her guiding principle has been to follow her interests and plant what she likes. “My future son-in-law likes nectarines, so that tree went in. I wanted a fall blooming tree to replace the birch, so in went the Brachychiton discolor. My kids, their significant others and I needed something to do during COVID — hence the planters that were built and planted with the veggies and flowers that are constantly rotated.” Favorites include the soccer-ball-sized white blooms of the Annabelle hydrangea, the fireworks-like flowers of Allium christophii, the huge leaves of the Gunnera that “look like they came from the dinosaur era” and the lacy pink Didiscus caerulea.
“I think the most outstanding feature of my garden is its sheer abundance, perfume and wildness, and I enjoy immersing myself in this daily,” Andruscavage says. She’s endeavored to balance out her love of overplanted spaces by repeating key plants throughout and sticking to an overall color palette. “There is a fine line between utter chaos and a creative blend of all of the splendid plant material available. I admit to crossing this many times,” she jokes. But the quirky mix, situated mainly in the home’s front yard, draws positive attention from many passersby, who often stop to take photos or compliment Andruscavage on the riot of sights and smells. “I get to meet all of these new people and it’s just fun,” she says, adding that she loves being able to share her harvest of flowers, fruits and vegetables with neighbors and family members. “While this started from a very personal place, my current gardens have developed into more of a community action now.” A multifamily real estate investor who prides herself on providing aesthetically unique places for people to live, she also brings her gardening know-how to crafting spaces on her rental properties “where residents can relax, or simply throw open their windows to enjoy the view, scents or sounds of trickling water.”
For those looking to plant their own one-of-a-kind home gardens, Andruscavage’s advice is simple: “Go out and plant whatever it is you enjoy! Enjoy the light and the seasons. Actually get your own hands in the dirt.”