High-end landscape designer shows off his eclectic Laguna Beach garden
LAGUNA BEACH — Greg Salmeri loves to collect eclectic items from around the world and then find the perfect spot for each piece. In some cases, it can take years.
“The process of creating is hard to explain,” he said during a recent tour of his Laguna Beach garden, as he plopped down on an opium bed he’d finally found a spot for. “It’s a lot about those crazy ideas that come to you and can be fulfilled. It’s super eclectic. I love French modern. I try to make it mush together.”
That may sound modest for a man who landscapes gardens for high-end Southern California clients and who co-owns three Rolling Greens stores in the Los Angeles area — one in Culver City, one on Beverly Boulevard and on Mateo Street in L.A.’s downtown Arts District.
“Creating a garden experience is typically a solo endeavor,” Salmeri said. “You get an idea, then you pick the one that feels most doable and execute it to the best of your ability. It becomes a wait-and-see game. Will it grow the way you had hoped?”
On May 3, Salmeri’s eclectic Mediterranean garden was open to the public as part of the Laguna Beach Garden Club Gate & Garden Tour. More than 400 people came to see it and eight other Laguna gardens. The annual event raised more than $25,000 for educational scholarships.
For Salmeri, the popularity of the sold-out event proved that what he envisioned would resonate with others.
“It was a confirmation that it is possible to affect the human experience in a positive way without the clutter of words,” he said.
Salmeri didn’t plan to get into landscape design. Rather, he kind of fell into it.
His mother was an artist and avid gardener and he spent many of his early years helping her. At UC Irvine, he was an art major and took one class in horticulture.
Then, when a friend needed help with a yard, Salmeri volunteered because he knew plants.
“Fairly soon after that another friend needed help and … so on,” he said. “I remember that I didn’t love it at first. And a lot of that was because I didn’t have enough training in the field and had to learn things on my own. It was also because I was doing most everything by myself.”
Over time, larger jobs came his way and he became more confident about his choices. Now, he said, he surrounds himself with gifted landscape designers and installers at Rolling Greens and attributes much of the credit he gets to them.
His landscape design services start at $25,000 these days, with the sky being the limit. The most expensive design thus far, he said, has been for a celebrity client in Malibu who paid $2.5 million for his work.
Salmeri said it’s all about creating ways for people to use their gardens as an escape from the noise of the world.
“I remember as a kid, I really wanted my privacy,” he said. “I had this tree house that everyone could see. I always wanted to be this kid who lived in the forest around animals. Now, I have that — a garden that offers quiet and sometimes romantic moments that aren’t so public.”
In the tour through his garden, Salmeri pointed out some of his favorite pieces.
There is the opium bed which provides a place to rest at the back of the garden. The teak is surrounded by verbena, Santa Barbara daisies and blue-laced flowers. French 1920s wrought-iron chairs surround a fire ring that in the 1800s stood in a garden in the South of France.
There’s a trellis over an outdoor dining area made from old French drains. Nearby, a table that seats 12 is made from a salvaged wood tabletop placed on decorative wooden legs. The table was made by an artisan in Texas who travels the country looking for unique table legs.
“I love stuff that has aged, it has a story to it,” Salmeri said. “We’ll never know the story but we get to enjoy it for our time here. I kind of enjoy that.”
One story Salmeri does know is that of the small bonsaied pine tree in the center of his garden. The pine was planted by his mother decades ago.
“I remember a baby mockingbird in that tree,” Salmeri said. “It’s her moment in the yard. She was a gardener who loved being out here doing this. This is the last remaining living memory in the plant world that she touched. It’s important to have it here.”