Garden tour takes us from ocotillo thickets to poolside traipses in 2020 Modernism Week preview


Five locations comprised Modernism Week volunteers’ garden-tour preview on Wednesday, and nary a weed was seen.

We garden docents are scheduled for duty Feb. 19; specific assignments are soon to come. Some 30 of us dashed about Palm Springs seeing fancy plantings and splashy tilework. Tour guests who have purchased the $75 ticket will get a sixth location that was unavailable during our preview.

  1. Panga Our first garden was well-established and lush. The perimeter “forest” sealed off the property. I would be very happy to come back here on the official assignment.
  2. Cardillo Hello, Angle House (also seen at top). This engaging house was designed by Lance O’Donnell. “This is the least grand one he’s ever done,” our host said. But it’s still pretty grand.

    William Kopelk, Moderism Week chairman and founder, makes a point at the Angle House.
  3. Sycamore The owners, Mark and Amelie, are from Indiana and speak modestly about what they have wrought on Sycamore Circle. “There was really no landscaping,” said Mark, who read old books on the subject. They teamed with Bret Baughman of The BackYard and tried to complement the house. It involved a new wall of breezeblock in front and the sort of plantings that realized Mark’s instinct for graphic impact.Sycamore
  4. Pico Meelena Turkel trod the window ledge like a gymnast, extolling the virtues of her family’s Turkel Design home. Called the Axiom Desert House, it’s considered a living-lab. “This is our first soup-to-nuts landscape design,” Meelena said. After an exterior buffer comes an inner court with bocce ball court and maximized garden space (a Ping-Pong table squeezes into the sideyard). Big clusters of lavender and rosemary fill the planting beds. All merits of sustainability aside, a small patch of real grass allows her daughters space to do cartwheels.
  5. High Road The front court has an intimate scale, while the backyard offers a large pool and curiously mixed perimeter woodland that includes a few cacti. The firepit has green and brown reflecting walls, and the bar sports a lively blue touch.

    No, I did not pay those guys to pose.
  6. El Portal This new 4,000-foot, five-bedroom house struck several of us as being glitzy but sterile, and indeed it appears to have been conceived as a vacation rental. Our host, the designer and builder, welcomed us by announcing the nightly rental price, a touching acknowledgement of our free service. Given the festival’s celebration of modernist design, which is rather austere, the huge tiled pool seemed better-suited to a hotel, and the traffic flow to the putting green tucked away in back is constricted. If I’m assigned here, I’ll forget about garden interpretation, because there really is no garden to speak of, and try to remember my lifesaving skills.

It was a great pleasure to meet William Kopelk, chairman and founder of Modernism Week; Kelley Brown Padrick, principal at; and assorted volunteers who are seasonal visitors from places like Longmont, Colo.; Grand Haven, Mich.; and Windsor, Ont.; and Vancouver, B.C.

My big idea to publicize the 2021 garden tour is to put three of on Vespas as the advance squad and drop cool helmets on our noggins. I want to be in that squad.

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