diptych: (left) lounge chairs along inground pool with trees and mountains in the background; (right) concrete walkway with cantilevered roof to backyard

Tour a Celebrated Modernist Landscape Architect’s Final Project

Legendary Landscape mid-century modern Architect Robert Royston was called out of retirement to design a garden to unify two adjacent iconic mid-century houses. The garden is an extension of the modern circular geometry of the house and is inspired by the abstract forms of Wassily Kandinsky’s painting “Several Circles.”

In 2007, Brent Harris called San Francisco landscape architecture firm Royston, Hanamoto, Alley & Abey, and asked if Robert Royston could design a garden for his architecturally significant midcentury modern property in Palm Springs, California. Royston, who was 89 at the time, had been semi-retired for 18 years from the firm he co-founded in 1958. But JC Miller, a principal in the firm, knew better than to dismiss the offer.

The Hefferlin and Becket gardens, as the landscape is now called, turned out to be the last project of Royston’s illustrious career. Miller completed it in 2011 after Royston died. In its first public showcase, the garden was open to tour at this year’s Palm Springs Modernism Week. A new book on Royston’s life and career, co-written by Miller and published this month, also was spotlighted at the Palm Springs event with a book signing and a conversation between Miller and garden owner Harris.

The garden of Brent Harris, with the San Jacinto Mountains in the background
The garden of Brent Harris, with the San Jacinto Mountains in the background. Photo by Millicent Harvey
robert royston book cover with aerial of garden
Robert Royston (University of Georgia Press, March 2020) with Reuben M. Rainey, covers Royston’s career from 1937 to 2007.
cad landscape plan of royston gardens
Site plan by JC Miller, with overlay by Flavin Architects
hand drawing sketch of cross section of royston gardens
Diagram by Flavin Architects