Casa Encantada in Nipomo: Love grows in a garden

Couple’s magical outdoor space is filled with classic designs and features that evoke the feel of a villa in Italy’s Lake District

Special to The TribuneJune 12, 2013 

From the moment Casa Encantada’s custom-designed wrought-iron gates swing open, magic happens. Once we enter, a rare white hawk hovering on a thermal updraft appears.

“He’s our good luck charm,” said Colleen Cass, who began gardening with her mother and grandmother when she was knee-high to a trowel.

A graphic designer by trade, her eye for detail and ability to balance color and texture brings out the best in plant selection and placement. Robert “Dr. Rob” Casden, now retired to a life of growing beauty with Colleen, aids, organizes and abets. He has a similar eye for detail, and it’s obvious that the couple share abundant joy in the creative process.

Visiting this beautifully curated estate on the Nipomo Mesa is like visiting a villa on Lake Como, which is no coincidence. The house, grounds and gardens were originally planned as an homage to the Italianate style prevalent in that part of the world.

Former concrete walks between plantings and emerald green lawn have been transformed with use of epoxy stone, adding texture and rich earthen color.

Uniquely pruned Australian brush cherry topiaries in burgundy hues stretch as tall as the arched front windows, almost to the roof line. They are part of 120 topiaries surrounding the grounds.

A look to the south brings a tiered Mediterranean-style fountain into view. One of three fountains, “It is magical at night with the lights. It appears to float,” Cass said.

Trios of queen palms that form islands of their own with plantings at the base include green and cream striped variegated society garlic, silver dusty miller and a variety of pelargoniums in pinks and reds. The estate uses lighting design throughout.

The balustrade garden, which leads to the home’s entry, is punctuated by its low classic columns and large yellow brick sun shining in a sea of red pavers inlaid before the formal entry doors.

Each room of the home opens to the outdoors. A split hedge provides privacy without blocking access to what the owners call the “East Fairway,” which leads to glimpses of what they have named “Fairy Tale Lane.”

Along the way camellias, azaleas and even the fickle rhododendron in bloom encourage strollers to slow down and breathe deep. A pair of sculptured bunnies hold a sign reading: “Love began in a garden.”

Facing the Mediterranean views to the North, a loggia — a classic Italian outdoor room — offers several seating areas. Centered across a green expanse, a beautiful bronzed mermaid sculpture floats in a sea of deep blue lobelia, a dolphin tucked underneath her arm. Neatly clipped bookend hedges serve to stop wind on the ocean side of the loggia and provide privacy on the other.

A triangle of Old Gold junipers point down the slope near an unusually large privet that has become a tree. Waves of undulating green fescue lap at the path below.

A formal parterre garden with hedges that took seven years to grow, and a trumpet vine covered archway, leads to “Fairy Tale Lane” where the path transforms to flagstone leading down the hill toward a grove of Meyer lemon trees.

Along the way, Arbutus “Marina” draws hummingbirds to its flowers and other birds to its fruit. Shasta daisies grow as tall as 8 feet in this garden and require tree stakes to stay upright.

What appears to be just a flower box overflowing with chartreuse sedum is actually a retaining wall so the elfin greenhouse sits level on its base of 3,500 pounds of sand.

And what a greenhouse! The gardeners’ sense of humor and whimsy is unmistakable. A virtual menagerie in every color with cats, cows, zebras and giraffes, to name a few, sport pots of succulents sprouting from their bodies.

Leaving the greenhouse, one can look west toward a trio of geometric parterres, all different, centered on the slope. The new growth provides a lime-colored accent in each one whether triangle shaped, or circular. Mexican Weeping bamboo, grass-like in appearance, moves in concert with the green fescue beneath. A lifelike buck looks back toward the house where a brightly variegated coprosma forms an impressive hedge.

Further down the path the scent of star jasmine perfumes the air all the way down the hill, blowing right into the small orchard house where the couple stores tools and other garden supplies and enjoy stopping for a pot of tea now and again.

Reclamation of the bottom third of the estate included another custom-designed gate from Soares Garden Art and Welding. Soil amendment and imagination has led to a pictureperfect Meyer lemon grove with miniature trees, barely five years old, straining with the bounty of bright yellow fruit on their limbs while simultaneously trying to burst into bloom. Luckily, New Frontiers Natural Marketplace sells these beautiful lemons.

It’s evident from the look of Casa Encantada that love not only begins in a garden, it grows there too.

Reach Mary McCorkle and Genevieve Holloway at

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