Florence Yoch and Lucile Council: Landscape Architects, Life Partners

Posted on Tue., June 4, 2024 by Erin Chase
Expand image A landscape drawing on yellow paper, with plans for a long, narrow garden with trees and a lawn.

The Council Garden, South Pasadena, drawn by Lucile Council, ca. 1925. Florence Yoch and Lucile Council, landscape architects. Florence Yoch Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Florence Yoch (1890–1972) and Lucile Council (1898–1964) were among the most prolific and influential landscape architects in Southern California during the early and mid-20th century. Partners both in business and in life, they completed more than 250 landscape commissions over a period of roughly four decades—projects that included landmark public gardens and private gardens for Hollywood elites. The Huntington is home to the Florence Yoch Papers, a trove of drawings, photographs, research files, and office records that tell the story of the couple’s firm and provide a tremendous resource for researchers.

Yoch, who grew up in Santa Ana and Laguna Beach, started studying landscape architecture in 1910 at the University of California, Berkeley, then transferred to Cornell University in 1912, and completed her education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1915, earning a bachelor’s degree in landscape gardening. Council became an apprentice at Yoch’s Orange County studio in 1921, just six years after Yoch started her landscape architecture practice in Southern California.

Council, who hailed from Illinois and had trained at the Cambridge School of Domestic and Landscape Architecture in Massachusetts and at Oxford University, soon became indispensable to Yoch. By 1925, the women had formed a partnership, initially setting up their practice in a garden studio at the South Pasadena home of Council’s parents. With Yoch acting as principal designer and Council managing the day-to-day business, they quickly established a thriving landscape architecture firm, Yoch and Council, that would eventually take on projects as far north as Monterey, California, and as far south as Los Mochis, Mexico.

Two side-by-side images: On the left are written notes in a book; on the right are drawings of a house annotated with text.

Color Notes in Spain, 1924; Vichy [sic], France, ca. 1924. Florence Yoch Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

In her later years, Yoch would attribute their firm’s signature garden designs to the time she and Council spent in Europe each year. The couple took many trips, often for months at a time, to France, Italy, Spain, and England. During these excursions, they visited large and small villages and country estates, meticulously sketching what they saw, taking notes about specific architectural elements, and paying particular attention to such details as color. The Huntington’s Yoch archive includes a handful of these travel notebooks. One, dated 1924, preserves fleeting descriptions of color that Yoch noted in Spain: the brilliant soft red of a ceiling design and the blue door of a yellow church. The notebooks also contain lists of plants, topographical sketches, and measurements of architectural details, indicating how closely both observed and carefully recorded their impressions of Europe throughout their travels. These notebooks could then be used to spark inspiration when they returned to the States.

A portfolio page with a sepia-tone photo of a home garden. Text below reads “Estate of the Misses Davenport --- Pasadena California. Florence Yoch --- Landscape Architect.”

A small garden for Mrs. Davenport, Pasadena, California, ca. 1922. Florence Yoch Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Back home in California, Yoch and Council’s approach to new projects showed their preference for being on-site and making decisions based on their spontaneous responses to their surroundings. With their natural inclination toward restraint and economy, they enjoyed the challenge of creating low-maintenance gardens on small, sometimes oddly shaped lots. Sometime around 1922, they designed a small garden in Pasadena for a woman named Elizabeth Davenport. This garden illustrated the firm’s abiding principles of good design. They liked to include an architectural element, such as a fountain, in the center, surrounded by a parterre—a formal design of enclosed beds set amid complex walkways that created unexpected routes through the garden. For the Davenport garden, they included mixed plantings and flowers with low water requirements, a flowering fruit tree, scattered pots, and ambling vines.

A black-and-white photo of an open courtyard with columns and arches, surrounded by foliage.

William M. Clarke (1872–1953), California Institute of Technology (Athenaeum courtyard), Pasadena, California, ca. 1930–31. Florence Yoch and Lucile Council, landscape architects. William M. Clarke Architectural Negative Collection. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Yoch and Council’s commissions in the 1920s and 1930s reflected their growing reputation among several important architects practicing in Southern California, including Myron Hunt, Gordon Kaufmann, Reginald Johnson, and Wallace Neff. Their public garden commissions included the Vroman’s Bookstore courtyard, the Women’s Athletic Club in downtown Los Angeles, the Pasadena Public Library, the Wilshire Country Club, and the campus expansion at Caltech.

Having just completed a suite of Mediterranean-style buildings at Caltech, Kaufmann asked Yoch and Council to create plans for the institution’s gardens and public pathways to better integrate the buildings and soften their edges. For the Athenaeum faculty club at Caltech, Yoch and Council selected mature olive trees for the entry courtyard and a collection of Mediterranean plants, including cypresses, palms, pyracantha, crape myrtle, and cup-of-gold vine—the latter of which meandered around the building.

Expand image A landscape drawing on yellow paper of a large garden with plans for an orchard, a cut flower garden, and a pool.

A Hillside Garden for Mr. George Cukor, West Hollywood, California, 1936. Florence Yoch and Lucile Council, landscape architects. Florence Yoch Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

During the Great Depression, Yoch and Council’s commissions shifted to designing film sets for Hollywood movies and eventually for the private estates of directors and producers. For director George Cukor, they designed an intimate garden, relaxed and unpretentious, that served as a welcoming space for the numerous gatherings Cukor hosted for his Hollywood friends. The architect James Dolena designed Cukor’s residence so that it occupied a hillside, providing Yoch and Council with a sweep of open land for a fruit orchard and rose garden on the west end of the property and a long, ramped walk-up to the pool on the north end. These elements formed an axis point between the residence and the rest of the property.

A grayscale photo of two people in a mature garden.

Lucile Council (left) and Florence Yoch at the garden of Mrs. C. Pardee Erdman, San Marino, ca. 1940. Photographer unknown. Florence Yoch Papers. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Yoch and Council would often provide clients with a booklet of typed instructions, specifying in detail how to care for the gardens they designed. The booklets contained plant lists, schedules for changing out annuals, instructions on composting and amending soil, and seasonal guides on planting and watering.

Yoch and Council never needed to solicit work. They acquired all their clients by word of mouth, and they were selective when accepting commissions, knowing that their relationships with clients would be long term and ongoing.

At the time of Council’s death in 1964, she and Yoch had been a couple for nearly 40 years. During their partnership, they lived in four different homes between Pasadena and Carmel, each one a working laboratory for improving their proficiency at site-specific planting and design. Their legacy lives on in The Huntington’s archives.

Erin Chase is the associate curator of architecture and photography at The Huntington.