Sources of Inspiration
California is a unique landscaping environment, with many plants growing at the edge of their naturally optimal climates. Where else can you have a palm, a redwood, a jacaranda, a Japanese maple, a black pine, and an orange tree live happily within 20 ft of each other!? That does not necessarily mean that it's easy to take care of such a landscape; drip irrigation is essential, because these plants need to be on very different watering schedules.
In general I preferred to begin with a large geometric frame, reminiscent of a formal French style. I built that frame either with long unbroken rows of moss rock, or granite rock, or with retaining walls topped with bull-nose bricks. Smaller areas were subsequently planted with a more chaotic assortment of shapes and colors, English cottage style.
Since I don't like to follow any style in particular, I also mixed in Southwestern themes, Mediterranean themes, and Japanese themes; the large family of Japanese maples is my favorite family of trees. And least I forget ... rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Some sources of inspiration are shown below:
The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island offer inspiring templates of large geometric framings filled with colors and shapes at smaller scale.
The geometry of formal French landscaping ...,
... the orchestrated chaos of the English cottage garden ...,
... the deep restraint of Japanese maples and pines ...,
... Mediterranean touches ...,
... the warmth of an old California hacienda ...,
... the wonderful wackiness of a Hobbiton idea.