Through an arched door framed by wisteria, stairs lead down to a long gravel path bordered on both sides by roses. An elegant copper fountain sits right in the center. Beyond, the path seems to vanish into ocean and islands.
Oprah's attention, however, is not on the view but on the very near distance. On grout. Yes, the grout on the stone floor.
"I chose the color of the grout," she says, "and I chose the particular kind of gravel that was right for the rose garden, and another kind for the pathways. Grout color and gravel size would drive most people nuts. But it's all part of the process for me."
"This is mud from yesterday," Oprah says, pointing at paw marks left on the sofa by her white golden retrievers. "That's what you've got to live with," she adds, proving that she's looking at the long view, too.
She could transact business here, but doesn't: "No meetings, ever."
She may not visit for months at a time, only stopping by when she can really get away. "It's a commitment when I allow myself to come here," Oprah says. But whether she's in Montecito or Chicago or Johannesburg, the existence of the teahouse—just knowing it's there—is essential to her well-being. "It's my dream, having a place like this. Some people ask, 'Why do you need more space?' And I tell them, 'I need it to restore myself.'"
Immediately beyond that arched door and the surrounding clusters of purple flowers is her English garden, its varieties of perennials and annuals creating a natural, unplanned feeling. Oprah loves it, she says, "because of its diversity."
Below lies the splendor of her rose garden. Planted in parterres that slope down both sides of the central path, it's an acre designed by master rosarian Dan Bifano to ensure that there's always something in bloom. "I had my hands down in the dirt, helping plant these," Oprah says, as she walks through the garden to the orange and butter-yellow roses that contrast so beautifully with a large semicircle of lavender that marks the end of the teahouse garden.
After arriving with a bucketful of assorted roses to get a sense of Oprah's reaction to color, style, and texture, Dan created gardens that would complement the colors inside the main house. Then, he spent the next five years—with the help of hybridizer Tom Carruth—bringing an entirely new rose into being.
The Legends Rose, which will be available to the public beginning in December 2008, is one of the largest hybrid teas ever created. Oprah named the rose, which is red with black tips and ruffled petals (like "a Spanish dancer's dress," Bifano says) in honor of the 18 African-American women—the legends—she celebrated with a three-day festival in 2005. She has a photograph of these women hanging in her main house: giants of the arts like Maya Angelou, Tina Turner, and Ruby Dee, side by side with 36 "young'uns" like Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Alicia Keys. "All the young'uns paid tribute to the elders," Oprah says. "I had a ball."
"I can get excited over little things," Oprah says as she walks past a patch of artichokes and green peppers. "I see a basket of heirloom tomatoes from my garden, and it's so beautiful that I have to take a picture. Just the bounty of it, the fact that this just came out of the ground, the fact—oh, I can go on and on about the tomatoes until people say, 'Hey, it's a tomato!'"
In a grassy meadow near an avocado orchard, an enormous live oak tree holds center stage, its branches bending and twisting far out on all sides. It's Oprah's favorite tree. "At one point, I was advised to put some steel beams underneath to hold her arms up. I had the groundskeepers take them out because I thought she would be embarrassed."
Oprah repeats, with emphasis, "She."
Would wooden supports have done better?
Oprah pauses. "Yes. But she doesn't want them. She'll stand as long as she can. When she's ready to go, she'll go."
As I returned to my home, I thought about grout, how it holds things together. To care about grout is to care about more than a tiny detail; it's an expression of making everything matter. For Oprah, everything is essential to her whole vision. "I love my home," she says. "My home is a gift."
Where Oprah Goes to Get Away from It All
Go inside Oprah's Hawaiian retreat
Tour Oprah's library in California
7 roses Oprah loves