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Points of Interest : In This Classic Formal Garden, Statues and Fountains Lure Visitors Ever Farther Into the Landscape

July 09, 1989|ROBERT SMAUS | Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

ROUNDING A corner on a certain stretch of Beverly Hills' Sunset Boulevard, motorists can't help but be surprised at the audacity of the nicely dressed couple trying to get a view of what is beyond a high stucco wall. They are statues, of course, by Stuart Johnson, as are the wall's tireless painters and the security guard by the gate.

But what is on the other side? A private residence with a garden that is as classically formal as the statues on the street are modern. Statues are an important part of the inner garden as well, but all within are antique, purchased in Italy by the estate's owners. To a large extent, the landscape architects, Galper / Baldon Associates, designed the garden around them. "Remnants of an older formal plan" on the old estate, Cleo Baldon says, served as the inspiration. Formal gardens such as this one are walking gardens, designed for people to move through. The paths are straight and neat, and objects such as fountains and statues are placed in the distance and along the way to lure visitors ever farther into the landscape.

The most puzzling aspect of the redesign of this garden was to provide safe access off a blind corner on Sunset. What Baldon calls an off-ramp feeds into a sharply angled drive, which then leads to a small formal garden surrounding an antique fountain. Broken concrete is the paving material, with dichondra between the cracks to break up the monotony. The beds here are the most colorful in the garden, filled during cold weather with tulips and winter-spring flowers. When the jacaranda trees come into flower in early summer, the beds are changed to marigolds and ageratum, which landscape architect Alan Fleischacker of Galper/Baldon, who has been in charge of this ongoing project for the last several years, specified to mimic the color of the jacaranda blossoms overhead. From the side windows of the living room, there is a perfect view of the fountain, which serves as a distraction from the bustle of the busy street beyond the wall.

Walking through an arched passageway in a wall on the other side of the fountain brings one to a formal rose garden off the mansion's terrace. Another path runs a mighty distance between trees and spectacular Phoenix canariensis palms, some of them remnants of the earlier garden. The view from there is as straight as an arrow. Far in the distance is yet another antique figure that draws you into the garden to investigate. Little statues stand all along the way; another fountain marks the halfway point.

Near the end of the walk is the swimming pool. It is centered on the path as if it were a reflecting pond. Just beyond it is a spa, disguised as yet another small fountain. The classic beauty standing over the spa, another statue protected by an arbor and only dimly visible from the house, is the reward at the end of this garden walk.

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