THE HOUSES IN THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS may have spectacular views, but their gardens, often as precipitous as the hills themselves, present quite a challenge to gardeners and garden designers. Subdivided during the early decades of the century, many of these lots have never been landscaped; they were developed before the advent of cut-and-fill and tidy, level building pads. Not only are the lots steep, but they're also small; every square foot counts (and every level square foot counts double).
But where there's dirt there's hope. Stephen Lenci, an environmental designer and developer, fell in love with a house on such a site in 1986. The house, with its Mediterranean-inspired architecture, was irresistible and the view spectacular, but the gardener in him shouted, "Trouble!" Fortunately, this was not his first home on an impossible site; he's had a couple of hillside gardens, and he's learned a few tricks.
He also had seen magnificent terrace gardens on similar sites in Italy, and one in particular, the villa Axel Munthe at Anacapri on the isle of Capri, became his inspiration. Impressed by the use of carefully planted levels, he began to do the same with his Hollywood hillside.
There are now three levels to the garden, hewn from the hill and held in place with retaining walls that correspond to the three stories of the house. The lowest is on street level, where drought-resistant plants fill the beds. Patrick Turnbull and Collie Valadez, landscape designers who had worked with Lenci on a previous residence, helped here as well, choosing an unusually exuberant and eclectic assortment of plants. Graceful fountain grass and kangaroo paws, seemingly always in flower, billow from their perches; geraniums, lantana, ground-hugging rosemary, knotweed and tradescantia drip down the walls.