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Style : GARDENS : Quiet on the Set

July 28, 1991|ROBERT SMAUS

This grand Pasadena house has appeared in hundreds of movies, TV shows and commercials, but the true star of the property is the garden. Though much smaller than it once was, it has been recently restored and is again peaceful and inviting.

Built in 1914 south of Caltech, the estate featured a garden that was downright sprawling. Aside from the fish pond (seen briefly in "Duck Soup," one of the first movies shot here), there were a long mall, a huge south garden and two separate courts. Later, however, the property was subdivided. Now surrounded by 14 homes, what remains of the old garden has been salvaged and the new garden is landscaped for privacy.

The house is the home of Coleman and Jane Morton, whose son Charles restored the garden and oversees the property's ongoing life as a movie set. Prompted by blue herons, kingfishers and raccoons that were depleting koi in the old pool, he decided to build a new pond that could be protected. Morton found and bought two fiberglass molds originally used to make the sound baffles above the Hollywood Bowl. One mold became the pond; the other became the fountain-like filter. To protect the koi , he built a steel-pipe gazebo and planted it with trumpet vines. Predators now look elsewhere for their meals.

Landscape designer Barry Campion, an old family friend, planted the new garden. Having played here as a child, she knew the garden well and appreciated its history. Campion helped develop a formal plan to complement the grounds: geometric beds divided by tidy paths. Inside the beds, however, plantings are exuberant and colorful and grow almost haphazardly. All around are trellises left behind by film companies and recycled chimney bricks, bits of the estate's past that have been incorporated into its future.

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