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AT HOME : An Idler's Paradise : Winding paths in garden designer Bruce Anderson's own yard in Burbank lead to secret delights with a rich mix of sights and sounds.

February 05, 1993|SUSAN HEEGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Susan Heeger writes regularly about gardening for The Times

To get the most out of Bruce Anderson's Burbank garden, it helps to have a lazy disposition. Confronting its rich mix of sights and sounds, you've got to choose--fast--between falling asleep in the willow bed on its terrace or stretching out beside its bubbling ountain. Otherwise, you just might wander off and get lost.

Hankie-sized but packed with places to go, the garden is an idler's paradise. Its winding paths lead to secret delights: an overgrown dining patio whose chairs are caught in the clutches of flowers, a sculptural icon that resembles a downed spacecraft, a shady bench beside a pool. Its towering plants would dwarf most grown-ups, making them feel like kids in a cornfield--safe and free to while away an afternoon.

Only Anderson, it seems, never gets any rest here. He's too busy heeling in salvias, hand-watering delphiniums or barbering pampas grass that threatens to blot out his sun. A garden designer by trade, he's a gardener by avocation. "It's my escape from the world," he says. "I love physical labor. I love to get my hands dirty." Although he spends weekdays putting plants together for the rich and famous (Goldie Hawn, Frank Sinatra and Cher, among them), weekends find him in his own corner of Mayberry, which his modest neighborhood resembles.

The result would inspire anyone with a small lot and big dreams. Two years ago, when he bought his Spanish-style bungalow, it overlooked a dead lawn and one ash tree, which he promptly uprooted. He then designed two terraces--one, a tiny view garden off the dining room; the other, a shady lounging spot off the kitchen--and laid out planting beds with a pickax. "Nothing was too premeditated," he explains. "I get bored very easily."

Although flavored by a European garden aesthetic--which emphasizes structure and composed views--Anderson's landscape pits the formality of a central path with the asymmetry of rambling offshoots. "Here," he says, "you're not forced to walk in straight lines."

His plant choices tie the loose scheme together--pink-flowering anisodentea, rosemary, huge outcroppings of lavender and heaps of pampas grass, all repeating like musical themes throughout the yard. Colorful annuals and fragrant herbs complete the picture, and everything grows wild and tall--until, according to Anderson's rules, it blocks a path or interferes with something else. This unclipped luxuriance has two purposes: It keeps maintenance down and makes the garden look as if it has grown there forever.

But the real magic of this little place, says Anderson's friend and fellow landscape designer, Larry Finch of West Los Angeles, lies in its relative restraint. "Within a small space," Finch explains, "Bruce has limited his plant and color palette so that it flows better and feels bigger."

He has also littered the space with surprises: cattail-patterned furniture of his own design, a rebar arch for a climbing rose, a smiling terra-cotta sun that spits water into his koi pond.

Anderson, well-known for his designs of exotic indoor gardens, has increasingly been branching out into the outdoors. "My spiritual space is outside," he says. "I love to touch the earth and hold the blooms in my hands."

At the same time, he admits, although his garden pleases him immensely, he can't sit still in it. "Once I've done something, I want to do something else. Instead of being able to savor and enjoy it, I'm dreaming of another place I can create."

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