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Palisades Oasis

May 04, 1997|Susan Heeger

A walk through Charles Eglee and Ninkey Dalton's Pacific Palisades garden doesn't take very long. The lot is only 50 by 120 feet and half of it is house. Yet the landscape is full of details and surprises. Within the green clasp of the front hedge, a stylized Venus rises from the nasturtiums; succulents sneak across the courtyard and water bubbles from a vintage Bauer oil jar. Secret lounging seats appear among the growth, and everywhere there's a mix of plants from the desert, the tropics and old Los Angeles. "We've made a virtue out of crowding," jokes Eglee, a native New Englander and executive producer of ABC's "Murder One" and the upcoming series "Total Security."

Twenty years ago, Eglee moved west and fell in love with California pottery, Raymond Chandler, Mission architecture and palm trees. "I always felt I belonged here, with all the beach people, living a kooky life," he says, "and I wanted the things of this place--the eclectic, made-up spirit of Spanish Mission-meets-Hollywood." Dalton, a Toronto-born film and television production designer, felt the same. Once the couple settled into their 1920s Mediterranean and painted it vivid terra cotta, their thoughts turned to landscaping. Since neither had gardened much, they hired landscape architect Rob Steiner to transform fantasies into greenery.

Eglee wanted flowers, Dalton wanted citrus trees and both requested water and cozy sitting areas. Steiner introduced them to exotic plants and other big ideas for their little plot. One was to replace the back lawn with a palette-shaped pond--a risky choice since space was scarce. But Steiner circled the pond with gravel, creating a path with destinations, a series of spots from which to view the water scenery: floating lilies, koi, a colorful mix of bog plants and swamp grasses. With his partner, Jay Griffith, he later designed a classic four-cornered court for the front anchored by palms and edged with tough Mediterranean plants. "We sit out there, hear the water, put our feet in the fountain--it's better than a swimming pool," says Dalton, who adds that she has caught her 7-year-old daughter, Eli, swimming in the fountain's basin.

Meanwhile, the garden grows along with the family's interests: A service area behind the garage has become a kitchen plot, complete with taro Eglee and Dalton discovered in Hawaii while working on the 1994 TV series "The Byrds of Paradise." Dalton has collaborated with L.A. artist Nancy Kintisch on designs for driveway paving and outdoor furniture made of wrought iron and mosaic tiles. Eglee is planning a sleeping-porch to extend the master bedroom into the garden. "We're fine-tuning now," he says, "but basically, it'll never be done. It's like a house--as long as you live in it, you keep filling it with what you love."

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