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SOCAL STYLE / Home & Garden

Palms, Ferns and Ficuses Shade a Retreat Perched High in the Hills

November 29, 1998|SUSAN HEEGER

When East Coast natives Beth Colt and P.K. Simonds moved to L.A. for jobs in Hollywood, they wanted to live like Californians. So five years ago, once they found the requisite Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills, they went to work almost instantly on its landscape. They yanked clotted vines from a picturesque jacaranda tree, planted a ficus hedge for privacy and installed a fence to keep their dog from chasing his ball into the street. Then, says Colt, a film producer and actors' manager, they realized that apart from a good-for-nothing lawn, bird of paradise that blocked their view and some tired tropicals, very little was growing on their hilltop lot. Moreover, whatever had survived needed help. A boxwood hedge near the front door, Colt says, enclosed "a hideous set piece": peeling fountain, wan roses and agapanthus. A rear patio that she envisioned as the dining terrace was roofed with heavy lattice like a cave. Wanting the outdoors to be as usable as their house, she and Simonds, a writer-producer for the Fox TV series "Party of Five," hired Jay Griffith and Rob Steiner of Venice-based Griffith & Steiner to make them a garden.

Since the lot was steep and small--about 100 by 100 feet--step one was to capitalize on the vista. It rolled out grandly in front of the house--a view from downtown L.A. to the ocean--hence the sunny front garden, not the shady rear, would be the main alfresco gathering spot. Griffith and Steiner planted palms for lacy shade, relocated the fountain and removed the useless lawn. They laid a terrace of precast concrete pavers, stained them to complement existing Saltillo tiles and seeded sweet alyssum in the cracks.

The back court, with its lattice lifted and vintage tile fountain restored, became a view garden for the kitchen and living rooms as well as a refuge from the heat. Like a traditional Spanish patio, it relies on green plants--ferns, ficuses and gingers--rather than flowers for its cooling comforts. Elsewhere, a hammock swings between two trees and potted succulents provide the segues between the casually furnished rooms where the owners dine, loaf and party with friends.

Having just had their first baby, Charlie, a year ago, Colt and Simonds are now fully rooted in California. "The garden is more finished than the house," says Colt. "After five years, I have no curtain rods, but I have trees!"

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