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Never-Ending Story

A Fairy Tale Garden Continues to Evolve With Maze-Like Hedgerows and Enchanted Plantings

March 11, 2001|SUSAN HEEGER

The trees were hulking monsters and the old hedges had sprouted holes. But five years ago, when Matthew White and Thomas Schumacher saw this San Gabriel Valley garden, they understood what it had once been. "The bones were there and so was the strong relationship of the landscape to the house. Just as the house needed work, the garden needed cleaning up and clarifying," says White, an interior designer.

In 1924, father-and-son architects Weston & Weston designed the Mediterranean-style house to take advantage of its one-acre lot. Most major rooms have a corresponding outdoor space: The library adjoins a patio roofed with thick canopies of ivy twined on wires while the kitchen and living room share a shaded terrace. Even the bedrooms open onto balconies with garden views.

But over time, the property's charms were lost in overgrowth and too much pink. "Inside and out, that was the reigning color here," says White, who, with Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, replaced 100 lurid roses with more subtle selections. The two also trimmed trees--huge grevillias and palms, crape myrtles and gnarled citruses--and went to work on the patchy, ballooning hedges. One of the garden's main attractions, these clipped boxwoods rise in architectural formations beside the lawn, framing rose beds and walling walks, creating a green maze that leads to unexpected ornaments, such as a European-style wellhead, a birdbath and an armillary sundial. White didn't initially grasp the challenge of bringing back the original crispness of the hedge design. "As uniform as it looks," he says, "you're forever replacing individual plants. Maybe they're too old and they've died, or you prune them too hard and they never really come back."

But month by month, as he coaxed and cajoled the hedges, he got a better sense of his garden's shape and requirements. To punctuate the central horizontal sweep of green, he brought in tall urns, which, for parties and entertaining, he fills with fresh fruit and cut flowers. He also noticed that, in addition to existing treasures like the wellhead and birdbaths, he needed statues to grace niches and end paths. A bust of Bacchus--bought for a song at a local antique shop-- now overlooks his side patio. Meanwhile, he and Schumacher are still discovering surprises--a seating alcove masked by shrubs, a woodsy meditation spot, the way the late sun lights the swimming pool on summer nights.

Added 12 years ago, the pool, designed by Mark Berry, is rimmed with yet another hedge. Just below it, water spills down a wall, through the mouth of a sculpted river god and into a rill that leads to a rose-edged fountain. "This place is so totally in its own world," says White, explaining why he and Schumacher named it Villa del Favole, or House of Fairy Tales. "After 75 years, it's still magic."

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