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A painting in 3-D

At her Malibu home, Liz Haft created three distinctive landscapes using an artist's eye for the interplay of texture, layers and light.

May 13, 2004|Andrea R. Vaucher | Special to The Times

ALTHOUGH the Malibu Garden Club lists four private gardens on the schedule for its Sunday tour, it could have changed the number to six without being accused of inaccuracy: Liz Haft has created not one but three distinct gardens on her property in Point Dume.

In front, a vibrant courtyard of pepper, jacaranda, citrus and olive trees, herbs, succulents and a pond, is pure Mediterranean.

In back, the landscape morphs into provincial French, the green expanse of manicured lawn ringed by a path of decomposed granite, mature sycamores and Aleppo pines.

At the rear edge of the property, the terraced terrain is unadulterated Malibu, with plants of the native chaparral, sweeping canyon views and a pathway to a private beach.

Haft designed her two acres of gardens without a landscape architect, and she maintains them with the help of only a part-time gardener.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 14, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Malibu garden tour -- An article in Thursday's Home section about the Malibu Garden Club tour said it would take place Sunday. It will take place Saturday, as an accompanying article stated.

Her design approach, she says, is strictly intuitive. A painter with an MFA from Otis Art Institute, Haft combines color, shape and texture in a painterly fashion. "Really, the whole garden thing is like a three-dimensional painting to me. You add and subtract, you rip and tear. It's about texture and layers and light."

Haft first tackled the courtyard after she and her husband, Russ, a computer consultant, purchased the property in 1997.

"Because the courtyard was a smaller area, I wanted the full spectrum of color," Haft says. Inspired by the multihued ceramic tiles that were part of the original hardscape, she incorporated boldly colored blooms, choosing Spanish lavender because it gives "the deepest purple flower for the longest time" and a wall of brash magenta bougainvillea.

Haft also experimented with texture, starting with the existing assortment of succulents -- echevaria, dudlia, donkey tails, agave -- which run the gamut from spiky to bumpy to smooth. "More time is spent walking here and noticing things," Haft says, and because of that, scent also became a preoccupation.

The pittosporum varieties in the front of the courtyard vary from a lime to a deep bottle green, accented here by a smooth blue-green sedum, there by a silvery-leaf olive tree clipped to grow like a shrub.

Haft salvaged some existing plants but tore out others that weren't doing well and put in new ones. With advice from the original landscape architect, she chose a variety of drought tolerant plants from places that share the Southern California climate: kangaroo paws from Australia, Madagascar geraniums, and leucospermum, originally from South Africa.

To add even more visual interest, Haft hung chandelier crystals and colored glass orbs on the branches of a pepper tree, and she used shiny buttons and beads to garnish the topsoil in pots and planters.

The backyard, on the other hand, is more subtle, a blend of greens, gray-greens and bronzes. The lawn, which she wanted as a playing area for her three children, is surrounded by natives and hedges and more drought tolerant plants. "And we have the biggest pool in the world -- the beach is only a five-minute walk."

In the yard, there was very little deliberate planting. "I wanted lots of natural stuff," Haft says. "I wanted to blend the textures and landscape out into the canyon. I don't have any big showy flowers out on the ridge. It's really just a hodgepodge."

But beyond the ridge, a terraced cutting garden reveals itself and cascades in a colorful palette down the ravine. The dramatic orange grevillea, a native of Australia, vies for center stage with echium, a California native that ranges in color from magenta to slate blue. Lady Banksia roses adorn a trellised archway. Four varieties of cistus, or rock rose, with their paper-thin magenta and white flowers, share space with licorice and lavender. "It's a stroll garden, lots to look at," says landscape designer and neighbor Carolyn Mitchell. "The perennials, shrubs and sub-shrubs take turns being the focal point."

Haft also painted whimsical swiggles and spirals on wooden steps leading into a canyon, and lavender swirls on Adirondack chairs that she put in an umbrella-shaded privacy nook. The overall concept was to follow the shape of the land, and to blend the garden with the canyon. Now, it's hard to determine where her property ends.

"Though this has the appearance of the wild, Liz chooses things for a reason," Mitchell says. "Unlike the gardens of a lot of plant enthusiasts, there's a sense of design and order."

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