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STYLE : GARDENS : Paradise Found

Around the time developer Charles Edward Toberman was busy erecting Los Angeles landmarks such as the El Capitan and Egyptian movie theaters, the Roosevelt Hotel and the Max Factor building, he also built this large but rather plain Hollywood Hills home. Later, actor Bela Lugosi lived here and is said to have let his pet panther splash in the waterfall on the sprawling grounds.

But the garden didn’t really start to shine until two years ago, when the current owner decided that the patchwork of paving materials and retaining walls needed “cleaning up.” Landscape gardener Robert Tainsh of Studio City and decorator Vincent Jacquart of Los Angeles collaborated on the project, guided by a vision that is decidedly Mediterranean in look and feel.

Tainsh and Jacquart didn’t want to fracture the garden into smaller bits, so they simply installed new paving and retaining walls where the old ones had been. Now the materials throughout the garden--limestone and stuccoed concrete--work together instead of against one another. To block the view of a neighboring residence, Jacquart designed a pool house using classical proportions found in a book on ancient architecture. Then, to create the illusion of more outdoor living space, he employed a little Hollywood magic, scaling down the mock temple so that it appears farther away from the main house than it actually is.

Tainsh dug into the hillside and added a tall retaining wall, which he disguised by making it part of a pergola. The ends of the beams overhead are capped with hand-carved replicas of Pompeian ram’s heads, and the wood has been aged with a wash of bleach and cement.

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Throughout the canyon property, Tainsh planted an assortment of interesting plants, starting with Australian tree ferns and camellias at the top of the hill and ending with tropicals down by the pool. Hollywood gardens were among the first to adopt the tropical look, but then the big-leaved plants fell out of fashion even though they are tough and not very thirsty. Tainsh was willing to give them another try, and they make a strong poolside statement.

Along a path that runs from the pool to the front of the house grow bananas, flowering gingers, giant bird-of-paradise and gunnera, as well as several rare bamboos and vines, including giant Burmese honeysuckle and blood-red trumpet vine. Together, these plants do a good job of shutting out the busy canyon street just a few feet away. In fact, you would never know this paradise was here--another illusion that no doubt would have pleased Toberman, Mr. Hollywood himself.


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