The Secret Gardens of L.A.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The other day I walked by some fresh green moss in my garden; this is a terrible confession for an old grizzled mountaineer to say--but that moss looked mighty impressive to me! --Ansel Adams

In our own back yards, a number of little-known gardens are quietly making similar impressions; many once were private estates that were either donated or sold to the city or state.

From a formal garden surrounding a Gothic mansion in Beverly Hills to the rose garden by a pioneer cottage in Chatsworth, here are some of Los Angeles' unknown best:

* Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills; Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free. (213) 550-4654.

Hollywood directors don't have to look far when they need an elegant, stately mansion. "Witches of Eastwick," "Ghostbusters II" and "Dynasty, the Movie," are just a few of the films shot here. With 55 rooms and 46,000 square feet, the Doheny oil family's estate became the largest residence in the city's history.

While the house is not open to the public, visitors can stroll through three gardens. Limestone terraces and balustrades are planted with hedges of eugenia, box and yew. A steep foothill offers outstanding city views and a parade of film crews provides star-gazing opportunities.

* Adamson Home and Malibu Lagoon Museum, 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. House and museum open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Group tours on Tuesdays by reservation. $2 for adults, $1 for children over 6. (213) 456-8432.

With the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, the garden at Malibu's Adamson Home features more than 100 plants, including an African wedding bouquet with pink clusters and a bunya-bunya which drops 10-pound cones. Art Deco architect Stiles Clements designed the two-story Spanish Colonial residence in 1928 for the Adamson family, founders of Adohr Dairy.

The house is a showplace for ceramic tile produced by the family-owned Malibu Potteries. Tile adorns the interior fireplaces, baseboards, floors and baths. Outside, terra cotta tile, inset with blue designs, graces two seaside patios. A ceramic star-shaped fountain overlooks Surfrider Beach.

* Donald C. Tillman Japanese Garden, 6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys. Guided tours by appointment, no children under 12. Grounds open the second Wednesday of each month. Free. (818) 989-8166.

"It's said in Japan that if the devil is chasing you, find a zigzag bridge, for devils can't turn corners!" says docent Edith Clerx.

The bridge she points out, surrounded by water irises, is just one of many authentic details at this 6 1/2-acre garden.

Designed to showcase the use of reclaimed water from the adjacent treatment plant, the setting offers separate Zen, water and tea gardens. Cherry and peach trees, black pines and azaleas are reflected in a lake so inviting that ducks and egrets show up each year to nest.

* Orcutt Ranch Horticulture Center, 23600 Roscoe Blvd . , Los Angeles. Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Historical tours 2-5 p.m. the last Sunday of each month. Free. (818) 346-7449.

Farther into San Fernando Valley is another relatively unknown city park created around the residence of oil geologist and engineer William Orcutt.

His 1920s Spanish ranch adjoins a rose garden and citrus groves. Thirty-three massive oak trees shade the area, including several more than 700 years old.

"In April, the fragrance knocks you over," special events coordinator Cheryl Tabbi says of the garden's 16 acres of grapefruit and orange orchards.

Year-round, visitors can enjoy blooms from an array of flowers, such as camellias, azaleas, cashmere bouquets, hibiscus and roses.

* The Homestead Acre, 10385 Shadow Oak Drive, Chatsworth. Open the first Sunday of each month from 1-4 p.m. and for group tours by appointment. Free. (818) 882-5614.

Tucked away in the lower part of Chatsworth Park South lies The Homestead Acre.

The property features the Hill-Palmer House, one of the last pioneer cottages in Los Angeles. With her family, Minnie Hill Palmer homesteaded the 230 acres that make up Chatsworth Park.

"Sitting in the shade of the large black walnut tree, it's hard to believe we are within a block of the city," says Sheila Watts, president of the Chatsworth Historical Society which gives tours of the grounds, cottage and museum.

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