STYLE : GARDENS : Countrified Color

The true gardener's garden is easy to spot. It follows the heart, not the rule book, to towering rose hedges and wisteria drifts, to nasturtiums that rage wildly from their beds, threatening to take over the place.

Such headstrong plants delight actress Elizabeth Hoffman, a veteran green thumb who, when she isn't shoehorning a few hundred more bulbs into her two-acre Malibu garden, plays Beatrice on the NBC series "Sisters." Eighteen years ago, on a landscape dotted with oaks and sycamores and divided by a seasonal creek, she laid out perennial beds, rock gardens and fern-filled dells, all linked by paths of local stone. She began, she says, with "a vision of roses": She wanted heaps of them. Today, they're everywhere, crawling over fences, pressing against walls, filling the air with their heady perfume.

Among the roses are legions of exotic lilies, bearded irises and nasturtiums that pour through the dry streambed in spring and summer, beneath an arched wooden bridge. Two minimal sweeps of lawn serve as a clipped background as well as a badminton field. Elsewhere, Hoffman's husband, George, has added a fruit orchard and terraced vegetable beds. A greenhouse and chicken coop complete the picture of casual country living.

Such a scene, despite its graces, is not without its perils. Twice in seven years, the stream has flooded Hoffman's garden. She has taken the setbacks philosophically, as part of the drama of living amidst nature. This, she believes, is the whole point of gardening: "It keeps us in contact with the earth."

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