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Get a sneak peek at an Italian dream, one stop on the Garden Conservancy tour this weekend

May 6, 2010 | 11:06 am

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The Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour in Los Angeles is set for Saturday, and L.A. at Home has sneak peeks of three of the properties on the tour. We'll start with the lovely home of Clara Yust.

Yust3 It’s hard to stroll through Yust’s garden without feeling as though you’ve landed in another time and place. Rationally, you know you’re in modern-day Hancock Park. But your senses tell you you’re at a villa in Renaissance Tuscany. Sunlight warms wide gravel paths. Precision-trimmed hedges unfold in green symmetry. Sweet-smelling roses cloak the side of the house. And from the center of this scene comes the trickling music of a three-tiered fountain.

"It’s a romantic garden, comfortable and not pompous,” Yust says. “You can be in blue jeans or a ball gown — it doesn’t matter. Like all Italian gardens, it’s a set of rooms for living outdoors.”

The classic look of the garden was created in 1921 by architect Francis Pierpont Davis, who also designed St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles and the Villa d’Este apartments in West Hollywood. He wanted to complement his new home, an estate so quintessentially Italian that it’s believed he had craftsmen from the old country brought over to build it.

But by the time Yust and her husband, Larry, moved in — in 1986, after first glimpsing the property as neighbors 19 years earlier — the grounds were a mess. Machetes cleared away dense, overgrown ivy, which revealed the underlying structure of the garden, including a monumental gated arch, still intact. Restoration began with simple watering and pruning to revive what survived. Then, guided by Davis’ original vision, the Yusts gradually made the garden their own.

For more photos of the garden and details on the tour this weekend, keep reading ...

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Yust5 The backyard is divided into four distinct sections, the centerpiece of which is the formal courtyard of clipped myrtle. Traditional Italian gardens are known more for their year-round greenery than for flower power, but the couple couldn’t resist planting dozens of rose bushes. “It’s not what would have been here, but I love roses — hybrid teas, floribundas and David Austins,” Yust says.

Yust6 Outside the courtyard lies the park-like bosco (Italian for woods) of eucalyptus, oaks and black acacias. The mature trees provide welcome summer shade in the gravel-paved clearings that the Yusts set aside for outdoor gatherings. In the combined orchard-and-service area, old citrus trees supply fruit, still more roses fill new boxwood hedges, and a lap pool designed by the Yusts’ architect daughter, Victoria, doubles as a reflecting pond.

Yust’s favorite spot is a corner tucked off the living room, an intimate space that features a mossy fountain she fashioned from a Corinthian capital and a ceramic wall panel pieced back together from tile shards found strewn nearby. Walk out to the restored tile and then turn around, Yust suggests, and you’ll see the well-preserved columns and arches beautifully framed in pink Colombian roses and creeping fig. It’s a don’t-miss view that sums up the quiet grace of this delightful slice of Italy.

-- Emily Young

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The Yusts’ garden is one of six featured in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour Saturday. All are in the Hancock Park area; tour-goers can see as many as they wish from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Regular admission is $5 per garden; discounted tickets and maps will be available from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Getty House, the official mayor’s residence of Los Angeles, 605 S. Irving Blvd. Information: (888) 842-2442, www.gardenconservancy.org.

Photo credits: Christina House / For The Times

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