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A Smooth Transition : The More Things in This Garden Change, the More They Seem to Stay the Same

September 28, 1986|ROBERT SMAUS | Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine

As summer slides slowly into fall, the seasonal change in most gardens is often more abrupt than need be. Karin Fintzy's garden, however, goes through no dramatic shifts but changes subtly and naturally. Though it definitely has its peaks, the valleys are not so low. There are never any gaping holes in the fabric of the garden.

Instead of planting annuals and bulbs in large beds that would be great expanses of bare ground between seasons, Fintzy, a garden consultant in Pacific Palisades, tucks the fleeting plants here and there among more permanent ones, so the bare spots aren't so obvious. No one notices the bulbs when they've got just their leaves or the annuals while they are little sprouts, except the gardener, who must keep an eye open for marauding slugs and snails that wait in nearby plantings.

The little clearings are just big enough to put in a few bulbs of this, or a few bedding plants of that. The humble bedding plants are not excluded because they often are used in traditional perennial borders, but they do not dominate the garden. They are seasonal accents of a sort.

Because these areas are fairly small, experimenting with some untried but promising plant is not as hazardous to the overall success of the show; if something turns out not to be what Fintzy had hoped for, she is not stuck with a whole bed of the stuff.

The Fintzy garden is full of such experiments, which makes it a treat for anyone with an interest in plants. Some of her trials have been so successful that she has increased the plantings. In the springtime view of the garden, note the large expanse of a relatively uncommon bulb, the purplish baboon flower ( Babiana stricta ). It has naturalized in this part of the garden; the bulbs do not have to be dug up each year, though the leaves must be cut off after turning brown or they will persist through the summer. That would be unacceptable since the same ground is occupied by the tough little ground cover Polygonum capitatum , called knotweed by some, which wants its turn to bloom.

After fall-planted California poppies and calendulas flower in the spring and then begin to fade, marigolds and two perennials grown as annuals, Coreopsis 'Sunray' and Gaillardia 'Goblin,' are planted. Anemones (the bulb, not the perennial) are followed by blue salvia, and so on.

Most of the pockets of flowers and bulbs that must be replanted with each change of season are near the path, so they aren't too hard to get at. The background is composed of shrubs of smallish stature that were carefully chosen to bloom at various times of the year. Note that they put on a respectable show in late August, when most gardens are rapidly losing their color.

The middle ground is a mixture of small shrubs and perennials and a few things that are difficult to categorize, including epidendrum orchids and the succulent kalanchoe. The foreground consists mostly of low ground covers, tough enough to get stepped on, which is likely if one is not watching where one is going. And in this garden one is easily distracted from his destination.

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