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Pretty Blooms for Patching and Repairing

March 28, 1987|ROBERT SMAUS | Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine

At this time of the year, even the best planned, and most lavishly planted gardens may need a quick fix. At other times, a few holes in the scheme, a little bare dirt here and there, may go unnoticed. But perfection is possible right now and plugging these holes can be a delightful Saturday task. It also lets you see what's in flower at nurseries, which is a lot.

Inevitably there are a few holes in one's garden--flowers that didn't bloom, or bloomed too soon and are already gone, or that got knocked flat in last week's rains, or even killed in one of the hard frosts experienced inland. Seeing the need, nurseries make sure they have spring flowers already in bloom for patching and repairing (and for those who forgot to plant last fall).

For this repair work, I carry around a little tool caddy--my mechanic's chest--and a bucket of soil amendment. In the caddy are a few essential tools of the trade.

Rather than doing this replanting with a trowel, I use the trowel-sized forks that are often sold with trowels in a set. These little forks let me dig up the soil, break up any dirt clods, and mix in some fresh soil amendment. There is also a bag of granular fertilizer in the caddy, and a pinch of this gets mixed into each hole. Then I dig the hole and plant, being careful to repack the soil around the roots. Watering is done with a wand--those long aluminum tubes with a radiator-like thing on the end--that keeps the water from eroding the soil. Each plant gets individually soaked so I don't have to water the whole planting with a sprinkler, which might bend and break flowers already in bloom.

Any Flower in Bloom

Just about any flower in bloom right now can be used for this repair work, though some will last longer than others.

Freesias in flower, for instance, will bloom for several weeks, perfuming the air in the process. Then their foliage will brown and die back (it should be cut off only when fully brown), but the bulbs will remain and return next winter. They are my favorite choice wherever there is a hole near a path (and in pots where stooping is not required to enjoy their fragrance). I prefer the single whites because they are more reliable at returning, or the fancy double hybrids, for the same reason.

Ranunculus, on the other hand, though also a bulb, will probably not return next year, though they may. They will flower for about three weeks or more, and it would be a shame to let a spring pass without ranunculus in the garden. Many daffodils planted in flower will also return, especially the small-flowered kinds. My sister-in-law, Sue, has even had tulips return, so you can't go to far wrong planting bulbs in bare patches.

The best all-round patch for the flower garden is probably the tiny white marguerite, which carries only the botanical name of Chrysanthemum paludosum . Growing only a few inches tall, it neatly fills any available space in the front of the flower bed, and it will set seed when it is finished (which may not be until midsummer) and return next fall on its own (it is not a weed, however). Because it is a white flower it also acts like glue holding the other colors together.

Violas are just as durable and more colorful. Planted in flower now they will easily last into early summer. Just be sure to keep them thoroughly watered since they are slow to root out into the surrounding soil and are very likely to dry out. In the shade, you can't beat primroses, though this is a fine time to plant the ubiquitous impatiens, which will last a lot longer.

Endless Choices

The choices are almost endless. And don't overlook a number of unusual plants that also appear briefly at this time of the year. I found, for instance, a rare little plant that looks like a gray-foliaged chamomile, named Anacyclus depressus . It grows as flat as a pancake and even the flower stems, each carrying a little white daisy with red streaks on the back of the petals, lay flat on the ground. It is a charmer and while it is supposed to thrive in hot, poor soils, I grow it in the sandy soil between concrete steppingstones, where it is a pleasant surprise for visitors.

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