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Gardens : Royalty out of Exile : Some Gardeners Are Now Attempting to Put Roses in Their Rightful Place

January 24, 1988|ROBERT SMAUS | Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

THOUGH ROSES bloom most of the year, and though their colors are more vibrant and varied than those of other flowers, they are often relegated to their own barren corner of the yard, like royalty in exile. There roses are kept for cutting, while the hoi polloi of marigolds and the like are planted in the most prominent places. Never mind that the gardener might lavish his roses with attention, they deserve a better position. And a few fanciers are now attempting to put roses in their rightful place.

Landscape architect Mark Berry, of Pasadena and Aptos, Calif., was fortunate enough to find two such rose fanciers as clients--both sought a formal solution to the problem of where to put roses, and formal gardens are Berry's favorite.

Roses were one of the reasons that Colleen Knapp bought her present house--the other one was that her business involves the restoration or development of real estate with a European heritage or appearance. The remains of a formal garden in back featured roses, though most were overgrown or dying, and the hedges that give the garden its formal air were in equally bad repair. Like so many houses built early in the century, this one had a remarkable facade in front but had not so much as a door in back--people exited out the side. Mark Berry's first task was to add a formal facade to the back that included lots of doors and a grand terrace for viewing the garden. Knapp likes the colors peach and pink, so Berry used them on the building--and they flow out into the garden to the petals of her favorite roses. One is a peachy rose named 'Brandy.' The tile roof was accented in the garden by the deep-red rose 'Olympiad.'

Formal gardens are plain in plan, Berry points out, and so depend heavily on details. A wishing well in the Knapp garden was restored and decorated with a 'Lady Banks' rose. The concrete paths were redone but made to resemble paths from the 1920s, with scoring that neatly outlines and divides them.

Susan and Thomas Maxwell also have a formal garden, but it is on a distinctly different scale. Situated behind a typical ranch-style house, the garden is on the small side. The Maxwell garden also came with roses, but the small original collection has now grown to 34 rosebushes.

When the Maxwell's first saw the plans for their garden, they were delighted. But they wanted more "circles for roses," so more were added. The garden then clearly became a rose garden, surrounded by tall, leafy shrubs to screen out neighboring yards and crisscrossed with low hedges of star jasmine. The jasmine hedges, Berry says, are a soft contrast to the very linear and rigid paths. He further points out that though the plan is very sharp and formal, the materials used are all soft, even the choice of paving, which is a 3 1/2-inch-deep layer of decomposed granite.

Walking up and down the rows at the Armstrong Garden Center in Monrovia, Susan Maxwell listened to nurserywoman Alice Gans' suggestions, and then chose two or three of each. 'Touch of Class,' 'Brandy,' 'Voodoo,' 'Honor,' 'Olympiad,' 'Double Delight,' 'Medallion,' 'Bewitched,' 'Gold Medal' and 'First Prize' have turned out to be Maxwell's favorites. To learn to care for their roses, the Maxwells attended demonstrations at the Huntington.

If you're considering starting a rose garden this rose-planting season (which lasts all of January and half of February), note the value of the hedges. While the tops of rosebushes are something to admire, the bottoms are something to hide, which hedges do admirably. They might be considered formal attire for roses.

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