AS ANY SAILOR knows, the sea can be kind and cruel, sometimes in the same day. Beachfront gardens often get similar treatment: They might bask in a muted morning sun but be blown to pieces by afternoon. On the elegant grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, for example, the mid-afternoon wind can whip through the palms planted along the drive so violently that, says the hotel's landscape director Philip Sellick, "we'll find fronds on the other side of the property." Which is quite a way off, considering that the hotel sits on 17 acres. Just 4 years old, the Ritz-Carlton is one of the newest showcases of what will and what will not grow at the beach.
The ferocity of the winds was an important factor in the garden's design. Flowers tend to do best on land that faces the ocean. Colors seem intense, probably because of the softened sunlight. The salt air doesn't seem to bother the plants, perhaps because they are not in the ground that long. Sellick and his crew "change out" the plantings often--4,000 to 5,000 flowers are replanted each week--so that they always appear to be in full bloom. The average bed lasts but six weeks before it is replanted.