Park maintenance worker Daniel Martinez scrutinized the bright array of flowers meticulously arranged in tiered concrete beds in the Glendale City Hall plaza--delicate blue violas, colorful clown-faced pansies and iridescent pink, salmon and orange poppies dancing on wiry stems.
He was not pleased with what he saw.
"This was not a good crop," he said, shaking his head sadly. "We had a bad fallout with snails and the weather was too cold."
Martinez, one of several workers who care for the City Hall gardens, preferred instead to talk about the plants soon to come, dianthuses--miniature carnations in jewel-tone shades of pink, white, rose and red--and robust marigolds.
"It will be beautiful by March," he assured.
Martinez's vision of a better garden typifies an attitude among Glendale officials that even beauty can stand improvement.
"In Glendale, a lot of hit-and-miss landscaping has occurred," said Evan Graves, city landscape architect. "We're trying to remedy that."
What they plan is an ambitious program to beautify the city and, as a result, boost the public image.
The program began four years ago when the city, in an unusually progressive partnership with private industry, launched a bold nationwide campaign to promote Glendale as a rising corporate center.
The campaign appears to be working. Glendale has since become the third largest financial center in the state, officials said.
An important part of the city's image is public landscaping--parks, street trees and median plantings, parkways and the floral displays in public plazas.
Lawrence R. Moss, a Glendale landscape architect who frequently performs consulting work for Glendale and other Southern California cities, said, "The city of Glendale is very park-oriented, very aware of its image, one of the few cities that is developing and caring for public space, unlike many others."
Moss attributes Glendale's quest for an image to a "coming of age. . . . They would like to be an important city, to be recognized."
Yet, officials admit that the city has no identifiable landscape theme. They had considered planting the dramatic blue-flowering jacaranda--the city's official tree--along the median divider of North Brand Boulevard, but that proposal was dropped because of the annoying litter produced by the tree, Graves said.
The city is in the process of reviewing its landscaping standards in order to develop a theme. But just what it will be, no one has decided.
Landscape architects disagree on methods for achieving an image. Graves said he would like to see more order in city plantings--a single variety of tree, for instance, planted the full length of a residential street as is done in master-planned communities such as Irvine. "It has a unifying effect on the community," he said.
Moss believes differently. He said new neighborhoods often "are too precise and contrived. . . . We don't have a systematic world. Once we get this indelible look, we lose charm and finesse."
Moss would prefer, for instance, that the city get rid of the neatly shaped cupania trees that front Brand Boulevard shops. "They're a dull tree, a nonentity. We could use something that creates more of a visual entertainment, more excitement." He prefers flowering crab apple, cherry or the yellow-flowered cassia.
Despite the often stunning display of tree blossoms, city officials said many of them have been ruled out in the past because of maintainence problems. The evergreen pear trees at City Hall, for instance, now covered with delicate white blossoms, present a clean-up chore--and a hazard--when the slippery petals fall.
Some officials say they are reconsidering and may become more tolerant of a mess in exchange for beauty.
Despite its drawbacks, the jacaranda dominates a number of neighborhoods bordering the downtown area. The tree in June produces a canopy of lavender-blue cluster flowers that drift to the ground like a gentle snowfall and re-carpet the streets.
As the city continues to search for an image, it is spending millions of dollars a year to develop, improve and maintain its urban garden. A three-year project, for example, was launched last year to spruce up main streets in the southern area of the city by planting 1,600 trees and building street medians and parkways, said Jess Duran, assistant director of community development and housing.
A beautiful landscape is not easily achieved. It requires thousands of hours of planning and work by city employees, consultants and contractors, and millions of tax dollars a year.
There is no breakdown on how much of the city's $220-million budget will be spent this year on landscaping, which involves everything from buying fertilizer and bedding plants to trimming trees and pruning roses, said Brian Butler, city finance director.