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A Garden in Three Acts : Careful Planning and Planting Now Can Extend the Spring Blooming Period All the Way to Autumn

October 28, 1990|ROBERT SMAUS | Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

IN CALIFORNIA, there are actually two springs. First to bloom are the bulbs and annuals; then about two months later come the perennials. With luck, the perennials flower through summer and into early autumn. So this month--the optimal planting time in Southern California--you're really planning and planting for two springs, plus summer.

Last spring, in Louis and Stephanie Snyder's West Los Angeles garden, the bulbs and annuals set out the previous fall--a crisp mix of white and yellow--peaked in March. By mid-May, the garden looked completely different. The bulbs and some of the annuals were gone, but the perennials, also planted at the same time, had taken their places. The multitude of flowers--including roses, delphiniums, lavender, various salvias and coreopsis--bloomed off and on and were still putting on a respectable show in late September. Many perennials grow in the garden for several years before they must be divided or replanted, unlike most of the bulbs and annual flowers, which are planted anew every year.

Fall planting is almost foolproof in California. Shorter, cooler days and the occasional rain are kind to seeds and seedlings alike. Nature makes roots wait until fall to grow, and since most soil diseases are inactive in the autumn, anything planted between September and December is almost guaranteed to be off to a sure, if somewhat slow, start--slow compared to the jump-start plants get from spring planting.

Fall planting also saves considerable water because plants need less during the cooler months, and any rain helps out. This year, many home gardeners are waiting to plant until the end of October or even November, when rain is more likely, temperatures still cooler and the sun even lower.

Those who like flowers would have a hard time coming up with a better plan than the one worked out for the Snyder garden. The long, somewhat narrow area allows plenty of room for two deep beds, and the path down the middle makes everything accessible. The garden is on the south side of the property so it gets as much sun as possible. And the linear plan of this garden is perfectly suited for drip irrigation. An in-line system (with the drip emitters hidden inside the tubing) or a porous tubing system (in which water leaks through the walls of the tubing) could be snaked among the beds. Although the Snyders moved from a much larger garden (shown in the Oct. 4, 1987, issue of Los Angeles Times Magazine), they have no regrets. In the new, smaller garden, good planning created more room for fun things. There is little "filler"--no lawn or shrubbery to speak of--just lots of flowers, a few dwarf fruit trees, and vegetables, which are in another little plot laid out like an early American knot garden.

Torrance architect Edward Carson Beall designed the Snyders' house, which looks like it was plucked from a New Hampshire field. Instead of taking up the entire lot with house, an all-too-common occurrence in California nowadays, Beall reserved a long space for a garden and shoehorned the farm-style house around it. Even the color of the house (Dunn Edward's Barn Red) was chosen to complement the flowers.

Sandy Kennedy of Sassafras Nursery and Landscape in Topanga laid out the garden, and her sister, Dian Kennedy, cares for it through the seasons. It was Sandy who cleverly designed the two rows of flowers to go with the two springs.

In March, the path is lined with white tulips and big 'Mt. Hood' and 'California Giant' daffodils, with an under story of white sweet alyssum and pansies. Much of the gray foliage comes from the low-growing perennials--lamb's ears, lavender and snow-in-summer--that come to life in time to help hide the fading bulbs. The bright yellow clumps nicely placed along the path are coreopsis. In spring, Dian plants a few summer-flowering annuals, including marigolds, where spring annuals have faded.

The back row is planted with taller perennials and a few late bulbs and annuals, like larkspur and watsonia, which peak in May and June and then continue off and on into early fall. The tall spires in the back are blue delphiniums or pink larkspur and foxgloves, which are replanted every fall.

No space is wasted, not even the space between paving stones (which are simply set on a tamped sand base). In these narrow cracks grow lobelia, dwarf yarrow, woolly thyme, ajuga, corsican mint, crocus, potentilla and the very dainty erodium.

The garden on March 10

Fall-planted flowers that bloom in early spring: alyssum, daffodil, forget-me-not, freesia,pansy, Iceland poppy, annual statice and tulip.

The garden on May 18

Fall-planted flowers that bloom in late spring and early summer: anisodontea, aster, columbine, coreopsis, delphinium, dianthus, feverfew, foxglove, scented geraniums, true geraniums, heliotrope, bearded iris, lamb's ears, larkspur, lavender, ground morning glory, nicotiana, penstemon, rehmania, rose, rosemary, rue, blue bedding salvia, purple and pink perennial salvia, scabiosa, Shasta daisy, snow-in-summer, trachelium, verbena, watsonia and yarrow.

The garden on September 20

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