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STYLE : GARDENS : Let It Snow

December 20, 1992|ROBERT SMAUS

This is as close as Southern California gets to a Christmas scene--bright coral candles floating above a snowy-white carpet. The stunning naked coral tree, Erythrina coralloides , blooms after the holiday season but before leaves appear and is valued as much for its candelabra of angular winter branches as for its flaming red flowers.

Del Mar landscape designer Linda Chisari planted the ground cover snow-in-summer in the fall for a spectacular show in early spring. Even out of bloom, the silver-leaved Cerastium tomentosum glistens on the banks of this dry stream bed. The rocky bed replaces a thirsty lawn and provides access to this street-side garden above Black's Beach in La Jolla. Pretending they were trout fishermen, Chisari and the contractor laid out rocks and gravel to mimic a natural stream bed, noting where boulders might pinch the stream or cause water to dig out a depression (which is where the big trout would be).

The plantings near the street--mostly 'San Jose' junipers and natal plum--are tough and prickly to prevent surfers from shortcutting across the garden in their rush to the sea. But both banks of the stream bed are intensively gardened by owners Dorothy and Herbert Grier, who cultivate colorful bulbs (ranunculus and freesia), perennials (\o7 Convolvulus mauritanicus \f7 and \o7 Lychnis coronaria\f7 ) and winter annuals (alyssum and \o7 Chrysanthemum paludosum\f7 ).

All of the plants, including the coral tree, are drought-resistant, and the garden requires a third to half the water that it used to. So while the Griers may no longer have a green lawn, they can dream of a white Christmas.

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