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With Roots in Power : No matter what your political bent, if you enjoy flowers, the Nixon Library is sure to win your vote.

May 10, 1997|KAREN DARDICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's no politics in gardening, making the formal gardens at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda a must-see for all garden enthusiasts.

The 5-acre garden has four areas:

* The California Formal Garden, which surrounds the 130-foot-long reflecting pool. It is highlighted with palm trees, scrolled hedges and azaleas;

* The 6,000-square-foot First Lady's Garden, featuring Pat Nixon's favorite roses, perennials, irises and herbs;

* The Perennial Garden, which surrounds the burial sites of the former president and his wife;

* The Cottage Garden, which encompasses the restored farmhouse where Richard Nixon was born. This garden contains heritage plants commonly grown in the early 1900s.

Each area is augmented with carefully selected ground covers, such as viola labridorica, planted in front of a bed of pink Souvenir de la Malmaison Old Garden Roses and highlighted with pink belladonna lilies.

Plants are chosen for suitability of growing conditions and color combinations. A bed of the green-tinged St. Patrick hybrid tea roses is accented with the intense blue of agapanthus.

The Perennial Garden features flowers with soft hues and graceful forms. Alstroemeria, irises, lavenders, lavatera, yarrow, delphiniums, foxgloves, larkspur and hardy geraniums intertwine and wend among the yellow hues of Graham Thomas, Golden Celebration and English Garden roses.

"What makes the gardens here so distinctive is that the roses are in massed plantings," said Kevin Cartwright, the museum's assistant director. "Where botanical gardens usually have one or two of a specific variety, we have 40 or 50. The effect of the massed plantings is a spectacular display of color."

Among the distinctive planting schemes are beds that feature roses arranged by height for a three-tiered effect. Austin roses Tamora, Abraham Darby and Cressida, which grow to different heights, are arranged in a layered look.

There are 1,400 roses representing 85 varieties, including Old Garden Roses, modern hybrid tea, floribunda and shrub roses. There are also 25 David Austin English roses.

Many were selected because of their association with the Nixons or other presidents or first ladies.

There is the hybrid tea named in honor of Pat Nixon, a white hybrid tea associated with John F. Kennedy and a fragrant red hybrid tea named Mr. Lincoln.

Pat Nixon started what is now a White House tradition: She opened the gardens to public viewing in spring 1973.

With that in mind, the Nixon Library is conducting what is planned to be an annual spring garden festival. Through June, tours, lectures and musical performances will be held in the gardens.

"Mrs. Nixon loved roses and gardens, and in fact she consulted with the landscape designers on this garden," Cartwright said.

Although she was ill during the time of its design, she met with a representative of Roger's Gardens, based in Corona del Mar, to review the final plans of the First Lady's Garden.

While the gardens can be appreciated for their innate beauty, they also exemplify principles of design, color and symmetry in planting.

The overall design of the formal garden, installed when the library was built in 1990, was by landscape architectural firm Emmet Wempole and Associates of Los Angeles.

Docents will lead tours between 10 a.m. and noon every Saturday through June 28. Tours last 30 minutes and are included in admission.

On Saturdays at 1 p.m., garden experts and authors will present lectures, book signings and garden walks. The price is included in admission to the museum. Experts include Pamela Seager, executive director of Rancho Los Alamitos Gardens, and Julie Bush and Michelle Sullivan, landscape architects for Walt Disney Imagineering.

A Monday speaker series consists of a 10:30 a.m. lectures followed by buffet luncheon at noon in the First Lady's Garden. The price of each lecture is $9, and each luncheon is $35.

The lineup for the three-speaker series:

* William Seale, White House historian and author of "The White House Garden," will discuss the origins of the gardens May 19.

* Dorothy Temple, who served as chief floral decorator in the White House for the Reagans and a design consultant for succeeding presidents, will present "Floral Decorating: From the White House to Your House" June 2.

* Gordon Chappell, director of landscape at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and author of "The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg," will narrate a slide presentation on the historic area June 16.

The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace is at 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4.95 adults; $2.95 seniors; $1 children ages 8-11; children 7 and under, free. (714) 993-5075.

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