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turning over a new leaf

Another Season, Another Reason to Get Your Hands Dirty in the Garden. A Few Cultivated Experts Reveal What's Horticulturally Hot and What's Not.

May 21, 2000|Susan Heeger

Scrap the fussy foxgloves, forget the flagstone with the weedy seams. This year's garden is color-crazy and exotic--comfortably mussed yet disciplined around the edges. Bits of water flow through it like a song. And instead of gazing at it from a window, more than ever we're living, cooking, playing and even sleeping among its hedges.

So says a group of L.A.-area garden experts we consulted about today's state of the yard. Knowing how hard it is for gardeners to reinvent the plot, pitch the leafy losers and agonize over novelties, we did the legwork ourselves. We discovered that today's hot plants are architectural. Succulents--fleshy aloes and agaves and rosette-shaped echeverias--lead the pack, but bamboo, grasses and large-leafed tropicals such as gingers and elephant's ears follow close behind. While blooms are a plus, dramatic foliage is even better, especially in blue, gold, purple or chartreuse. If it blooms, look for flame reds and bordello fuchsias. And don't hesitate to mix, says Kate Stamps, a designer in South Pasadena who has fiddled lately with a border of pink, orange and magenta.

Another plant trend concerns edibles--vegetable beds, mini-fruit orchards, herbs tucked among perennials. If you grow your own, you know they're "safe," untouched by toxic chemicals.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 11, 2000 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 4 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
In the May 21 Home and Garden issue, the architect of the outdoor deck shown on Page 30 was incorrectly identified. The deck was designed by Richard Katkov and partner Miriam Mulder and was later modified by architect Steven Ehrlich.

Designwise, the focus remains on the house-garden connection--the need for garden rooms and plants to jive with architecture and interiors. Not surprisingly, given the current mania for mid-century, modernism has hit the landscape. This means gardens with simple lines and plants organized into graphic blocks. Single-plant thickets will circle patios and swimming pools a la Thomas Church and Garrett Eckbo, great California designers whose ideas are being revived. From the '40s through the '60s, they emphasized unfussy outdoor life amid undemanding plants. Some of these tough favorites, once scorned as too common, are back, too: New Zealand flax, cannas and agapanthus. At the same time, the formalism of California in the '20s, the "Santa Barbara" style of Italian- and French-influenced designs, still applies for a vintage house. But even formalism is more relaxed and gardeners can borrow freely among aesthetics. In fact, says Judy Kameon, a designer in Elysian Park, "What's old is sticking to one style. What's more exciting are style hybrids, like Tropical and Old Hollywood; Japanese and Modern; Woodland and Japanese."

The delight is in the details: graceful pergolas roofed with vines, patterned paving, bubbling fountains--anything that draws you out to appreciate the living world. As we reach for novel plants, we'll experiment with new materials. Sasha Tarnopolsky, a landscape architect in Los Angeles, likes metal, fiberglass and shade fabrics as alternatives to wood for arbors. Derrik Eichelberger of Santa Barbara, another landscape architect, is smitten with recycled glass mixed with concrete as raw material for paving stones. And all our experts value water in small amounts--ponds, moving rills, tiny, well-placed spills. The sound is crucial--to block city noise, draw birds and cool a dry, hot day. Large, thirsty lawns, on the other hand, are on the outs, though still coveted by some for recreation. Bigger news concerns compost (we'll all be making it) and glazed pots (they're splashy focal points). As to furniture, it should be comfortable; as to lighting, keep it subtle. Above all, says Gary Jones, owner of Hortus, a nursery in Pasadena, let your landscape be your stage. "This is a time of personal gardens," he observes. "To create places that express themselves--who they are, what they love--people are feeling free to ignore ideas about what should be. Next to that, borrowed style looks silly."

The focus remains on the house-garden connection--the need for garden rooms and plants to jive with architecture and interiors.


Garden tool purveyor Bob Denman of Denman & Co.: --On color: "We see more garden tools in pale greens and grays--a bad trend. They should be bright--red, orange, yellow--so you can find them."

--On age and convenience: "Tools are evolving to accommodate creaky, cranky baby boomers like me. Mid-length tools keep you from bending over so much. Tools with extra-long handles work your thigh muscles, not your lower back. Kneelers, wrist supports and hand pruners reduce discomfort caused by carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis."

--On favorites: "Mine include Corona hand pruners, easy on the wrist; the Water Coil Hose, which rebounds after stretching; and the short-handled Red Pig Slope Hoe, designed for hillside plots." *

Garden designer Ros Cross of Praxis Modern Gardens: --On edible gardening: "Try easy things. Mix roses and other flowers with mesclun, chard, snow peas, citrus and herbs."

--On lawns: "Where it's appropriate, I replace them with gravel or meadows."

--On design: "I like a natural, wild feeling within a strong structure--clipped hedges with wildflowers."

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