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Garden Visit

Nurturing a Landscape Plan to Full Flower

May 25, 2000|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

Los Angeles garden designer Robert Cornell first showed me Amanda Goodan's garden near the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena in 1993. It was near the end of a six-year drought, and he had just finished Part 2 of the garden--a water-thrifty frontyard, with its small lawn surrounded by tough plants.

To spread out the expense, Goodan had Cornell design and plant the small backyard first, in 1992, and then the larger and more ambitious frontyard a year later.

I saw the garden again a few weeks ago, on a tour that benefited Pasadena's Grace Center, and I was impressed by how gracefully the garden had aged.

Designers often cringe when they walk away from a finished garden, wondering if it will survive the year--much less nearly a decade--once it is out from under their wing. But Goodan was a different kind of client: She could hardly wait to take over the garden's care.

She and her husband, William Koelsch, had just bought the one-story Spanish-style home in 1991 when Goodan joined the Diggers Garden Club, a Pasadena institution known for its avid and informed gardeners. Then, she joined the Fanatic Gardeners group, after spending three years on the waiting list to join this popular class taught by gardening guru Jan Smithen at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County.

Goodan certainly fit the profile of a Fanatic Gardener, spending, by her count, three to four hours a day in the garden and keeping a garden log so detailed and precise that it lists what's in bloom each month, what she planted, what fruited and what was pruned. She confesses to being a "late gardener" who may not be out in the garden with the birds in the morning but finishes some chores by moonlight.

Goodan says that she comes by gardening naturally. She's a member of the Chandler family, best known for publishing this newspaper, but Goodan claims that while half of the family excels in business, the other half is great "go for it" gardeners. Of former Publisher Harry Chandler's eight children, four were avid gardeners--Ruth von Platen, Helen Chandler Garland, Harrison Chandler and Amanda's grandmother May Goodan.

"Grandma was the best gardener I know," she said. "So many of the Chandlers are great gardeners. That's the side no one knows."

"Grandma even made her own compost, in a three-stage pile that got so hot you could boil an egg in it," she added. "Really . . . as kids we tried it."

Goodan is very fortunate to have a husband who gladly does all the weeding. He even bags the snails, putting them in plastic bags and into the trash.

But it is Goodan who does most of the garden work, including all the pruning (her favorite chore), planting and the toting of bags of soil amendment and granite turkey grit. The coarse turkey grit is how Fanatic Gardeners modify ordinary potting soil. It's one of their trademarks. They add one part grit to three parts potting soil to make a potting mix for most things, using half grit and half potting soil for succulents. They find it at feed stores.

Though she still buys her own bags of amendments and potting soil, Goodan confesses that since she turned 50 this year, she now buys 1-cubic-foot bags instead of the larger, and heavier, 2-cubic-foot bags.

Her grandmother May began gardening around a large expanse of lawn, "but by the time she was finished, the lawn looked more like a path, surrounded by flowers. She kept making it smaller and the flower beds bigger."

Room for Only a Small Lawn

Amanda Goodan didn't even want a lawn in her deep frontyard, but designer Cornell talked her into having a small one, knowing that every garden needs a little open space--a meadow-like clearing in the forest of plants.

"If I had to have a lawn, I wanted it to be an oval, like a 1960s swimming pool," she added, though it's more like an oval broach surrounded by living jewels.

The showstoppers on the garden tour were the giant alliums, Allium giganteum, with huge ball-like clusters of lilac flowers on 5-foot stems. She bought the bulbs in the fall and refrigerated them for six weeks, planting them in January.

But the lawn is surrounded by many interesting and dramatic plants. Goodan jokingly calls it her "Dr. Seuss Garden," in honor of all the bizarrely shaped or colored plants she has collected there.

Growing next to the alliums is Melianthus major, with dramatically big, silvery, serrated leaves. The flowers are oddly colored, "like a scab," suggested Goodan with a mischievous smile. All around the base of the melianthus grow Verbascum 'Jackie' with their distinctly tan or brown flowers, next to other yellow, orange and peachy flowers.

One of the peach-colored flowers is a bearded iris, named 'Goodan's Peach,' introduced by grandmother May. It has been passed around among gardeners since the 1940s, and I was surprised to see that it was the same peach iris I grow in my garden across town on the Westside, though I have never known its name or origin.

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