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A Rosy Outlook

Hungry animals haven't kept a romantic Montecito garden from flourishing with the owner's favorite flowers

May 01, 2005|Susan Heeger

Gophers have gobbled up her roses, raccoons have snacked on her tulip bulbs and herons have cleaned out her koi pond, but Susan McKinley keeps on gardening. Having moved to Montecito in 1988, just before the last major Southern California drought, she has endured brown years and green years, withered lawns and flower beds awash in nonstop rain.

After all this time, McKinley appreciates the survivors and has learned to foil the local wildlife. Rather than placing plants directly in the soil, she now lines the holes with chicken wire to safeguard roots. And she repels diggers by planting aromatics such as rosemary, which they can't abide.

With the help of landscape architect Sandra Devine, who designed the beds, paths and other structural elements, McKinley created fresh scenes around her favorite bloom--the rose. She planted swaths of David Austins, hybrid teas, gallicas, bourbons, damasks and China roses. She pairs these with sage, penstemon, catmint, cranesbill and other perennials, sparking a nonstop color show that lasts from spring to early fall. She also cultivates fruit and vegetables, including citrus, apples, artichokes, tomatoes and beans.

The citrus trees, which existed when she and her husband, Bill, bought their 2-acre property, inspired a landscape all their own. Along a curved walk among the oranges and lemons, McKinley planted roses too gaudy for her otherwise subtle palette: peach-colored 'Abraham Darby,' the yellow 'Graham Thomas,' the apricot-colored 'Brandy' and the creamy orange 'Just Joey.' This sunny gathering contrasts with one of the garden's cooler spots, a nearby fountain terrace under an arbor on which grow grapevines, wisteria and the climbing rose 'Cecile Brunner.'

From there, relaxing in the shade, a visitor has a straight view across the pond to a gentle slope topped by an herb parterre. Its patterned beds, edged with teucrium and arrayed around a birdbath, display a changing mix of tulips and poppies, sorrel and chives, and whimsical or experimental greens such as furry peppermint geraniums. "I'm constantly trying things," McKinley says. "New selections of favorite plants, all sorts of new combinations."

She laughs at the mistakes she's made, such as planting roses under the oak trees and introducing valerian, a pretty, dusky-pink flower that's become an invasive pest. "Like a lot of gardeners, I learn the hard way," she concedes. Yet she's often blessed with "happy accidents"--the valerian that popped up beside a similarly colored 'Gertrude Jekyll' rose and the pink foxgloves that seeded themselves amid cranesbills of the same hue.

Then there are the shade plants that unexpectedly bloom in the sun, or the sun-loving solanum that suddenly flower in the shade. This, explains McKinley, is why she loves to garden and keeps at it despite occasional setbacks. "You're never laboring alone. Nature's always there too--cooking up some new surprise."


Susan McKinley's Favorite Perennials to Plant With Roses

* Iris and foxgloves, for taller accents

* Catmint and sweet alyssum, for spreading carpets underneath

* Cranesbill and yarrow, for daintier, more delicate foliage

* Lamb's ears, for contrasting silver leaves



Susan McKinley's favorite mail-order source for roses: Heirloom Roses, 24062 NE Riverside Dr., St. Paul, OR, 97137; (503) 538-1576. Her favorite rose nursery: La Sumida Nursery, Santa Barbara, (805) 964-9944. Sandra Devine Landscape Architect, Santa Barbara, (805) 934-2945.

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