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THE CALIFORNIA GARDEN

Happiest landscapes on Earth

Forget Disneyland's rides. Its array of plantings -- tropical, edible, even gothic -- offers ideas for your yard.

September 06, 2007|Tony Kienitz | Special to The Times

The clean, French lines of the edible landscapes are also worth noting -- something one doesn't often see in Southern California vegetable gardens.

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EVEN Disneyland gardens that are a bit themey and theatrical have ideas worth borrowing. The gothic garden of the Haunted Mansion takes advantage of new hybrid colors available for familiar plants. Here, just inside the moss-green wrought-iron fencing, low-growing heucheras sport leaves in unusual shades that could be best described as dried Grey Poupon mustard and day-old lox. They bob above dark tufts of black mondo grass.

Ground covers of black ajuga and vermilion ipomoea trail around headstones. Small weeping mulberries, contorted willows and shimmering coprosma serve as the garden's midsize plants, while dappled sunlight falls through classic Southern magnolia trees arched overhead.

The Haunted Mansion's garden may be one of the most cleverly planted arrangements you will see. If you were to swap the colors of the plants -- say, trade the washed-out heucheras for ones in vibrant Cabernet colors, switch the ajugas to variegated pinks and greens, and change the ipomeas to purple and pinks -- you would have created a garden that was traditionally beautiful. The color palette that visitors see here does create a forlorn sense of decay, but the shapes and combinations of leaf and branch are what make this garden worth studying.

The list of such lessons here is long. There are the tropical gardens in Adventureland, perfect for a poolside landscape.

Around the darker rides in Fantasyland, you'll find wonderfully coifed boxwood hedges and thick plantings of traditional European annual flowers. Expansive succulent gardens emulate underwater seascapes near Ariel's Grotto and the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Nicely crafted gardens featuring California native plants await in Downtown Disney.

As Hedges' morning tour stops at the animal topiaries crafted along the banks of It's a Small World, one of the lead landscape gardeners, Mike Buhrmester, pauses to report that the blue lobelia he had been planting is rife with hookworm.

Hedges immediately asks which grower supplied the plants, and she and Buhrmester quickly figure out how to stretch their resources and still make the garden Disney-worthy. It takes all of a minute for them to devise a solution.

That, she says, is her wisest secret for creating a wonderful landscape. "We just try our best," she says, leading the way to the next garden on the map. "It always seems to work out."

In other words, relax. Don't fuss. Have fun. That is the golden garden rule.

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Tony Kienitz is author of "The Year I Ate My Yard." Send comments to home@latimes.com

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