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Los Angeles offers gardening ideas galore

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A quick visit to Los Angeles last week left me amazed at the beauty of the residential gardens I saw as we drove through Santa Monica, Westwood and Bel Air. Even the tiniest gardens were gorgeous, abloom with roses, hibiscus and bougainvillea. The most dramatic yet simple and visually appealing idea I spotted were the miles of roadside "hedges" I saw in Bel Air - six-foot-high bushes of white "Iceberg" roses with a thick underplanting of white impatiens. This combination would work fine in Los Altos because the impatiens would bloom all summer, with the roses repeating as often as roses possibly can.

Then I glanced at Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine and it featured a long story on what's hot in Southland gardening at the moment, a survey of many of the area's landscaping experts, all of whom shared ideas which could be adapted very well for our climate.

Here are some tips I especially liked: Buy garden tools with bright orange, yellow or red handles, not tasteful green, black or gray - so you can find them again after setting them down; consider creating a living arbor (covered with vines) as a transition room between the house and the garden. Or if there is no room for a full arbor, you can purchase a ready-made arch of wood or metal and simply position it around a doorway, creating a rose-covered cottage effect; plant succulents, yucca, aloe and cactus - for their beautiful structure and low maintenance.

In L.A., there is a revival of the 40's through 60's style of garden which used geometric block plantings of single, tough plants like agapanthus, canna lilies and New Zealand flax.

The edible gardening trend continues apace, with vegetables, fruit trees and herbs freely mixed throughout the garden.

Another growing trend is to place functional fireplaces, stoves, sinks, showers and even beds in the garden. (Our winters would require some modification of this idea, but it's fun to think about.)

Every garden needs at least one water feature to block city noises, draw birds and cool a hot day.

You are old-fashioned if your garden features just one style. To be on the cutting edge, you should combine at least two or more styles, like Japanese and woodland or tropical and "Old Hollywood." (There is no mention in the survey of the tumbled English cottage garden, so popular just a few years ago, and so inappropriate for California; nevertheless, I still love that look.)

For a drought-tolerant garden which looks lush, combine grasses, succulents and salvias.

Hand-crafted paving of stones set on edge, exposed aggregates of colored stones and interesting mosaics are all hot.

Lawns are definitely on the way out, replaced by gravel, decomposed granite and other surfaces that can absorb rain runoff. A European-style front courtyard of fine gravel, with a few formal plantings of olive trees and lavender, was featured in a large photo.

Other Southern California landscapers vented their pet peeves, which included pretty but phony outdoor furniture which no one would ever sit on; garden doo-dads, like mercury globes, from expensive shops; and over-lighted gardens, which destroy the mystery of moonlight.

Finally, here's an idea which I predict will not catch on in Los Altos: "Inspired by theatrical lighting designers, some people are using colored filters to accentuate the colors of different foliage, flowers and berries."

Carolyn Barnes writes home and garden stories for the Los Altos Town Crier.

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