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An oasis for wildlife - and people.

Rooted in native soil on a hot slope in Bel Air, dry-climate plants seem to swell and surge as they reach to the sun, yet at the same time ramble downhill. This "simulated natural hillside," as designer Sandy Kennedy of Kennedy Landscape Design Associates in Woodland Hills refers to it, reflects the owners' vision of an informal garden that's inviting to wildlife and mimics nature.

Owners Stephanie Lynn and David Mills collaborated with Kennedy to choose unthirsty plants adapted to the Mediterranean climate--plants that are also resistant to insect pests and disease. "My garden is truly an example of survival of the fittest," says Lynn. "I don't waste time and resources trying to make things grow that don't want to." Lynn uses organic fertilizers and least-toxic pesticides.

Among the stalwart plants thriving on the hot, south-facing slope are large accents (lion's tail, Matilija poppy, pride of Madeira), flowering shrubs (Mexican bush sage, rockrose, trailing lantana), and low-growing fillers (Cape weed, lavender, nasturtium, prostrate rosemary, society garlic). Two ground covers especially valued for erosion control are yellow-flowering Acacia redolens (a favorite of hummingbirds) and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis |Twin Peaks'). Deer, which graze the slope, usually ignore all of these plants.

"The hillside is chaotic by intent," Lynn explains. "While most gardeners are itching to clip and prune, I simply trim plants to allow them to grow independent of each other. And I intentionally leave the plant litter for insects and other animals to live in." Lizards dart about, and birds such as sparrows, thrashers, and towhees are heard and seen rustling in the accumulated duff.

Lynn says it, s the diversity of plants that attracts creatures. Herbs, shrubs, perennials, and fruit trees intermingle, providing food, shelter, and nesting sites. Despite losing fruit and occasional plants, Lynn encourages even ground squirrels, rabbits, and deer--considered pests by many. (When all creatures are welcome to share the harvest, Kennedy advises that young trees be given protection from gophers, moles, and ground squirrels that could kill them. Plant trees in 3-foot-deep hardware cloth baskets and ring them with 6-foot-tall chicken-wire cages, supported by poles positioned 3 feet from the tree trunks.)

The hillside pond (pictured on page 52) is both attractive and an important source of water for the creatures. Bird feeders and birdbaths dot the landscape, strategically placed near garden seats so Lynn and Mills can enjoy the beauty and activity.


While the hillside is devoted to informality, the garden entrance and swimming pool area are more refined; roses and cutting perennials dominate. Although these smaller close-in plantings require more maintenance and water than the hillside does, Lynn is uncompromising in her nontoxic approach to gardening. She handpicks snails and spot-sprays insecticidal soap to help control aphids. In the absence of toxic pesticides, there seem to be healthy populations of naturally occurring aphid-eating insects such as lacewings, ladybird beetles, syrphid flies, predatory midges, and parasitic wasps. The area is fenced to keep deer out.

Thorough soil preparation and choice of disease-resistant varieties help ensure successful rose growing. When planting, Kennedy digs each hole 2 1/2 times as wide and twice as deep as the plant's rootball. She backfills the planting hole with a mixture of 1/2 to 2/3 decomposed organic matter (like redwood compost), 1/3 to 1/2 garden soil, and 1 cup bonemeal (for each 5-gallon container plant). Some varieties thriving without chemicals are pink |Bewitched', apricot |Brandy', |Double Delight', and |King's Ransom'.
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Title Annotation:natural garden
Author:Ocone, Lynn
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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