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IN THE GARDEN FOR HEALTHY PLANTS, THE MORE THE MERRIER.

Byline: JOSHUA SISKIN

If you need a place to evaluate or enjoy a new plant variety, find a crowded garden to grow it in.

The more crowded the garden, the healthier the plants. A crowded garden, by the way, is not a series of shrubs planted cheek by jowl in a hedge; neither is it an endless expanse of monotonous ground cover.

A crowded garden, like the one at the Getty Center in Brentwood, consists of a wide variety of plants from many different botanical families. A large number of diverse flower types will be in bloom at any given moment, attracting a wide spectrum of beneficial insects and birds. The soil will be well-amended from the constant planting and replanting that occurs. When you remove a shovelful of earth, worms will wriggle out of it. Since the ground is constantly shaded due to the dense planting above, invisible, beneficial soil micro-organisms will be protected and thrive in the earth below.

It seems that no matter how crowded a garden may be, there is always room for one more plant, or two, or three. It may be that you make room for new plants when you remove something you get tired of or when you lose patience with a plant that was supposed to flower prolifically but, for some unknown reason, gives you nothing but leaves. And even when all your plants look good, there is always some cutting back you can do to free up space for newly discovered beauties that you want to add to your collection.

Over the years, I have also noticed that many so-called shade-loving plants can take considerable sun when they are properly watered and fertilized, especially in a crowded garden.

Often, ``shade loving'' means ``dryness loathing.'' Shade plants do not necessarily need more water than sun plants; rather, it is the humidity that makes a difference in their overall health. In a crowded garden, the arrival of summer sun will be less stressful on a shade- or moisture-needy plant if it is surrounded by vegetation which, by transpiring water into the surrounding air, raises the ambient humidity. At the same time, less water is lost from the ground in a crowded garden due to the living mulch provided by wall-to-wall foliage.

Planting when days are hot requires precautions that may not necessarily be needed when the weather is cool. In hot weather, plants should be soaked in a bucket for 20 minutes prior to planting. If you are planting a 1-gallon plant, whose soil reaches a depth of around 7 inches, place the container in a bucket with water that is 3 or 4 inches deep. The container's soil, which may be in a dry or semi-dry condition, should be saturated after soaking in the bucket. Dig the planting hole and fill it with water. After the water drains, you are ready to plant.

The most garden-worthy plants, it seems, are found in quart-size (4- inch), 1-gallon or 2-gallon containers. Once you start with 5-gallon, and especially 15-gallon, plants, you often end up with woody plants that take up territory, require constant pruning and are ultimately more of a chore than a pleasure.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 28, 2005
Words:530
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