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THE REAL DIRT GARDEN DESIGNERS OPEN UP ABOUT WHAT THEY LOVE AND LOATHE.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Staff Writer

GARDENING IS a love/hate relationship with nature.

One person loves petunias. Another sees them as nothing but a feast for neighborhood slugs.

Even experts - horticulturists, landscape designers and architects - disagree about which plants deserves two (green) thumbs up.

With the fall planting season here, we decided to ask a few local experts to give us the real dirt on everything from old favorites like geraniums to the trendiest of vines. We asked only that the plants be available locally and compatible with Southern California soil and weather conditions.

These horticulture mavens not only spilled, but explained why they loved or hated a particular plant and what we could do with it. And they got pretty graphic.

During the course of our conversation we learned that most garden experts think the classically tall Lily of the Nile (also known as agapanthus) is becoming passe. Once a purple spike with a designer edge, it's been done to death and is not flattering in most residential gardens. However, its little cousin Peter Pan is now the new darling on the block.

Ivy? Another plant that's lost its panache. Once a fab ground cover, it's now a real rat's nest, which doesn't score well with L.A.'s garden experts.

For more stories of garden romances and those that have gone wrong, read on:

ROBIN POKORSKI

President, Southern California Garden Club

``I love geraniums, the pelargonium type - because they are such prolific bloomers in the San Fernando Valley even though they are originally from South Africa. They're great for beginning gardeners, and you can easily start cuttings to share with friends. Geranimums come in a variety of colors, forms, fragrances and growth habits, so you can use them in hanging pots, decorative containers or as ivy or ground cover with almost any architecture.''

``Under the hate column, put elm and ash trees,'' says Pokorski. ``The Public Works Department plants them everywhere and they're not native or appropriate for our climate. They tend to get overwatered and limbs will snap off and hit cars. I was so upset about them that I got the City of San Fernando - where I live - to reconsider and change to a tree better-suited to the area. They chose jacarandas, which can be messy, but I'm happy because I'd rather have their blue flowers dropping on my car than big branches.''

HARTLEY L. FULLERTON

Canoga Park landscape designer

President, Nature-Scape Inc.

``I love Leptospermum scoparium, otherwise known as New Zealand tea tree. It's actually a shrub that has pink, red or white blossoms - and my personal favorite is called Ruby Glow, noted for its dark oxblood-red double blooms against a dark green foliage. They are a little temperamental when first getting established and require a lot of watering, but once established they need little to moderate watering and will grow up to 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

``Advice? Use them in a garden with room for growth. They could be used as a hedge but make a better centerpiece in a garden so the flowers can move in the breeze.''

``What drives me crazy - besides agapanthus in residential gardens and Italian cypress at a '50s ranch-style tract home - is trailing gazania as a ground cover,'' says Fullerton.

``It's not an evil plant - just overused and associated with old apartments and gas stations. I know gazanias are bulletproof but if you've got them, beware of the landscape fashion police. You'll be executed.

``Now, in defense of Italian cypress, they are actually 'in' again, but used sparingly and in their natural shape (not lopped off). I suggest one at each side of an entry to a Mediterranean-style home. To look their best, they need a spacious landscape, not shoved up against a pink block wall.''

MARJORIE KASPAR

La Crescenta landscape architect

``I love Bright Eyes (also known as Vinca rosea) because it performs well even under the blazing sun and humidity associated with the San Fernando Valley. It's an old classic, but there are numerous new tropical shades to choose from so it's looking new again.''

``I hate zinnias. They are such a disappointment,'' says Kaspar, ``because they grow tall and are supposed to make a statement ... looking big and robust and colorful. Instead, they are covered with mildew from the June gloom that can last most of the summer in our area ... so it's an insult to the eye.''

JEFF BROWN

Santa Clarita landscape contractor and designer

President, NV Landscape Inc.

Design team member, Pasadena Showcase House 2002

``How about a plant you can love and hate at the same time? That's how I feel about Society garlic (also called Tulbaghia violacea) because on one hand it has lavender blooms all year, is drought tolerant, repels insects and is disease resistant ... but if you happen to brush up against it, you'll smell of garlic.''

``I love the perennial butterfly bush (also known as Buddleia) because it will attract butterflies and its spikes of pink or purple flowers are glorious. It grows in full sun, and I typically use it in the background of a garden because of its gray-green leaves.

``But I also love the Chinese lantern (also known as abutilon), an evergreen shrub with maplelike leaves that attracts hummingbirds to your yard. It's called a Chinese lantern because the colorful flowers (available in yellow, red, pink and orange) hang upside down sort of like a fuchsia. They bloom during all warm months, which is a long time in our desert areas.''

``Hate is such a strong word ... but I guess it would be spearmint,'' says Brown. ``Yes, I know it grows easily and is great for cooking and cocktails, but once planted, it goes on the rampage, takes control of your yard and smothers other plants. And then I'm hired to get rid of it and I end up smelling like mint for days since it permeates your skin and won't wash off.''

CATHERINE DOWNES

Pasadena horticulturist

Team member, Pasadena Showcase House 2002

``I hate iceberg roses. It's not that they're aren't pretty, but they're overdone - like agapanthus. And the maintenance on this floribunda type of rose is a nightmare ... you're constantly needing to deadhead them to keep the blooms coming,'' she adds, referring to the tedious snipping of spent blooms.

Downes takes a few minutes longer to think of what she loves, and why.

``What I love now is thunbergia, particularly the grandiflora variety called Sky Flower. It's a great vine that's very underused and has a gorgeous mass of blue flowers that bloom almost all year. It's also really versatile ... I used it recently on a wrought iron fence in Studio City but it would look good in an English cottage garden or at a Mediterranean-style home.''

Downes says thunbergia, which comes in a variety of colors, will grow well in local valleys, but needs to be planted in partial shade. It shows best when growing over an arbor, large trellis or wire fence and will create dense shade because of its large heart-shaped leaves. She suggests local gardeners do a little research and consider it as a fresh alternative to climbing roses, ivy, potato vines and wisteria.

CAPTION(S):

8 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) the stuff landscapers love and some plants they hate

Simply Beautiful Geranium/Ball Horticultural Co.

(2 -- color) Experts agree Lily of the Nile, or agapanthus, is overused and doesn't belong in residential gardens.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(3 -- color) Chinese lantern, also known as Abutilon, appeals to Santa Clarita designer Jeff Brown.

(4 -- color) JEFF BROWN

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

(5 -- color) CATHERINE DOWNES

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

(6 -- color) ROBIN POKORSKI

(7) HARTLEY L. FULLERTON

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

(8) Vinca rosea thrives in the San Fernando Valley.

Michigan State University Extension
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 19, 2002
Words:1300
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