Grandstand Gardening : Applauding Down-in-Front and Up-in-Back Planting

<i> Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine. </i>

There is something to be said for grandstanding in the flower garden--arranging the plants so the shortest are in front, the tallest are in the back and the in-between are in between, as if all of them were standing on bleachers. This classic arrangement still gets the most applause, especially when the flowers are in the front yard, as the two borders pictured happen to be. Barely a leaf or a stem is visible, with one plant hiding all but the blooms of the other. What a show!

Notice the other classic attention-getting devices used in these two gardens. The beds are wisely set back a little from the sidewalk and street. This not only keeps them from being trampled, but that narrow strip of lawn between street and garden also makes a nice green foreground for the colorful flowers, and the glare of adjacent pavement doesn’t intrude. Backing up the flowers are substantial, attractive walls or fences. This completes the picture; it is one side of the frame for the flowers, the lawn being the other.

The beds here are not too narrow, either, one being about five feet deep, the other undulating between four and eight feet. To pull off a play such as that requires a variety of heights, and an area big enough to plant that variety.


Both beds are filled with many of the same summer flowers and were planted at about this time of the year. Zinnias are the major players, but perhaps more important are the smaller flowers in the foregrounds, since these the very foundations of the plantings. In Richard and Suzanne Pozzo’s garden, a low hedge of perennial candytuft ( Iberis ) does the job year-round, even though it was out of bloom when the picture was taken. (It is spring-blooming, but when sheared after flowering, it is a respectable green all summer).

In the other garden, the front row is occupied by old, reliable sweet alyssum and two shades of lobelia, a dark violet and a lighter lavender. These spill right onto the lawn, so the grass must be edged by hand.

The second row in this garden has two tiny chrysanthemums in it, neither of which has a proper common name. Chrysanthemum paludosum has the white blooms that look like little Shasta daisies, and C. multicaule has the buttery-yellow flowers (which were partially closed on this foggy day). Both are annuals usually planted in the fall, but near the coast they do just as well set down in the spring for summer bloom. Inland, the white vinca seen in the second row of the Pozzo garden is a better choice for summer flowers.

Interestingly, both gardens use roses at the very back of their borders, and it would be difficult to think of a better place for a rose.