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Future Garden to Sprout as a Small Haven

When landscape architect Glenn Asakawa was asked to design a garden of the future for the Del Mar Fair, he had a mental picture of a San Diegan in the year 2007, trudging home from work through traffic in America’s third-largest city, after a hectic, high-pressure day.

“So I designed it as a natural retreat. A sanctuary,” he said, standing among the flame-colored canna lilies, kentia palms and glossy deer tongue ferns of the 500-square-foot garden.

“It’s a small sanctuary, but gardens of the future will be small. As the population grows, there’ll be, obviously, less land to go around. And what land there is will cost a great deal of money.”

It was 8:30 a.m. Inside the fairgrounds’ domed garden exhibit hall, Asakawa and his 9-year-old son, Kristofer, were hosing down the futuristic garden.

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“But only to clean off the dust,” he said.

The garden of the future, he explained, needs watering only about every 15 days.

As well as being irrigated by a subterranean watering system immune to evaporation, the garden has tiny polymer crystals (“They look like white grains of sand,” he said.) in the soil. “When the garden is watered, each crystal absorbs 600 times its weight in water. As the ground dries, they release their water into the soil, keeping it continuously moist,” he said as he handed Kristofer the hose to put away.

It is, Asakawa believes, an exciting advance; particularly for someplace like San Diego County, where water is valuable.

“Very few plants are drought-tolerant,” he said. “So, up until now, most water-conserving gardens have lacked color and variety. But the gardeners of the future will be able to use 75% less water, and grow just about anything.”

Herbs Important

The sound of a squawking cockatoo ricocheted from a neighboring garden exhibit. The fragrance of herbs--peppermint, oregano, sage and sweet basil--rose in the warm, moist air. A ruffle of parsley, used as a fern, edged the garden’s dry stream bed.

Herbs, said Asakawa, who, with his wife, Linda, belongs to a gourmet cooking club, will probably be a big part of the gardens of the future.

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“I like to think of my imaginary person of 2007, after having relaxed from the stress of the day, reaching out and picking a few herbs to flavor dinner with,” he said. “It isn’t a money-saving thing . . . but growing things gives you a nice, rewarding feeling.”

Asakawa himself has enjoyed the rewarding feeling of growing things almost all his life. He was 3 years old when, in 1950, his father opened the Presidio Garden Center in San Diego. (Five years ago he took over as president of the company.) He has been a judge many times for garden exhibits at the Orange County, Los Angeles County and Del Mar fairs.

“So I’ve been watching gardening trends in San Diego for a long time,” he said. “The trend now is toward very colorful gardens. People are using flowering plants almost like flower arrangements; replacing them every few weeks when they die.”

Part of the secret of making a garden design work, said Asakawa, who worked on this design for eight weeks, lies in trying to keep things looking much as they would in their natural setting.

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“Every rock, for example, has a horizontal grain,” he said, adding that the hundreds of rocks that curve downhill from the garden’s small fountain were all put in by hand so that the grain would be lying the right way.

Sometimes, however, nature can be improved on.

“These plants,” he said, indicating a rattan palm, a New Guinea impatiens and a dracena, “they’re all tropicals. Up until now, they couldn’t survive cold weather. But with the new spray-on synthesized bacteria that just came out, they can survive outdoors even on frosty nights.

“I expect the next breakthrough is going to be a sunblock for delicate plants, so that they, too, can be planted outdoors.”

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As he was speaking, the garden’s soundtrack came on, pouring from speakers hidden among the Indian laurel trees and dwarf bamboo.

“Here in the year 2007,” a deep voice intoned, “it has become evident that the human physique responds positively, and regenerates more efficiently, when in the company of organic beauty . . . “

“Somebody the other day asked me if it was a voice from heaven,” Asakawa said, chuckling.

Actually, the voice is that of KYXY radio’s Norman Elis-Flint, drawn through a lexicon-harmonizer to give it a slightly futuristic quality. KYXY is sponsoring Asakawa’s exhibit.

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By 10:30 a.m. the exhibit hall was crowded with fairgoers. Asakawa, his arm around his son’s shoulders, mingled unobtrusively with the people milling around his garden.

“I like to listen to their comments,” he said. “The main point I’m trying to get across is that you can have a beautiful environment in a very small space. We call a garden like that ‘intensely designed.’ And that, in the future, is what’s going to have to happen.”


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