Looking Forward : At the Los Angeles Garden Show, You’ll See What Will be Happening in Southern California Gardens in Years to Come

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

I MAKE SURE I get to four shows every year--the auto, boat, fishing and garden shows. I like to see what’s new, talk to others about my interests and do a little daydreaming. For the first three events, I’m good for about a half-day of looking and talking, but for the Los Angeles Garden Show, held every October at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia, I always find myself coming back a second day. There are plenty of new plants and gadgets, fellow gardeners to talk to and no shortage of things to dream about. But what brings me back another day is the abundance of ideas found in the various displays, all of which can be put to use in our unique region.

The theme this year is “The English Influence,” a style that is currently altering the shape and texture of California gardens. You can look forward to seeing a great many perennial plants--the mainstay of the English flower garden--many new to California. You’ll see two distinctly English traditions taking root here--plants grouped in naturalistic ways and in settings that are very formal. It will be interesting to see how designers and gardeners modify those ideas to fit our climatic conditions and to see which plants they use.

The show is organized into three areas. Two circus tents house commercial vendors of garden products (miracle knife sharpeners and their ilk are not allowed at this show) and garden books, and a large air-conditioned hall is for the more fragile exhibits of things such as orchids and cut flowers. Surrounding those structures are the outdoor displays, each full of ideas for gardens of any size.


Most of the gardening displays are not there to sell a product--they might be selling a service, since many are the work of commercial garden designers and contractors. But just as many are put together by gardening groups--such as the Diggers Garden Club or the Southern California Horticultural Institute--whose members simply want to share their enthusiasm for gardening.

I make it a point to walk through the show several times. On the first go-round, it is the carnival-like colors of the flowers that command all the attention. On subsequent strolls I discover how other gardeners have solved familiar problems--what plants they used, what kind of paving, how they combined all the different elements.

The displays can’t be copied directly, however; they are put together very quickly--in the two to three days before the show opens--and are not intended to be permanent. In an actual garden, for instance, the plants would have to be spaced farther apart than they are in an exhibit because they’ll be growing larger. But all in all, you can take home a lot of ideas and with only minor revision.

The photos shown here are from last year’s show, which was unusually colorful considering the season. In my garden at this time of year, virtually nothing is flowering, so it is interesting to see what’s in bloom. The show is scheduled during October to coincide with the peak of the fall planting season (undeniably the best time to plant just about anything), which means you can immediately put what you’ve learned to work. The Los Angeles Garden Show opened this weekend and runs until Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission is $5.