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Arboretum Shows Lush Life for Parched Landscapes

Although ours is not a desert climate--as is much of the Southwest--we confront the same issues of diminished water supply that our neighboring states have been facing. Even if one can continue to afford the rising price of water, pressure to conserve water will grow.

With this inevitability in mind, the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia has installed the 20,000-square-foot Henry C. Soto Water Conservation Garden, which has been about three years in the planning.

In advance of its dedication, scheduled for next Thursday, I visited the garden. What I had fully expected to see was a skeletal, barren landscape. Instead, I was led by Arboretum senior biologist and plant taxonomist Jim Bauml to an area all in bloom.

There were flowers of purple ( Verbena rigida , a Buddleja cultivar), lavender (trailing lantana), light pink (dwarf oleander), medium pink ( Sedum spectabile ), pale yellow (a Diplacus cultivar), bright yellow (yarrow, gazania), deep red ( Hesperaloe parviflora , Verbena peruviana ) and orange (lion’s tail).

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There also was bright green foliage (breath of heaven) met with silver (snow-in-summer, lamb’s ears, silver lace, santolina, Convolvulus cneorum ), dark green (bear’s breech, ceanothus), reddish purple (a beautiful fountain grass) and variegated gold and green (a shrubby bougainvillea, “Raspberry Ice” and also golden thyme).

They made a wonderful mix of colors and textures.

Succulents, Trees

Succulents also are interspersed throughout. Many trees are just starting up (pinon pine, chorisia, Jerusalem thorn and crape myrtle, for example). But Brazilian and California pepper trees now provide the shade.

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Temperatures that day exceeded 104 degrees in the shade, however, and I knew I would fade long before any of these plants would.

The purpose of the Arboretum’s new water-conservation garden is to demonstrate to Southern California gardeners that an astonishing number of ordinary garden plants can survive and look good--and even bloom--with a lot less water than is usually thought to be required.

A Diverse Array

The planners, rather than use exclusively California natives--which look their best only in the spring--focused on a diverse array of plants native to various dry regions (more than 125 altogether), such as the Mediterranean, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, the Southwest, and, of course, California.

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There are plans to add a collection of South African bulbs.

The secret behind the success of this garden is that all plants have been “weaned” off water: They have been watered less and less often but very thoroughly (to a depth of about 18 inches)--to coax the roots downward. Roots established deep in the soil are not as likely to lose water to evaporation and can keep much cooler.

When I viewed the water conservation garden, it was on its way to going three weeks without water. If this garden could hold up so well on the hottest day of the year, it will undoubtedly be twice as impressive in the spring.

A covered pavilion provides information about methods of irrigation and good garden practices, and plants are tagged for easy identification.

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To see the Henry C. Soto Water Conservation Garden, visit the Arboretum after Thursday or during the Arboretum’s Los Angeles Garden Show (Oct. 14-23). For more information, telephone (818) 446-8251.


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