Los Angeles Garden Show Is a Fertile Place for Ideas


This year’s Los Angeles Garden Show, at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia through Oct. 23, must be the best yet. I feel that way every year, but this year more than ever, though maybe it’s just the weather, which has put me in a planting frame of mind.

That’s why the show is scheduled for October, rather than during the more traditional spring months. Fall is the better time to plant most anything in California, and there is no shortage of ideas at the show on what to plant, or plants to purchase.

Just inside the entry--a massive garden gate erected in a few days time (like everything else at the show)--and to the right, are huge displays by two of the country’s biggest wholesale growers. Monrovia and Hines are squared off in amicable fashion with fanciful gardens chock full of new and unusual plants. Just the ticket to get one to thinking.


One corner of the Hines display uses a number of cool gray plants that give an almost frosty feel to that part of its garden, and Monrovia makes good use of ornamental bananas, yuccas and a beautiful new lemon-yellow coreopsis.

Continue toward the horticultural building and see the six window boxes, each done by a different designer, including Banning & Bradley, Bellefontaine Nursery, Mary Brosius, Jacob Maarse, Nancy Goslee Power and Sally Wenzlau. I particularly liked the boxes that made use of ornamental peppers and the one full of ornamental cabbage and herbs, and had no trouble imagining these outside my kitchen window.

Handsome Decorations

Just past the window boxes are the succulents wreaths made famous by Teddy Colbert, and she now offers an instruction book and hardware kits for making these most handsome decorations.

Inside the hall are some spectacular displays of orchids and cut flowers and one that features gingers and heliconias. There also is a nice bonsai display inside, one that might give a few bonsai collectors some ideas on how to show them off in the garden, and there is a tree filled with topiary monkeys.

Back outdoors are rows of small gardens, each by a different designer, though some of these idea gardens aren’t all that small anymore. One by Tim Moran and sons is huge, with waterfalls, pools, a gazebo, a deck with barbecue, even an aviary filled with birds, and lots of interesting plants used in unusual ways.

Don’t miss the new drought-resistant demonstration garden. It occupies the place where many of the outdoor displays were, so they’ve been moved to the little hillock nearby.

On the front of the hill are several handsome gardens, and there are more on the back, including a display of portable water gardens, full of fish and fascinating aquatic plants, many in full flower, by Don Hamburger of Aquasphere. Several of these idea gardens feature water--still and quiet or burbling and splashing--and one has it all: a garden by Jon Rasmussen, whose company, Waterworks, specializes in the stuff.

Don’t miss the display of chrysanthemums in spectacular bloom under a floss silk tree (also in full flower) that was put together by the Arboretum and its tireless superintendent, John Provine. It’s at the very end of the little hill.

Books to Buy

Inside the tents is where you will find things to buy and bring home. I didn’t get more than a few feet before running into what has to be the largest selection of books on gardens and gardening on the West Coast: V. L. T. Gardner’s amazing traveling book stall. I found two for my Christmas wish list: a new book by the Marquesa de Casa Valdes on Spanish gardens and one on the gardens of Provence and the South of France.

Right next door, I bought a copy of the new “Southern California Nature Calendar,” put out by the Theodore Payne Foundation (which also sells native plants at the show). This calendar tells you when the wildflowers bloom and where to see them, and it even has maps for those who aren’t sure where the wildflowers grow in this megalopolis.

Around the corner are some of the most handsome pots I have ever seen. They are “certifiably antique Grecian urns,” and if one were looking for a fall-dead focal point for the garden, one of these would do it. According to Andy Brous of Ravenwood’s, you will not be arrested for violating Greek antiquity laws because these are “only” several hundred years old, but they look like something from a National Geographic expedition. Actually, the show is a good place to shop for all kinds of pots and containers.

Another Idea Garden

Between the two tents is another idea garden, an especially elegant one by Sassafras Nursery and Landscape. It has two parts--one classical and one flowery in shades of blue and gray--that are joined by a sinuous path.

In the far tent, I found a nursery that grows tender tropical and subtropical fruits, in the San Fernando Valley of all places. David Silber of Papaya Tree Nursery tells me they are on an air-drained slope in Granada Hills, but that’s still in the Valley, where these things aren’t supposed to grow.

At his display, I saw and sniffed my first plant of allspice (the leaves are as fragrant as the seeds from which the spice is made) and looked at the interesting Kei apple, which makes a big bush with wicked thorns and has fruit that tastes much like an apricot. Silber also carries the hard-to-find varieties of regular apples that do well in our mild climate, as well as many rare citrus and other subtropicals.

This is the kind of thing that gets a gardener’s juices going, and the neat thing is--when you get it home, you can plant it right away. Well, you might want to wait on the tropical fruits. They’re one of the few things that are not best planted in the fall.

Los Angeles Garden Show, at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (818) 446-8251. Today-Oct. 23, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission: $5 (includes admission to gardens); $3 for seniors and students with ID.