Gardening : Plant Sales Blossom in Fullerton : Gardening: The arboretum at Cal State Fullerton is offering a diverse selection not usually found in nurseries.

Sidnam is an avid gardener and writer who lives in Orange County

The Fullerton Arboretum weekend plant sales have become a focal point for Southlanders who are seeking the unusual for their landscapes. The sales feature plants not commonly found in nurseries.

Held until mid-December, these sales offer a diverse selection of plants geared for Southern California landscapes and gardens. And Christmas shoppers can explore the marvelous and unusual collection of living succulent wreaths that appear around Thanksgiving.

The plants at these sales are grouped into sections that include California native plants, perennials, succulents, a Kids' Corner featuring plants for children, an orchid section, a kitchen garden section, a rose section, a shrub section and a potpourri of hanging baskets and miscellaneous plants. All are healthy plants and are reasonably priced.

Most of these plants are propagated and nurtured on the Arboretum grounds by about 60 volunteers called the Arboretum Potters.

According to arboretum curator-taxonomist Celia Kutcher, the section devoted to California native plants receives a great deal of emphasis and is popular with visitors.

Here, one will encounter plants for a landscape that will suit our semiarid climate; most are drought-tolerant and need little maintenance. Not that they lack beauty. For instance, the numerous ceanothus (California wild lilac) shrubs provide spectacular spring colors in shades ranging from white to pale blue, lavender, pink, deep indigo and amethyst.

Also featured in the California native plant section are toyon (Christmas berry) plants, more commonly known as California holly. These showy plants feature dark green foliage and red berries in large clusters from November through February. They are almost maintenance-free if not watered too much.

In the native plant section, check out the Nevin's mahonia, a pretty, erect, multibranched shrub with holly-like gray-green spined leaves and yellow flower clusters. In the spring, there is a rose-colored flush of new foliage that contrasts with the yellow bloom. Kutcher said Nevin's mahonia is tough as well as pretty: A row of these plants makes a formidable barrier hedge.

Kutcher said California native plants should never be planted in lawn areas--too much moisture. These plants need good drainage. She noted that most California natives get along on rainfall alone; they do, however, appreciate a watering or two during the summer.

Drought tolerance is also emphasized in the perennial section. Again, these plants are chosen for their easy-care nature, but without sacrifice of beauty. While in this section, look for the scarlet monkey flower. While not as drought-resistant as many of the other specimens, it makes a spectacular ground cover with its orange-red flowers.

The arboretum sales offer a nice selection of ground covers that include two unusual herb plants. Sweet Woodruff, according to arboretum grower Joyce Smith, provides a nice ground cover for small, shady areas and is an indispensable ingredient in spring wine. Corsican mint is a low-growing and fragrant ground cover for use between stepping stones.

If you are interested in succulents, get to the sale early; they go fast.

Make these plant sales a family outing. The Kids' Corner offers fail-proof succulents that your children can plant. All plants here are priced at 50 cents each.

The orchid section contains cymbidiums, epiphyllums and other orchid-type plants. Next to this section is a selection of bromeliads, offered for their ease of growing.

The kitchen garden displays a different selection of autumn herbs and vegetables each week. In the rose section, the accent is on old-fashioned rose bushes.

Other plants on sale include ferns, begonias, trees and a wide selection of hanging plants. Reasonable prices prevail throughout the sale (the average hanging plant is $4.50), thanks to the volunteer labor of the Arboretum Potters.

The Fullerton Arboretum fall weekend plant sales are Saturdays and Sundays only, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In case of heavy rain, sales may be canceled. There are no sales during the Christmas holiday season (from mid-December to early January).

The Fullerton Arboretum is on the northeast corner of the Cal State Fullerton campus. Take California 57 to Yorba Linda Boulevard. Turn west on Yorba Linda and go to Associated Road; turn south onto the campus. For further information, telephone (714) 773-3579.

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