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STYLE : GARDENS : Decking the Halls

Long after the tinsel and twinkling lights are packed away, a few well-chosen living plants will actually flourish in Southern California’s warm, dry climate. Two types of trees and a handful of succulents can serve as fresh holiday decorations now and be recycled as garden fixtures later.

The giant sequoia ( Sequoiadendron giganteum ), with blue or gray-green needles, is known as the world’s biggest tree (according to mass). It grows best inland and is reasonably drought-resistant. The coast redwood ( Sequoia sempervirens ) is the world’s tallest tree, dark green with slightly droopy branches. It thrives closer to the beach and needs regular, if infrequent, irrigation.

Both trees are native to California and conical in form, so they make ideal holiday choices. Though naturally long-lived, they can survive only about five weeks and require frequent watering when potted indoors. (Melt ice cubes in the containers for adequate moisture.)

Transplanted to the garden, the giant sequoia (shown here) and the coast redwood can grow to 80 or 90 feet. Several nurseries sell them: Trees that are two to three feet tall cost about $10; ceiling-high trees run about $100.

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Another way to use living plants is to create festive trimmings from succulents. Unlike evergreen boughs, which tend to brown quickly, these can hang exposed to the low winter sun almost indefinitely.

At Teddy Colbert’s Garden, a Santa Monica mail-order business, wreaths and swags are fashioned from red-margined ‘Crosby’s Compact’ jade plant, donkey tail and string of pearls. Propagated in a moss-wrapped, soil-filled frame, the plants suggest draped fabric.

Wreaths are $100 to $150, depending on size. Swags come assembled for $450 or as a kit (with 350 cuttings and ready-to-plant frame) for $225. For more information, call (310) 288-2506.


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