Giving a Golden Opportunity

What do you want for your 50th wedding anniversary?

Let's assume, first, that you make it that far, which is definitely no given. Most married people have probably tried to kill each other several dozen times by that point. Let's assume also that you and the kids are pretty darned pleased about it all, which is a tossup, too. By the time the golden anniversary rolls around, more than a few parents have decided that their kids were switched in the nursery and they ended up with a devil's brood of lawyers or Giants fans or journalists that they would gladly trade in for one decent house cat.

But let's say you manage to buck the odds and end up like Ed and Hazel Lafler of Laguna Niguel: a thoroughly pleasant pair who obviously like each other and still think their children are a pretty decent bunch. What they wanted for their 50th anniversary was a party with the kids.

So they threw one. The three kids, who live elsewhere, showed up with their families at the Alisal Ranch near Solvang the week before Christmas 1991, pulled on customized anniversary T-shirts and reunited with their parents like crazy. Meanwhile, a plot was afoot.

It wasn't easy to agree on. After 50 years of marriage, the happy couple had just about everything they needed, and limited space for even that, said daughter Kathryn Washburn, who lives in Washington, D.C. Also, she said, her parents made it clear that they didn't want or expect any gift.

Still, the children thought, a gift was in order--something that was specific to the occasion, that would last, and that would evoke pleasant memories every day.

The answer was provided by Winston Churchill. Washburn remembered that when Winnie and Clemmie (his wife) reached their 50th wedding anniversary, their children marked the day with a gift of 50 golden roses. Washburn figured she and her two brothers could do better.

Practicality was an issue. Roses, Washburn knew, are high-maintenance blooms, and mom and dad were fond of low maintenance. But the thought of lots of golden flowers was captivating.

So, on the day of the anniversary, Dec. 22, the kids presented Ed and Hazel with a planter filled with golden flowers. Meanwhile, a delivery from Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar was arriving at the Lafler home: dozens of varieties of golden plants, complete with big bags of soil additive and ground bark. When the Laflers returned, there it all was, piled in their tiny walled front yard.

The kids stuck around to plant it all, and it took a bit of digging. On the list were: two kangaroo paws, four miniature yellow roses, two dozen yellow snapdragons, 18 yellow primroses, three large golden margaritas, one large yellow chrysanthemum plant, four dozen yellow and gold pansies, one golden poinsettia, a handful of yellow daisies, nearly two dozen yellow daffodil bulbs, two dozen yellow and white Dutch irises and what the Laflers believe is a golden-orange orchid.

"We asked for almost anything that was yellow that would grow there," said Washburn.

The selection, and the planting, were far from haphazard. The children had contracted with a Roger's Garden representative and devised a small deception. Washburn phoned a tennis friend of her mother's, who arranged to let the rep into the guard-gated community on the pretense that she was there to have a look at the Lafler's new kitchen. She was, she explained, looking for remodeling ideas for her own kitchen. She took notes, remembered Ed, "but she seemed a lot more interested in the yard and the view than in the kitchen."

Contained in the notes were ideas for filling the existing yard space with the new yellow flowers.

Yellow now is the dominant color in both the front and back yards, and there's no escaping it in any season. The selection of plants was designed, said Washburn, not just to provide variety, but a full year of yellow blooms. While some of the species lie dormant, others are in bloom. This week, the daffodils, margaritas, pansies, primroses and kangaroo paws were in full bloom, and the roses were getting ready to emerge.

Still, there may be no such thing as the perfect gift.

"We've always been gardeners, but we'd been tapering down a little because we're getting old," said Hazel, laughing. "We weren't expecting a big gift. (The reunion) was our gift to them. It was fun to see all the flowers, of course. It was really a surprise. They just dumped it all on the front lawn, and the kids planted it all. But now we have to take care of it. We have to stay home and water it."

Before the explosion of yellow arrived, the Laflers had bowed to the constraints of life in Southern California and planted their yards with drought-tolerant plants.

Kids. . . .

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