I like to think I’ve been in every corner of Southern California looking at gardens, but last Sunday was my first chance to see those in the magical, hilltop Windsor Hills and View Park areas near Baldwin Hills. It was the last stop for my wife and me in a weekend of garden shows and tours that started last Thursday night at a preview party for the Southern California Garden Show in Costa Mesa.
On the first-ever public tour of gardens in View Park, filled with elegant 1920s and ‘30s homes, and in the nearby, newer area called Windsor Hills, we listened to jazz in one backyard and ate cookies in another while we admired plants in profusion.
This was one of the best organized and most hospitable garden tours I’ve taken. We picked up our maps for the self-guided tour, got our “Garden Tour Guest” stickers--each with a little ladybug on it--and headed off to find what turned out to be exceptionally well-marked gardens (which are sometimes hard to find on tours), each with its identifying handmade dragonfly sign. To make sure you found the entrance to each and to help in any way they could were student and Boy Scout volunteers.
At the first garden, which belonged to one of the organizers, Beverly Newton, we listened to live jazz (her husband was on bass) while admiring the flowers and some fanciful paving. Lorinee Jackson (she made the dragonfly signs) and Sheilah Curtis were two of the other organizers, and at the very next garden, we ran into yet another of the tour’s instigators, Alice Cauthorne, a friend from the Southern California Horticultural Society who lives in View Park. She was so excited to finally be showing off her neighborhood’s gardens that she drove us around for the rest of the day.
All of the gardens on the tour are on hillsides, and many have stunning views of downtown. We saw Eglantine Payne’s amazing 35-year-old maze garden--which you could look down on--and her collection of roses and cymbidium orchids. Only constant, careful pruning keeps a hedge looking that good, and that dense, for so long.
All of the roses on the tour were at their peak, but the long rows of ‘Iceberg’ roses in one garden were the showiest planting of this variety I have seen. In still another, there were some stunning plantings of orchids and sweet peas, and in Curtis’ terraced garden--on the lowest level--was a wonderful, natural-looking meadow of unmown fescue grass, an idea I may have to try out. Sitting on a bench in the meadow, you could look up the hill at the terraced beds, one planted with fat, healthy lavenders that obviously enjoyed the good drainage found on the hillside.
Between gardens officially on the tour, our guide pointed out dozens of flowery yards that weren’t on this year’s tour but might be on next year’s. We even swung by a few of her friends’ homes to peek at gardens, and at the last, left carrying a huge bag of super-sweet oranges. Fresh orange juice on Monday morning sounded pretty good to these two tired gardeners.
We began our long gardening weekend by driving down to Orange County for the Southern California Garden Show at the South Coast Plaza mall. With small display gardens on the first floor and vendors of garden goods lined up along the aisles on the top two floors, it was just like going shopping at the market--and all too easy to buy. Among the treasures we carted home were a fascinating orchid, Dendrobium hainanensis, that grows like a weeping bamboo, and several irises including a rust-colored charmer named ‘Cable Car,’ which we’ve been looking for everywhere.
We got a new weeder from tool specialist Bob Denman and were sorely tempted by the kung-pi Chinese brush paintings by artist Joyce Tanaka-Shields, especially one of crocus blooming in patches of snow. At this opening, which benefited Mission San Juan Capistrano, you can also dine as you shop, and each year the food gets more and more exciting, so I no longer know if I go for the plants or my palate.
The following evening we crawled though Friday traffic to the Arboretum of Los Angeles County in Arcadia, for its Baldwin Bonanza plant festival gala. It too mixes good nibbling with great plants. This year they added little garden vignettes that they called the “Garden Galleries--Design Ideas for Favorite Places and Unlikely Spaces.” Some talented designers--such as Nick Williams, Tony Kienitz, and Persson’s Nursery--made little gardens that were reminiscent of the kind seen at the fall shows that used to be held at the arboretum.
There were plenty of plant vendors with their wares spread out on the lawns, and we ended up shopping until it was too dark to read the labels, coming home with more new plants to try out, such as a variegated baby’s tears named ‘Silver Queen’ that we used to brighten a shady spot.
On Saturday, we planted all our new treasures, did some light pruning and some serious weeding and by the end of the day felt like the garden looked good enough to be on a garden tour.