Formal Gardens Surprisingly Low Maintenance

Weekend gardeners and green thumbs with small plots found great ideas at the 1996 Los Angeles Garden Show.  Those ideas are still pertinent today.
The theme of this year’s garden show is  “Gardens of Our World: The European Influence,” and the displays show off the opposing formal continental and English cottage gardens.
Outdoor lighting, accessories and furniture also will be on display at the show that begins Wednesday at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. A schedule of lectures and demonstrations will help gardeners get more out of their precious time outdoors.
“With people working longer hours than ever before, there is less attention devoted to the garden. Women, who have traditionally held sway in the garden, are now part of the work force. People simply don’t have the time or the leisure to look after their gardens as they once did,”said Walter Fouts, an award-winning landscaper who is one of the designers at the show.
Gardeners with little time may find ideas in the formal gardens to suit their needs.
Seldom seen in our city, even though it was born in the dry, Mediterranean regions of North Africa and southern Europe, the formal garden is the most appropriate style – climatically speaking – for our area. The garden at the Getty Museum in Malibu is the best-known area representative of formal European style.
The formal garden is a reasonably low-maintenance affair with a limited number of plant species – bay laurel, boxwood and Italian cypress come to mind – and a little color.
In our long, hot summers, where garden chores should be minimized, such low-maintenance formal gardens make a lot of sense. Yet Southern Californians continue to struggle to achieve the English garden, which is patently informal, colorful and high-maintenance.
The English garden features clusters of different plants growing closely together, many of which require constant deadheading of flowers, cutting back, staking and training.
Janie Malloy designed edible landscapes in her cottage garden utilizing herbs, vegetables, comestible flowers and fruit trees. She has even lined a pathway with an informal hedge of corn plants.
Also on display in a series of tented pavilions are tablescapes created by designers for entertaining indoors and out. These exhibits go with the cocooning trend and suggest that the only place to really get away from it all is right in your own back yard.
Interior designers have tapped into this movement and are taking their skills outside. Displays show how to bring paintings, sculpture, lavish furniture and even carpets into the yard behind the house.
Water ponds and fancy structures and garden art are in. Fouts has designed an expansive 18th-century lattice garden structure that will at last make it possible to spend summer days out of doors without feeling the heat.
“It’s not claustrophobic like gazebos,” Fouts said.  “Although it has no interior walls, it has a number of separate, distinct areas. It is a structure hospitable to almost any kind of work or activity normally done indoors.”
Surrounding this ornamental, perfectly ventilated house, he has planted white potato vine, pink jasmine and climbing roses, all eager and willing to ascend the latticed walls.
Lighting, which for beauty and security has become an integral part of garden design in the ’90s, is the finishing touch on this project. Fouts has illuminated his structure, which is painted dark green, with special lights that produce a glowing pink, moonlit effect. The green and pink echo the flower and leaf colors of the adjacent vining plants.
Several of the exhibits are constructed around fountains, which were essential in classic Italian garden design. One rose exhibit features cultivars named after members of European royalty, while another re-creates the bouquets and arrangements used in a Victorian garden wedding reception. There also is a unique collection of designer garden hats made out of plants and flowers that shouldn’t be missed.
Plants alone are no longer sufficient to satisfy the backyard needs of today’s homeowner. There must be structures, accessories, add-ons and stuff.
Among the most intriguing, artistic accessories on display are the garden gates created by David Wilson of San Jose. These carefully crafted, deftly painted wooden gates remind designers of what the major focus in a garden should be: the entry.
These gates are appropriate for gardens large or small and make a fine complement to a container-filled path that forms an entryway. Wilson’s gates are in various styles, including French, Spanish and Oriental. Karen Brann, of Foxglove Design, uses pots and urns to create the atmosphere of a garden in Provence.
Lectures and demonstrations will cover a variety of topics including English cottage gardens, edible landscapes, roses, natural pest control, landscape lighting, tree preservation and native plants.


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