Loren Zeldin doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone or even a camera.
But he does have a garden, which is the focus of his days, all of which begin with several hours of pruning, weeding, and watering. He does not have an underground sprinkler system so he waters either by hose or with oscillating sprinklers that can be moved from place to place.
Zeldin has lived in the same house in Reseda for all of his approximately 60 years, and he clearly has no intention of going anywhere.
Zeldin is a man of consistency, working at a single job throughout his life before retiring not long ago. His job was that of a substitute teacher and, from what I understand, the trials of this pursuit can only be tolerated if you have a bastion of tranquility such as a garden to go home to at the end of each day
Zeldin’s backyard, which seems to go on forever, numbers more than 1000 species, including hundreds of rose and iris cultivars. He also has abutilons at every turn. I first visited Zeldin’s garden in 1999 and some of the abutilons that I saw then are still thriving.
Abutilons are known as Chinese lanterns, on account of their flowers’ appearance, but may also be referred to as flowering maples, due to the shape of their leaves. Abutilon is an Arabic word for mallow. Abutilons hybridize easily and it is these hybrids — gangly woody perennials that should never be watered more than once or twice a week — that are most frequently seen. Suitable for partial shade, they are kin to other favorite mallows such as common hibiscus (Hibiscus chinensis), tree mallow (Lavatera maritima), apricot or desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), as well as to the bi-ennial, self-sowing, and highly drought tolerant hollyhock (Alcea rosea).
Other relatives include cotton — yes, the crop plant grown for its fibers, which are actually vehicles for seed dispersal — and ochra, from which gumbo is made and whose flower petals are a gorgeous clear yellow with a bugundy spot at the base of each. The cacao plant, whose beans are made into chocolate, is another mallow of note, as is marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis), a species from whose roots a sticky white confection has been produced since ancient times and whose flavor is replicated in today’s eponymous sugar and corn starch version.
The flowers of abutilon hybrids may take on any shade of red, pink, yellow, or orange, as well as white. Zeldin is especially fond of the ‘Tiger Eye’ cultivar, with bold, bloodshot venation on its petals. This abutilon was not in Zeldin’s garden when I last visited 7 years ago and is proof of the fact that he still planting, an act that seems to defy logic considering that every square inch of ground in his backyard is covered with vegetation. Zeldin is a true gardener and his type is always planting, even when the available real estate for doing so disappeared a long time ago.
Zeldin grows two drought tolerant Australian shrubs or small trees that produce bottlebrush flowers. One of them is lemon bottlebrush (Callistemon pallidus), whose floral coloration varies between gold and green and the other is Mellaleuca elliptica, whose scarlet flowers are borne directly on its branches and whose tiny blue-green elliptical leaves are distinctive foliar gems.
Other Zeldin specimens include: seldom seen Forsythia, whose brilliant yellow spring bloom is primed by cold winter weather; Spiraea (spy-REE-a) that flowers heavily in white; red cestrum (Cestrum elegans), a 12 foot shrub covered with flared, waxy red tubular blooms; silver and gold chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum pacificum), whose shapely foliage is edged in white; African daisy (Arctotis), a carefree ground cover with daisies of blended colors; blue larkspur (Consolida ajacis), that self-sows everywhere; Spanish moss (Tillandsia useneoides), whose long gray tresses hang from tree limbs.
Tips of the Week: Last week, Governor Brown declared mandatory statewide water restrictions and today, April 11th, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., in Rancho Dominguez, a class will be held on “Water Saving Gardening.” The class will focus on “how to design and maintain a beautiful garden with plants that are appropriate for a semi-arid climate,” and will be held at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, 18127 Alameda Street, located not far from the intersection of the 710 and 91 Freeways. Admission is free.