Loren Zeldin’s Garden

flowering maple (Abutilon hybridum 'Fruit Salad')Loren Zeldin does not own a computer. “I would rather be in the garden in the sun than cramped up indoors in front of a little screen,” he said. Actually, Zeldin has nothing against computers per se. He simply has another pursuit that he prefers to adventures in cyberspace. That pursuit is tending a garden of close to a thousand different plants, including 500 varieties of roses and 200 varieties of irises.
Zeldin has lived in the same house in Reseda for all of his 46 years, a fact even more astonishing these days than his computerless status. When you talk to Zeldin about his garden, you begin to understand what the words “connected to the land” really mean. You get the feeling that Zeldin will probably never leave this house because of the garden that he has created and continues to create.
It is easy to be persuaded by Zeldin’s zeal for his plants. He knows more of their Latin names, but not all of them. He fertilizes every now and then, and prunes when necessary, but has no strict maintenance schedules. He has more of a gardener’s avid love than a horticulturist’s intellectual appreciation for plants.
Roses are the mainstay of Zeldin’s garden and irises are afforded the next most prominent place. It would be hard to quibble with Zeldin’s horticultural biases, especially in the spring. This time of year, a garden full of irises and roses is more than an unequaled sensual delight; it is a humbling experience, a reminder of how grateful we should be for the gift of spring and for the beauty of the flowers that return each year during this season.
One of Zeldin’s favorite roses is ‘Scentimental,’ whose flowers are striped red and white and have an intense apple fragrance. ‘Scentimental’ is a floribunda rose, which means it has a shrubby growth habit, bears enormous numbers of blooms, and is virtually free of mildew. Other shrub roses that Zeldin would promote are ‘Camellia,’ a coral hybrid musk, and the pink ‘Hawkeye Bell.’
In the category of orange- or apricot-colored roses, Zeldin is partial to ‘Just Joey’ over ‘Medallion’ or ‘Brandy’ due to Joey’s outstanding fragrance. Zeldin recommends ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ to anyone in the market for David Austin roses, that group of hybrids which combines the fragrance of old-fashioned single-blooming roses with the vigor of modern, repeat-blooming types. I was especially taken with a rose called “La Reina de Violetta.” This violet-colored rose has a spicy fragrance, is thornless and mildew free.
As is frequently the case in mature gardens, Zeldin has had to deal with the problem of limited light. He has managed this difficulty, in part, by planting Spuria iris varieties. Spurias are rhizomatous irises similar in appearance to the bulbous Dutch irises. While the classic Spurias are modestly colored in yellow and white, modern hybrids can be found in blue, lavender, purple and orchid. Spuria irises accept not only a modicum of shade, but can handle somewhat moist soil as well. This is significantly different from the more common bearded irises, which undergo dormancy in the summer, and whose rhizomes may rot if the soil is not kept bone dry.
“The flowering plant I would most recommend for the shade is abutilon,” said Zeldin. Also known as Chinese lantern (because of its flowers) or flowering maple (because of its leaves), abutilon is certainly longer blooming and more adaptable to Los Angeles soil than the azalea, which is the most popular local shade plant. It is a mystery why the abutilon is not more widely planted, but this situation is sure to change. Profusely flowering cultivars, such as Zeldin’s salmon orange ‘Leo,’ have recently been introduced and are sure to catch the eye of discerning shade gardeners. The abutilon has a weeping growth habit and its shoots should be pruned so that they do not touch the ground; otherwise, ants will carry scale insects onto the plants via the ground-rubbing leaves. Abutilon trunks can be protected from scale-toting ants by application of a sticky barrier such as Tanglefoot.
Zeldin lives in what he calls the “Valley bottom” and suffered freeze damage this past winter; like water, cold air settles in the lowest places. He lost a Duranta (arching branches with blue flowers), a Crotolaria (ever blooming with yellow flowers) and an Iochroma (purple tubular flowers). Undaunted, Zeldin is planting these species again this year, determined to better protect them from the cold. Somehow I have the feeling that many years from now, Zelding will be regaling us with stories of how he protected them all these years, and made them thrive.

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