If you are looking for a tropical paradise, you don’t need to book a flight to Hawaii. Just pay a visit to Palos Verdes Peninsula.
I was recently privileged to visit the garden of Richard Lynch is San Pedro. Lynch lives on a hill that overlooks the Pacific. From his backyard, you don’t only see the ocean, but Santa Catalina Island as well.
Lynch is British, which means that gardening is in his blood. Lynch told me that he could not survive without gardening and the garden he has created is best described by the French expression ne plus ultra, which is roughly translated as “beyond compare,” the ultimate expression of what a garden can be.
I know there is a push to go native and plant what is suitable to our climate and to our paucity of annual precipitation. Still, it seems that no one, not even the most rabid environmentalist, has a problem with growing organic vegetables in our Los Angeles backyards. Yet tomatoes are native to tropical South America, as are potatoes and eggplants, while corn originated in tropical Mexico. So why not plant tropical orchids and rhododendrons as well?
Horticulture in its truest sense is manipulating the environment to suit our vegetative and floral needs. Richard Lynch is a true horitculturist, having replaced his native dirt with a custom made soil mix consisting of one part coarse peat moss, one part coarse perlite (perlite #3), and one part bark. If you want to proceed with such a garden bed makeover, it is essential that the peat moss and perlite are on the coarse side, since finer versions will be too water retentive, risking the possibility of root rot. Lynch’s custom mix, while it drains perfectly, requires irrigation twice a week.
Lynch has many robust bromeliads throughout his garden, which includes beds of native, non-amended soil, and his widespread planting of bromeliads helps explain why he has opted for spray sprinklers instead of drip. Bromeliads, require that their cups or vases — at the center of their foliar rosettes – be kept full of water. This requirement can only be met by conventional spray sprinklers, and not by drip emitters. Lynch wonders why more people don’t grow bromeliads. He repeatedly vouches for them as low maintenance garden selections. Although mother bromeliad plants die after flowering, they will have invariably produced offsets or pups by then, assuring that there will be offspring to continue their flowering spectacle. Keep in mind that many species of bromeliads flower for months at a time. Lynch’s blue-viloet
Aechmea ‘Del Mar’ specimens are noteworthy.
Tropical Vireya rhododendrons, native to Borneo and Java, are the most unforgettable plants in Lynch’s garden. Opulent clusters of blooms are presently visible in red, orange, salmon, pink, and white. Cultivars include the pink ‘Aleksandre Isayevich,’ the yellow ‘Flamenco Dancer,’ the salmon ‘Salmon Sensation,’ and the dwarf ‘Littlest Angel.’ Many of Lynch’s Vireyas are fragrant. According to Lynch, if you want to experiment with Vireyas, the best place to order them from is www.pacificislandnursery.com. Phone number is 808-966-9225.
Prior to my visit to Lynch’s garden, my Vireya encounters had been confined, many years ago, to a single Vireya rhododendron growing on the UCLA campus, in the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden, and to a number of Vireyas growing in clay pots on a patio in Thousand Oaks, thanks to the efforts of the legendary Bill Paylen, a friend and colleague of Lynch.
Paylen, who was widely acknowledged as Los Angeles’ foremost authority on tropical plants, told me in 1998, as recorded in this newspaper, that the key to successful gardening is intuition. “You can’t take care of plants according to what it says in a book,” he said. “Either you have a feel for this sort of thing or you don’t. I know people with university degrees who kill every plant they touch, and gardeners with no formal education whose every horticultural effort is crowned with success. If you’re not born with a green thumb, you’ll probably never have one.”
Lynch definitely appears to have that elusive “feel for this sort of thing.” One glimpse of his garden provides instant recognition that something extraordinary is happening here. In addition to his Vireyas, he has extensive clumps of cymbidium orchids, growing right out of the ground, with dozens of flowers per clump. He has a breathtaking, purple Zygopetalum orchid whose strong perfume is wafted throughout his backyard garden in the afternoon hours. His garden treasures include Scilla peruviana, the Portuguese squill, another purple beauty.
From a hanging basket adjacent to his patio, a robost, carnivorous pitcher plant (Nepenthes sp.) is thriving. By keeping the pitchers half-filled with water, Lynch never has to worry about flies, who dive into the pitchers and are digested by this insect devouring species. He also has many healthy Anthurriums, which are not normally grown outdoors, bursting from his garden beds Lynch advises me that certain Anthurriums, labeled “outdoor variety,” are eminently suitable for planting in the ground. He also has an outstanding Abutilon megapotamicum specimen, which flowers throughout the year with barely any water at all.
Tip of the Week: Lynch’s fertilization regime is minimalist, but obviously effective. He fertilizes all his plants just once a year. The product he uses is a Nutricote formulation. It’s a 13-13-13 product (13% nitrogen, 13% phosphorus, 13% potassium) that includes minor nutients. It’s known as 100 day since it is a slow release product. It is essential to apply Nutricote when the soil is warm, at the end of spring or beginning of summer. Be careful not to over fertilize Vireyas. If you do, they greedily absorb the minerals at hand, quickly burn up, and die. You can order Nutricote at Frutikan.com.