England in L.A.; Cottage Garden on a Dry Slope

Article excerpt

England in L.A. Cottage garden on a dry slope

"Flowers bursting to please and willing to bloom themselves to death," are the ones Mary Ellen Guffey chooses for her garden. Informal, bright, and cheerful, it's reminiscent of an English cottage garden. But the effect is achieved on a rocky Malibu hillside, using a "lavish, unceremonious jumble of enthusiastic annuals." Mrs. Guffey's advice: "Go with winners. I won't bother with finicky plants that must be pampered to grow in my climate. I stick with plants that need little coaxing to perform in Southern California." As anchor plants, she uses Pittosporum tobira `Wheeler's Dwarf' and various junipers--blue carpet, Japanese garden, `Mint Julep', and shore. These evergreens tie the garden together and form a back-drop for contrasting flowering plants. Annuals, with their long-lasting show, rate high. The reliable spring bloomers include masses of larkspur, Phlox drummondii, and sweet alyssum, all of which can be planted now. In summer, rudbeckias and zinnias steal the show. Though the annuals dominate, some sure-flowering perennials--coreopsis, delphinium (grown as an annual), gaillardia, marguerites, Salvia farinacea, and Shasta daisies--are interspersed. Like traditional cottage gardeners, Mrs. Guffey developed her garden with inexpensive, easy-to-find materials. Retaining walls are unmortared, made from rocks found on the property. All the plants in this garden are easy to find in nurseries. Because Southern California lacks the heavy rainfall that sustains English gardens, Mrs. Guffey installed soaker hoses, which deliver water directly to plant roots through tiny pores--thousands per inch. …