Touring Malibu’s gardens

Top left, a green respite in a beautifully designed Malibu Garden to be featured on the May 14 Malibu Garden Tour. Photos by Donna Lemkin

This year’s Malibu Garden Club Tour on May 14 will feature six unique gardens within walking distance of each other in the unique Malibu setting of Serra Retreat

The 8th annual tour presented by the Malibu Garden Club will feature a l6-acre property recently redesigned by Jay Griffith with large expanses of succulents, graceful large sycamores, which stand out over an expanse of grass, a beautifully constructed raised-bed vegetable garden, an amazing rose garden, and an impressive array of avocado and orange trees. An entertainment pavilion makes a perfect spot for musical performances and the borrowed landscapes of the mountains above Malibu make this property a truly enlightening garden experience.

Next door, savoring the rich history of gardening in this rich, riverbed Malibu soil, Malibu Garden Tour guests will be treated to viewing a large, productive fruit orchard. Learn tips from a longtime Malibu resident expert on keeping mature trees in top production. He might even share an orange or lemon with interested tour participants. Also featured on this property are an orchid greenhouse, many staghorn ferns and an interesting display of tropical plants and orchids in the garden.

Moving across a bridge over Malibu Creek, the tour participants will enjoy walking through a sequestered Spanish-style garden whose focus is on the children of the house. A safe and attractive children’s garden is hidden behind the colorful display of bougainvillea, the large red passion vine over the driveway, and a beautifully tended large-trunk mature palm tree on the property.

Refreshments will be served at an all American entertainment garden. This family has included their personal putting green, rope swing, hammock and lots of room for parties in their creekside backyard. The barbecue area is designed for ease of entertaining and good looks. Grasscrete is used effectively along the side of the house so a vehicle would be parked there as needed. Sycamores grace the expansive lawn and colorful plantings in the front make this home a gardener’s delight.

The Garden Club featured one of these homes in the 1999 tour, and it keeps getting more interesting. Mostly the work of one woman who really knows her plants, this garden is filled with prolific fruits and vegetables, as well as natives. Clematis of deep purple, lavender and white are growing in selected spots throughout the property. Her fruit trees are bearing prolific crops. She has a conifer section, which features mostly 20- to 30-year-old specimen trees, mostly dwarf varieties. This has always been one of my favorite Malibu gardens. Grevillea, coreopsis and fremontodendron (California native flannel bush) can all be found in this very special garden.

Looping back toward the new bridge is a “newer” Mediterranean style home and garden. Rosemary, lavender and olive trees commingle with ficus, roses and colorful foliage. It’s an eclectic mix of plant materials and complements the house.

This year’s tour has something for every garden interest. As participants return to their cars, they can pass the plant sale table to pick up something new for the home garden.

The Malibu Garden Tour takes place May 14, 11 a.m. -3 p.m. Reservations are recommended and can be obtained for a $25 donation by calling 310.455.1558 or visiting the Web site: Tickets will be available on May 14 in front of the Malibu Library.

Readers ask: One reader wrote with questions about disease or at least insects infecting a mature California pepper tree.

My advice is first, consult an arborist or one of Malibu’s well-qualified nurserymen. They have all been questioned with samples of leaf diseases or insects brought in plastic baggies or they have been shown photos of garden problems. Gardeners learn which nurserymen are most knowledgeable. Malibu has wonderful nurseries, visit them and talk with the owners – they know a lot about the plants.

Consult a horticulturist. One can always begin by calling the Master Gardener hot line: 323.838.4541. I’ve learned a great deal about specific bugs or diseases through this hot line.

Check the libraries: I enjoy consulting my personal library of books on landscape design as well as technical books on insects and diseases found on plants. Remember, there are many beneficial insects, which need to live on some plants-balance is often the key to a successful garden. And check the Internet. There are many Web sites devoted to knowledge of gardening.

New solar spotlight: I’d like to share with readers the new solar spotlights and how successful they have been in my small garden. I found a $59.95 high-powered solar spot light at from the Burlington, Vermont-based Gardener’s Supply Company. The small solar panels are attached with a long cord to the powerful spotlights. This allowed me to place the collector panels on top of walls for maximum sun exposure, while the spot lights are tucked down into my shady garden to uplight the euphorbia cotinafolia and a brugmansia as they come to life in my newly planted garden. They can also downlight from a tree or structure to a pathway. These are far more powerful than the dim solar lights used to mark paths.

Peggy Harris, of P.M. Harris Landscape Design can be reached at or 805.986.6965.