Focus on Color
An Encinitas property awash in a rainbow of flowers is picture-perfect
Six million blossoms — that’s Ralph Peters’ approximation for the number of flowers that carpet his Encinitas garden every spring. It’s not merely a guess. The retired nuclear engineer devised a formula to make his calculation. But no one at the annual garden party he hosts with his wife, Donna, would doubt the size of the floral explosion.
“We love color, and we wanted low maintenance,” says Ralph of the decision 28 years ago to splash the home’s long banks with neon ice plant.
For much of the year, its ground-hugging foliage is a subtle blend of greens, a contrast to the lush lawn that curves from the house to a white gazebo. Then, starting in February and lasting through June, fiery orange, hot pink, red and deep purple flowers burst into bloom.
“It’s spectacular,” says Ralph, an amateur photographer who often aims his camera at the springtime spectacle and posts them on his Flickr page (flickr.com/photos/ralph_pete_peters/sets). Favorites are purple productus (Lampranthus productus), a South African native with pale jade leaves and brilliant purple flowers that last for weeks, and rosea ice plant (Drosanthemum), with fleshy leaves and lavender daisy-like blooms. Shimmering ribbons of orange, red and yellow flowers are varieties of trailing ice plant (Lampranthus spectabilis). All are from the area Armstrong Garden Centers.
Adding to the seasonal display are patches of other spring flowers, including violet lilies of the Nile, paperwhites, daylilies, rosy Martha Washington geraniums and golden California poppies. A lacy eucalyptus with rusty red flowers, sheared globes of pink-blooming Indian hawthorn and perky birds of paradise stand tall above the ice plant tapestry.
An annual spring rejuvenation preps the garden for its dazzling show, Ralph says. Patches of spent ice plant are replaced, weeds are vanquished and the small rose garden edging the lawn is pruned. Weekly visits by a landscaping service aid the two octogenarians with this and other maintenance around the half-acre property.
Ringing the home are flowerbeds tended by Donna, whom Ralph affectionately calls the “head gardener.” Her showy favorites range from calendulas and marigolds to petunias, Johnny-jump-ups and pastel-hued snapdragons. Recently, she substituted lantana and other easy-care perennials during the yearly spruce-up.
From the kitchen window, Donna enjoys watching winged visitors to the birdbath perched above brilliant orange ice plant and near drifts of naked ladies and alstroemeria. Opposite, against a warm stucco wall, two miniature rose bushes moved from Ralph’s mother’s home in Upland thrive.
Other foundation plants range from shade-loving white camellias, azaleas and yellow clivia to sun-seeking hibiscus and plumeria, tropical reminders of the couple’s Hawaiian wedding. Along one side yard, their potted living Christmas tree shares a bank with a decades-old lemon tree heavy with fruit.
The shaded rear patio, decorated with colorful hanging baskets and pots of epidendrums, offers views past tall king palm trunks to the Pacific Ocean. But, Ralph notes, even glowing sunsets don’t compare to the front yard in spring.
“It’s our signature garden,” he says. “Unbelievable, inspiring and a real joy.”
For more photos from this feature, check it out in our digital edition.