March 2013

Making gardens, Hollywood style

A workman wires flowers to a shrub rose for a television commercial in California. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I recently spent four days in Los Angeles working on television commercials for a garden product.

The goal was to create six gardens that resembled Main Street America in the Midwest and Northeast and what the landscapes would look like on June 1.

Talk about Hollywood make believe.

We needed annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs for the job, and a lot of the common plants we grow in the Eastern United States are not found in California. I developed several plant lists for the folks in California to find, but, understandable, there was a lot of confusion about terminology, such as what were hardy plants and what were perennials and annuals, so we relied on botanical names to find the right props.

For instance, lantana (Lantana) is a tender perennial here in the Midwest, where we use it as a summer annual. In California, lantana is a hardy perennial and a staple for plantings in landscapes and streetscapes. What’s called a lilac in California is Ceanothus, which looks nothing like our common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), a completely different species.

The list for the shoots specified lots of plants that would work, but they were behind in their blooms in February because the Golden State’s winter has been particularly cool.

Enter stage left: silk flowers.

Planting silk flowers and wiring them to live plants to make gardens full, lush and blooming are common practices when shooting landscape scenes for magazines, commercials, television shows and movies.

The illusion fools the eye. This is just one more reason not to beat yourself up if your garden doesn’t look like the one in the magazine or tv show. A lot of it is make believe.