Saturday, December 29, 2007

Succulent Stew for Green Thumbs Sunday Dinner

Succulent Xmas detail
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

After a last minute decision to engage in a holiday gift exchange with the immediate family (thought we'd be away, but that changed), I ran out to create a dish of succulents for my Spousal Support Unit (isn't that endearing?). She's recently begun collecting more of these critters and I thought I'd put my bold, professional design sense into this planting.

Thematically, I tried to use the same form a few times (the rosette) and also repeat some foliage colors between the various forms. So the burgundy shade repeats in the Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood' and the Echevaria, and the silvery-grey has a few appearances. The one big shift is the charteuse-colored Sedum.

She loved the gift and especially the book on succulents. Hope you all enjoyed your Christmas time and that your new year is joyful, peaceful and filled with chlorophyll.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bustin’ My Ash on the West Side – Cleaning Up After Another Ash Storm

Across the nation, Christmas means snowflakes on the trees and snow blowers for finding your driveway. This year in Santa Barbara, it means dusty, stinking brown ash and grit on everything. Humbug!

This summer’s Zaca Fire (240,000 acres and a $120 million price tag) has been out for months, but when the weather conditions are right (okay, wrong) winds from the inland areas pick up the months-old ash and carry it over the mountains to the coast. We literally had a taste of it a few months ago, and now we’ve had two dust storms in one week.

I just got in from sweeping my driveway. It’s about 65 ft. by 25 ft. and using an 18” wide broom, I estimate that was about 1.5443 billion strokes (always show your work: 1625 square feet times the square root of my shoe size, allowing for a 4 mph head wind, minus 27 for Celsius = 1.5 billion rounded up).

I think I performed the most environmentally sensitive sweeping that is within my means. I was motivated after watching the maintenance person this morning at La Arcada downtown. For the second time this week, he washed down every square inch of surface in that exquisite (though a bit kitche for my taste) urban shopping paradise with a hose. Water everywhere, eventually running over the sidewalk and into the gutter

On Monday, I watched in brooding silence as he performed his task. I had a great speech going in my head on all the reasons why what he was doing was a terrible thing. Foremost, we don’t have any freakin’ water to spare! 6 inches last “rainy season” and not much to speak of yet this year. Second, all the ash, leaves and who-knows-what would eventually find its way to a storm drain, then into Mission Creek. Huge environmental no-no. Oh yeah, it’s also against the law.

So today, I put on my smiley face, mustered up my assertiveness and we had a civil talk. I already knew his defense, which is the same as most of you dealing with this at your homes. If you sweep, it raises a cloud of dust, which not only chokes you, but most of what you’re trying to get rid of rises into the air, only to resettle again. Blowers are definitely out, and most people don’t have yard vacuums (though they are the coming thing and you might want to investigate them). He listened politely as I spun my tale of environmentally friendly ash kicking. Behold…Here’s what I ended up doing over the weekend and again today.

Step one – grab a hose and an adjustable nozzle and set it on “mist.” Tut, tut, tut – we’re not going to use more than a few gallons.

Step two – make a quick pass over a section of the driveway, barely moistening the surface without creating anything resembling a puddle.

Step three – grab a Stiff Quickie. No, really! (Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s a push broom I bought a few weeks ago at Home Improvement Center. When I read the register receipt I almost lost it. Some brainiac at the broom company named this model the Stiff Quickie, so get back to reading this brilliant set of instructions.)

Step four - start sweeping in short strokes. The barely moist dirt stays on the ground, no dust, no muss, no fuss!!! If you have a planted area nearby, push everything into the bed. It won’t harm your plants as it works into the soil. If you don’t have a bed to sweep into make a pile, pick it up, bag and seal it, and put it in the trash can – don’t want to choke the guys who dump the container, ‘cause this stuff is going to dry out.

If you absolutely have to wash some areas down, wash into a planted area to keep this toxic soup from reaching our water ways. If that’s impossible, try laying out a bundle of straw or an old pair of jeans to intercept as much of the water-borne debris as you can before it reaches the gutter.

So, I got a little exercise, my green credentials are reinforced, my conscience is clear, and my driveway is clean. Ash or not, we are often tempted to wash down surfaces around our homes. Maybe you can keep this in mind next time. I hope so.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Silvery “Green Thumb Sunday”

Silver Spear
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

I’ve been using this plant more and more in my repertoire. It seems to grow exceptionally well wherever I use it and the impact of the spikey silver foliage can’t be beat.

Astelia chamathia (Silver Spear) is the botanical name, and this gorgeous New Zealand native (actually, the Chatham Islands) is certainly welcome on our shores. Give it good drainage, sun or bright shade around here (Santa Barbara, CA) and can take the coldest nights we get around here (good to about 20 deg. F).

If you’ve got heavy clay soil, you might want to keep it out of the ground and grow it in a pot. For real drama surround it with some purple foliage (maybe Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’) and splash a little yellow-green nearby (I’m a fool for the chartreuse sweet potato – Ipomea).

So this week we’ll call it “Silver Thumb Sunday.”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Great Design Example from Carpinteria

It’s still pretty toasty in Santa Barbara, though in some areas we’re dipping into the low 30s and some plants need to be covered. So to warm things up, I picked some plants with toasty-warm golden tones. You might be tempted to take off your bunny slippers and hold your feet up to your monitor – your choice, but it’s hard explain footprints on your screen.

Here’s a second installment on my little design symposium. Let’s continue with the topic of contrast and harmony, but this time it’s two, two, two compositions in one.

I frequently rant about removing lawns that don’t serve a needed recreational purpose, approaching the topic from an environmental / sustainability mindset. But for completely aesthetically selfish reasons, another great reason is to give yourself more real estate in which to play with fun plant compositions. As you’ll see below, when you allow enough space to create “Uber-beds” you can really play.

Here’s how the “twofer bed” idea works. If you have a planting area that can be seen from more than one angle, consider placing a “ridge line” of taller plants through the middle of your bed so that it blocks the view of plants on each side of the ridge. The ridge plants now offer a backdrop for experimenting with more than one composition, using the same backdrop twice.

Since a picture is worth oh so many words, these photos, taken at Seaside Gardens, just north of Carpinteria, CA. will tell the tale. Seaside is a truly unique nursery in that they’ve given over a substantial bit of acreage to invite local designers to create a series of theme gardens. Even better, the plants are well maintained AND set out to allow them to reach their full size without any hacking or pruning, so you really know the character of the plants your buying.

This stunning combination of Gold Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare 'Isla Gold') and Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple') is the type of bold “killer combo” I encourage my students and clients to explore as a bit of design risk-taking. Who needs flowers when you can almost pop an eye out with the pairing like this?

Now let’s hike over the ridge of Tansy. Behold!

On the reverse side is a silvery planting of Silver Rye (Leymus condensatus 'Canyon Prince'). Whether paired with the boldness of Smoke Bush or the subtler textural shift of the rye grass, Tansy is a force to be reckoned with.

So find a plant that can play two roles in your garden and consider placing a surprising pairing on each side.

Nuff for now…gotta go see Golden Compass.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Bit of Garden Design Theory

Canna and Society Garlic
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

Here's something to chew on. I was just looking over a few of my pictures and spotted this one that I use when I teach my garden design classes. It's an image from the project I designed for the Goleta Water District a few years back. I think it exemplifies a "Santa Barbara-style" composition, if there is such a thing. Perhaps it can be a starting point for a conversation about designing not only in our Mediterranean climate, but has implications anywhere. In this example, so fairly common plants are combined to create a killer combo.

One of the simplest concepts for bringing interest to a garden is the impact that can be created by working with contrast and harmony. Here's a crash course...

Starting with the pinkish canna lily (Canna eribus) in this photo, we see that its visual character is comprised of its architecture (the overall form of the plant) which in this case is as follows: a vertical "posture" and broad, upright, spearhead-shaped leaves. The stems will easily reach 5 to 6 feet high. The flowers are large and in proportion to the rest of the plant.

The colors are a greyish-green leaf and coral flowers. Coral is the "tint" of a slightly orangy red. If you were mixing paint you'd take a good amount of red, add barely a dot of yellow (moving it toward orange) then dilute the whole thing with a heapin' helpin' of white. White makes a basic "hue" become a "tint." O.K., let's keep it simple - pink is the tint of red.

Now for the Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) in the back. Its architecture is fine textured and grassy, but is similar to the canna due to the predominantly vertical direction of the leaves and flower stems. The plant is small, growing only to about 12" (18" when flowering). The flowers are small and, again, in scale with the plant.

The flower color is also a tint, in this case, its as if we took a big dollop of purple and mixed in some white. The foliage is a medium green, with a little yellow.

Time to wrap up.

Contrast: The contrast is created by three features: fine texture (Tulbaghia) against coarse texture (Canna); contrasting flower color; and small plant / large plant.

Harmony: Both plants are vertical in their stance; both are within a range of green foliage (as opposed to pairing silver and purple foliage); both have flowers that are the tint of their base hue.

So what does all this mean to you?

Grab a visual concept before you begin putting a plant palette together. Look at not just the flowers, but the totality of the grouping. Better yet, when you look at a planting design you like, see if you can "reverse engineer" what's going on. It might give you a clue to what excites you and you'll have a better chance of creating something great for your own garden.

One last observation - the plants were used in distinct groups, not intermixed. That makes for a much stronger overall statement.

Later, skater...

A thought after posting this article: I've been reading some early reactions to this post and readers seem to appreciate these design tips. I'd be glad to continue this as a series - just let me know some design topics you'd be interested in. GWG

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday, with a bold hand

Tradescantia and Silver Agave
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

It's such fun to have clients who are risk takers. Here's what ya get. He's a brilliant architectural and fine art photographer; she's an interior designer. This west facing slope was covered with mostly dead Bermuda grass (the scourge of the west). The concept we mutually developed was large panels of ground cover, each with its own contrasting central element. In this case, it's Agave americana and Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Heart.' It stops traffic....really

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas???

How is it that the typical weather of the northern Europe and the USA's midwest and northeast became the icon for Christmas? "Let it snow" (repeat twice more). I guess it's similar to the hypothesis that if our country had been settled by Juan de Anza coming out of Mexico, people in the forests of New Hampshire would be trying to grow Saguaro cactus, instead of us trying to grow lawns. The aesthetic traveled along with settlement patterns.

So the winter holidays come with the ubiquitous snow and conifer trees and holly berries, while out here in So. Cal. it still looks like a floral paradise. I've been spending some time looking at a lot of garden blogs this week, having joined up with Green Thumb Sunday (see my December 2 post). Part of the requirement of being a member is to click over and say "howdy" to some of the other bloggers. And wouldn't you know it, many of them have said "ta ta for now" to their little Edens as they have gradually receded under a blanket of snow.

As I was walking in the late morning clear sunshine at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden on Sunday, I was mentally composing this blog post along the lines of "we've still got flowers and you don't." Not very nice to rub it in like that. Then I received a comment last night from another blogger who thanked me for allowing them to vicariously enjoy some floral color when the view outside their window was nothing but bare trees and white.

So, in the spirit of sharing the wealth (rather than flaunting it) I give you my December gallery of images from Alice. Enjoy.

Well, since the season is often about berries (Holly, Cran, Dingle, etc.) this image kinda combines traditional and subtropical. Pyracantha gives us the saturated red and the fruits of the Butia (Pindo Palm) drop us on the other side of the equator.

Speaking of South America, this white variety of Floss Silk Tree (Chorisia) paired up with an Asian variety of Magnolia (M. soulangeana) makes a great geographic irony, but they sure look great together.

Here's a close-up of the white flowering variety of Chorisia filling the skyline along Santa Barbara St. right now. Its pink cousin has peaked, so now it's this guy's turn. Love the shiny fruits.

That same Magnolia viewed from up close sort of makes me want to take a big bite out of it. I'm thinking that with this saturated color it should either taste like cotton candy or fresh strawberries.

Not to cause visual whiplash or anything, here's a complete switch in terms of climate preferences. This translucent, but succulent Kalanchoe carnea 'Modoc' (named for the local street, I'm told) had just the right light to make it look like a wax model.

Staying with the Mediterranean climate plants, this yellow Aloe, from southern Africa, is a reliable winter bloomer, but somehow, it just doesn't shout 'Ho, ho, ho' like a spruce tree might.

Now we're getting closer to traditional Christmas colors. Aloe arborescens is my harbinger of the holiday season.

Might as well keep on with the aloes. This one, Aloe bainesii, becomes a tree and shows off these luscious coral colored blooms up high.

It's hard to beat the Princess Flower (Tibouchina urvilleana) for pure, saturated color.

If you can handle a bit more subtropical color, this Hong Kong Orchid Tree should turn a few heads. Even when it's not blooming, the kidney-shaped leaves create an unusual texture in a planting composition.

But this was my favorite shot of the day (already posted for Green Thumbs Sunday). Fall color in the background and screaming golden yellow of Mexican Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii) catching the sun.

I hope that if you're reading this while snow falls outside your window, this brings you a bit of warmth.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

Mexican Marigold - Sweet Gum background
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

I'm taking part in a mass blogging effort to try to bump up the hits on all the contributing web sites. We're all garden bloggers from around the country (and then some) and the idea is to post a nice garden shot, then visit the blogs of some other members.

So this is the product of a morning stroll through Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens in Santa Barbara. I'll have a more extensive post with more photos later this week, so if you need another fix, come on back.

This is Mexican Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii) with a backdrop of Toona (Cedrela sinensis), and Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pictures can be magical

Agave attenuata (Fox Tail Agave)
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

I just took this photo today. It's an Agave attenuata at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. As part of a monthly discipline and as a way to create some content for this blog I've been visiting this great botanical park in downtown Santa Barbara. It's a few blocks from my house and I generally wait for the late afternoon light to soften a bit.

Aside from the SLR camera I owned a few decades ago, I haven't really attempted to be artistic with my camera. It's more about documenting the landscapes I've create for clients and the occasional family shot.

But when I downloaded this shot I was quite stunned at the product. I know I was consciously "composing" something that might turn out nice, but I don't have the imagination or experience to predict what the camera will produce.

How is it that despite all the visual information that was streaming in, I was able to frame and compose just this information?

I love how the human brain works. This truly feels like an act of magic.