Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Snippet of Floral Color Theory - Tints and Shades

I just finished one of my most challenging writing assignments since I started freelancing for a couple of local magazines. Santa Barbara Homeowner is a direct mail periodical with content and advertising that targets (can you guess from the name?) Santa Barbara homeowners!! How cool is that? With a week until deadline, all common sense jumped out my left earhole and I told James (the publisher) that I'd "knock out 1000 words on color theory." Something that would help the average homeowner create a more interesting garden.

Three days to go and I was paralyzed. It's such a complex topic that even getting the basic terminology across in that space seemed undoable. Anyway, I finally came to grips with a story line about a neighbor who has great design sense when it comes to interior design and clothing, but somehow turned to a drooling dolt once she stepped into the garden ('cept with nicer words).

So I'm still in "Billy Goodnick Demystifies Color Design Theory" mode and have grabbed a few photos of gardens I've designed to blog about...

Tints and Shades

Okay - check this out. The salmon colored plant on the right is Canna erebus - luscious subtropical that blends with lots of plants. The guy on the left with the small lavender flowers is Tulbaghia violacea (Society Garlic). My starting point for most "killer combos" - for which I'd argue these babies qualify - is to balance harmony and contrast.

In this case, the harmonious elements are the strong vertical lines and the fact that their flowers are the tint of the original hue - salmon is the result of white being added to orange, and lavender is violet lightened with white. That's what tints are - white added to the hue. The contrasts are what's really going on here - strong, broad leaves from the canna juxtaposed with the fine, grassy leaves of the Society Garlic. More contrast from the fact that the two floral colors are polar opposites on the color wheel (making them complementary). The leaves of the canna are a grayish green, the garlic more of a true green.

Harmony + contrast = visual interest.

Form and Texture

Here's a more subtle effect...Pink with pink is pretty harmonious, but wait! (You're supposed to wait; not keep reading.) The flowers in the background are from Armeria maritima (Pink Sea Thrift) and they are a very dark, saturated pink. The foreground flowers of Erodium chamaedryoides (Cranesbill) are soft pink. Both plants are fine textured and diminutive, hence more harmony.

Now for the contrasts: flower forms - cuplike vs. spherical; foliage - grassy vs. broadleaf; foliage color - dark green vs. gray-green; plant architecture - dense and vertical vs. lacy and mounding. Still an exercise in harmony and contrast, but scaled back and a bit more subtle. Perfect for up-closer viewing.

I think I'm tapped. Why do I do this? A. I like to hear myself think, because it reinforces my design theories for me; B. I like to share what I've learned and observed; C. My need for ego gratification is served by people writing comments saying things like "Cool, never thought of that. Thanks" So stroke my delicate ego and leave some comments. I promise I'll reciprocate.

Nuff for now...gotta go give a talk at a local horticulture class at the nearby junior college...

[important revelation - I just looked at a post from last year, and I had a similar discussion about the same photo. Yipes! I've repeated myself. But this one's better and has more poignancy and gravitas.]

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rare Hibispruce Discovered in Portland

Spring break in Portland, Oregon. That's what my 18-year old son Ben asked for. Well, not really. It was supposed to be 3 days at a surf beach in Mexico, then a bit of culture in Oaxaca for mom and dad. Imagine turning 18 in Mexico and having a legal beer. THAT'S spring break! Long story short - the timing didn't quite work, so he chose Portland. Surf sucks, no sun, but that was his second choice.

Airport, light rail, Pioneer Square. So after carrying our luggage 3 blocks through freezing rain, Lin (my wife), Ben and I headed out on the light rail to Washington Park. Destination - the Japanese Garden. We disembark, take the elevator up to ground level, and right there before us is the entrance to the Portland Zoo.

Perhaps I'm the first to discover this botanical wonder, but I'll be damned if the spruce tree (or whatever the hell that conifer is - they all look the same to this Santa Barbarian if they ain't palm trees) has this ginormous Hibiscus flower sprouting from it. Maybe it's a Hibispruce?

Hibiscus is a pretty familiar sight down our way, so imagine my surprise to see this image from someone's bad acid trip blooming in the light drizzle. I climbed the tree and took some pollen samples, so I'm pretty sure I can complete the taxonomic analysis and secure my place in botanical history. I'm guessing I'll get some kind of scientific recognition at the next Convocation of Brilliant Botanists when they convene in Stockholm next year.

I'll start packing.

Tag - I'm It!

I've beed tagged...

.. by Ewa In The Garden

The rules are following:

1. Link to the person that tagged you.

2. Post the rules on your blog.

3. Share 4 things in these themes.

4. Tag 4 random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.

5. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

Four jobs I’ve had:

Studio and club musician in Los Angeles
TV host
Landscape architect

Four movies I can watch over and over:

Monty Python’s Holy Grail; Napoleon Dynamite; Touch the Sound; Help

Four places I have lived:

Brooklyn, NY; Los Angeles; Santa Barbara; San Francisco

Four TV shows I love:

Nova, Jon Stewart, Countdown with Keith Olberman, The Office

Four places I have been on holiday:

Ismir, Turkey; Athens, Greece; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Gran Cayman Islands

Four of my favourite dishes:

Moroccan vegetable stew; my mom’s stuffed cabbage rolls; Nathan’s hot dog w/ sauerkraut; real New York pizza

Four Web sites you visit daily:, that’s it – no other regulars.

Four places I would rather be now:

Seattle, NYC, Kyoto, Rome

Four bloggers I’m tagging:

Kate @ katesmudges ; sue @ the balcony garden ; kim @ A Study in Contrasts ; trey @ The Golden Gecko

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Playing Around In a Doughnut Hole

This is a shot of a relatively new project I've been working on. The house is just back from the beach in Montecito, CA. and we're gradually working our way around the property doing a major garden make-over. This post is also intended dispell the notion that just because I'm a huge advocate of combining plants for their "architecture", foliage and form, I also appreciate a mad spree with color (but with some restraint - of course).

The fountain (above) was already in this bed at the center of a circular driveway - kinda like the hole in a doughnut. Right behind the fountain, in the center of the bed, was a once-glorious California Coast Live Oak with a trunk diameter of about 3 feet, 60 feet in height and with a 40 foot spread.

The plan was to remove most of the high water-using plants that surrounded the fountain, give the entry a fresh look, and cut down on water and maintenance time. But when I looked up at the canopy and saw branches and foliage in significant decline, I suggested that the owner bring in a certified arborist. Long story short - if you look very closely you'll see that there isn't an oak tree. (The trunk you see is a sycamore in another part of the garden.) It was much too far gone, so we started with a clean slate.

The fountain faces toward the house, and the bed is somewhat egg shaped with the point of the ova facing the driveway entrance. I had a general idea of how to create a bed that would look presentable from all sides. The concept was to have a stunning high-point just behind the fountain, that would also command the entire bed from the entrance to the property and create some scale behind the fountain. The large-leaf shrub in the photo above is a Silver-Leaf Princess Flower (Tibouchina heteromala) which will be in bloom in a few months (I'll shoot it when it's in its full glory). Given the intense purple flowers that will dominate, the rest of the bed would be a strong contrast of yellow, gold and peach. There's also a bit of blue around the skirt, using Catmint (Nepeta faassennii - love all those double letters!).

The "big yellow" surrounding the Princess Flower is achieved with Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa 'Grande Verde') and Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea millefolia 'Moonshine').

I fell in love with three other plants while I was shopping. I hadn't used these before and that's the focus of the rest of this post.

The "killer combo" that really got my blood going was the pairing of Euphorbia 'Helena's Blush' with Salvia x jamensis 'Sierra de San Antonio'. The flowers of the sage have a really sweet creamy salmon tone and the foliage of the Euphorbia is splashed with the same color palette as the salvia flower. What I didn't realize is that when flowering season came along (right now) the bracts that appear on the Euphobia would kick the composition up with another burst of gold speckled with green. How yummy!

The Euphorbia became the gooey center of a psychedelic Oreo (made sense when I started writing this sentence - bear with me) because on the far side of this combination, I placed a mass of Ballota pseudodictamnus (Grecian Horehound) because the light gray leaves would really pop the front of the bed from the driveway entrance. It also seemed to cool down the rest of the warm yellows in the bed. To my surprise, the size and shape of the Euphorbia bracts perfectly complements the leaf of the Horehound.

These combos are just a peek at what is turning out to be a study in form and color. As the season progresses and the Princess awakens, I'll post a few more shots. Thanks for sticking with me on this post. It's always a surprise when nature works out this way. The lesson here is to take chances; try new things.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Hot Scoop About My Wall Street Journal Review...

The mystery has been solved. A kind soul (Bob Neary, judging from his e-mail address) sent me the link to a Wall Street Journal column that ran on March 31, 2008. The feature is called Blog Watch and is written by Beckey Bright. I was mystified after opening a few e-mails congratulating me on the feature, but was clueless until I did a little digging around, went to my local public library, and made a copy of the article. Along with two other bloggers (, by Sue Swift, writing from Milan, Italy; and, written by Sara Elliot), Ms. Bright wrote a delightful synopsis of what I've been doing on this blog for the past year or so.

So I'm copying and pasting the text in below so I can share my latest 15-min. of Andy Warhol fame. Enjoy the read...

Billy Goodnick writes this informative and thought-provoking blog on sustainable gardening and other topics, such as using the way humans perceive color and contrast to make a garden more pleasing to the eye.

"The professor in me is always looking for 'teachable moments,' " writes Mr. Goodnick, who is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. And this blog does provide its share of instructional posts. He urges his readers, for example, to remember the mantra, "right plant, right place," which means you should try to find the best place for a plant to thrive with as little life support and coercion as possible.

Mr. Goodnick finds bliss in the perfect juxtaposition of different types of foliage. He writes: "No disrespect intended, but keep your pink and lavender and yellow and mauve Martha Stewart flower beds....Gimme plants used as sculpture, as unresolved conflict, as an expression of the vast varieties of form and texture and foliage color."

WSJ web-link

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Wall Street Huh?

This is a little out of form for me, but I just got back from my Portland, Oregon vacation to a slew of e-mails congratulating me for being featured in the March 31 Wall Street Journal Technology section on-line, with a very complimentary article about this blog. News to me! Really. I wasn't contacted by them and am not a subscriber, so I have no way (short of parting with a big chunk of change) to get a look at what they said.

If anyone reading this blog has a way to copy the article and send the text to me (without breaching any copyright laws), here's my real live e-mail address (do I really want to do this?). Yes.

Please send any info you can to me at billygoodnick (at) (you know how to type it, but I'm spelling it out for security reasons - thanks BSG!) My ego needs the boost!


also, lots to write about once I download all my Portland photos. Lots of great shots and loads of mystery plants I'll need help identifying.