Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Saturday was the big deal, horticulturally speaking. I've heard for years about the legendary 10,000-plus species collection ensconced at the 34-acre University of California Botanical Garden (UCBG) on the Berkeley campus. The main focus of the collection is on plants from the five Mediterranean climate regions: California, South Africa, Chile, southwest Australia/New Zealand, and the Mediterranean basin. But the UCBG also does a heck of a job with plants from eastern North America, Mexico/Central America, Asia and desert regions of the New World.
Lin took off with her camera and I headed into the wilds of the Garden with mine. These images are just a handful of the hundreds I snapped. There's no theme to the pictures - they're just the ones that jumped off the monitor.
Come tripping along...
Do you suffer from SMS? Saturday Morning Syndrome is common among gardeners, but frequently goes undetected. The effects of SMS manifest as a garden filled with plants that appear to have been randomly catapulted from a speeding train, then smashed together into an undifferentiated mass of jumbled foliage and clashing colors.
Take this painless diagnostic test to learn if you are among the many gardeners who suffer from this embarrassing and expensive condition.
Do you find it impossible to resist the mysterious power that overtakes your steering wheel as you drive past a nursery?
Does your blood pressure shoot up like a bottle rocket on the 4th of July as you approach the shiny new plants cleverly arranged by the nursery's sorcerer, er, I mean merchandizing specialist?
Have you found yourself waking from a dreamlike state, driving home with dozens of strange plants lovingly strapped into the back seat of your car?
Do you find yourself stumbling around your yard, arms extended zombie-like, a plant in each hand, mumbling "Where can I put these?" as you search unsuccessfully for three square millimeters of bare space where you can squeeze in just one more plant?
Wait, there's more...
I couldn't wait to get my hot little hands on The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn (Timber Press) written by grass and meadow madman John Greenlee, and seductively photographed by Saxon Holt. The book promised tools for my landscape architect's bag of tricks-philosophical reassurance, design inspiration, a new palette of plants, how-to details.
I just read it. It delivered.
Trade In Your Old Lawn...
You know I'm no fan of traditional lawns. They're stultifyingly boring and often serve no useful purpose-anybody seen the neighborhood kids playing in the front yard lately? They consume too much stuff and foul our precious nest. NASA photos put the collective national lawn at upward of 30 million acres. We can get by with a lot less.
John Greenlee is a dynamo of energy and passion when it comes to ornamental grasses. I won't take up space with his bio. It's all in the book, starting with John's childhood memories of "the field", the only wild space in his SoCal cookie-cutter neighborhood.
John doesn't insist that everyone plow up their existing landscapes and blanket the continent with meadows, but he does make a compelling argument for meadow gardens in more landscapes.
More about this book...
Guess what? Dogs aren't actually colorblind; they just have a lot less chromatic sensitivity than humans. That's why I don't let Biff the Wonder Spaniel pick my outfits. On the other hand, he might have a leg up on me (dog pun) when it comes to designing gardens.
When I start a new design, I picture the plants the same way Biff probably sees them. I imagine they will never bloom—that I'll have to rely on something other than floral color for interest. I select and combine plants using all their other visual qualities—the silhouette of the plant, its foliage shape, leaf size, density and surface texture, for example. The flowers ice the cake.
So I got to thinking. What if Biff took after his old man and created a garden blog for dogs? How would he describe the two most fundamental design principles that dogs and their bipedal slaves should master?
Cool images, thought-provoking words follow...
Landscape designers can get a little full of themselves, me included. We know so many more plants than you do and can recite polysyllabic botanical names like Parthenocissus tricuspidata without coming up for air.
Discovering a cool, new Heuchera with crinkled, copper-colored leaves and chartreuse polka dots is like a crack head's deep toke smacking the brain with a dopamine two-by-four. Then comes the roller coaster ride - cosmic sensations of euphoria and empowerment, then the inevitable crushing crash. The story endlessly repeats as we find ourselves down some sketchy alley, peering over the nursery wall, scouting our next fix.
The trouble is, some of the shiny new plants designers get all throbby about haven't been around long enough to reliably know what happens ten years down the line.
Sometimes it's safer to work with the plants we see every day. There's a reason they're so damn ubiquitous. They're everywhere because they'll grow anywhere, whether you're a Master Gardener or a nursery newbie.
Sure, I would love to design every project as an artistic and botanical adventure, but that's not realistic. For many clients, it is preferable to create a garden filled with common, but thriving plants that require minimal resources, than to create a short-lived masterpiece of exotica that demands constant life-support.
I've got more to say here...
Gimme grasses. Gimme blades of green, gold, silver, striped, speckled, ghostly gray, purple. Grasses that fury in the wind and nod in the rain. Enchanted grasses that capture first and last light of day. Grasses of every size: ground cover types to walk on, giants to get lost in.
Grasses fit into every style of garden from Tarzan-meets-Gilligan's-Island-tropical to Muffin-Mouse-cottage.
And the flowers! No, not like your great granny's geraniums, all lipstick red and showy. I'm talking about delicate, smoky puffs of soft purple, or stiff, quaking stalks that sound like a prairie rattler.
Use them in big drifts or pop just one into a perennial bed for an explosion of contrast. Group different types of grasses together to create tapestries of subtle color shifts, or mash them up for high-contrast impact.
Get the idea? You need some ornamental grasses in your garden. If you find that when you're done reading this article, your pulse has quickened (or you've overflowed your drool cup) get these books (preferably at a local independently owned book store): Grasses-Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design by Nancy J Ondra (Storey Books), and The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, by John Greenlee (Rodale Press).
There's more to read...
I don’t know about you, but whenever I see Rhynchelytrum nerviglume ‘Pink Crystals’ nodding in the breeze, I wonder if there’s a simple and sensitive procedure for enzymatic assays in single cells that can be applied to the measurement of beta-glucuronidase in single parenchymal cells of liver.
That’s because Linda Wudl hung up her career in biotechnology and, along with Fred, her organic chemist husband (I don’t mean her husband is organic, though I’m sure he is—I mean he is a chemist who works with optical and electro optical properties of processable conjugated polymers [but you probably would have figured that out for yourself], so I’ll finish off this sentence that’s already gone on WAAAY too long and has probably tempted you to click over to Ed’s story about that pinstriped, double breasted albino puffin that was spotted in a palo verde tree near El Pollo Loco last night…But I digress), founded Seaside Gardens, a one-of-a-kind nursery in Carpinteria, CA.
Read the rest...