Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dumber Than A Potted Plant? Not So Fast...

Out here in the far west, October is usually summer's last blast, but you wouldn't know it from the umbrella weather Lin and I ran into down San Diego way last weekend. Don't get me wrong - I love having to use the windshield wipers in our SoCal near-desert climate. An early start to the rainy season makes me happy as a banana slug in a redwood forest.

After a jolting blast of Peet's dark roast coffee and a couple of wrong turns on the freeway (so much for my iPhone MapQuest app) we made our way to Balboa Park, a 1200-acre cultural park that was originally the location of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and then the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition.

Not knowing quite where we were heading, we pulled into the first parking lot we saw, seeking the Museum of Photographic Arts. As we found our way through a newly planted garden between the buildings, there it was, framed in the arch of a colonnade - the 1915-era Botanical Building, one of the largest lath structures in the world.

The massive but graceful edifice houses more than 2100 permanent plants, mostly tropicals, some of which you might find in the houseplant section of your local garden shop. There were also a slew of specimens you probably wouldn't see unless you macheted your way into a jungle.

There's more at Fine Gardening...

Rain Dance

I'm a slug, not a lizard. I'd rather be under a boulder than baking on top of it. My ideal weather is the cool temps of a SoCal winter; my favorite sound is rain softly thumping on fallen leaves. That's when I work in the garden, go for long bike rides or read old issues of Fine Gardening.

It's too early to know if this will be a good rain year on the Left Coast, but whether Santa Barbara reaches our usual 18 inches or the stingy six of a few years back, doesn't it make sense to take advantage of every ounce we do receive?

With all the paved surfaces that surround us, it's amazing anything gets into the ground. Back in the heartland, you're "winterizing" your cars. I think we'd be wise to do the same for our gardens. So here are a few things you can do to make the most of every drop that falls on your property.

Let's start with that lawn.

Fundamental question. What does your lawn do for you? I'm not a complete anti-lawn zealot, mind you. If you've got kids who need somewhere to blow off some energy, or you're trying out for the Olympic croquet team, a lawn is the only practical surface. But if you don't use it, lose it-or at least downsize it.

Consider the monetary and environmental costs of a typical lawn. In the West, 60 percent of our residential water use is for lawns. The monthly water bill is only part of the equation: add the environmental cost of polluted run-off from fertilizers in our creeks and gas mowers that spew 10 times more emissions than a typical automobile and you can see why you might want to rethink your attachment to this big green beast.

Read more at Fine Gardening...

Dallas In September: Sweatier than A Bronco Rider's...

(You fill in the blank. This is a G-rated blog and I have a pretty vivid imagination.)

For all you folks who live where the summer norm is 90-plus temps and 2437.3% humidity, I am in awe of you. I've been back from the Garden Writers Association annual symposium in Dallas for a few weeks and I just don't know how y'all do it.

My raging souvenir cold has run its course, induced, no doubt, by slogging from the uber air conditioned hotel, to vegetable-crisper busses, to jungle-steamy-hot gardens best described as "air you can wear."

But rather than delve into the esoterica of what 600 garden writers do when they get together, I thought it would be informative to share some of the truly coolio products I ran across at the symposium's exhibit hall. The trade show gives nurseries, garden product sellers and professional organizations a chance to meet, greet and impress "garden communicators." Their hope is that we'll say nice things and create demand for their product. I'm game!

I didn't stop at every booth. I'm was sniffing out the products that fit my predisposition for the coolest, greenest, most sustainable ideas - or the ones lure me in with brimming bowls of handmade, Belgian dark chocolate.

So here's a digest of the offerings that made the biggest impression, the ones I hope you'll investigate further, and perhaps welcome into your own garden.

Read more at Fine Gardening...

More Trees Than You Can Shake A Stick At

Lin and I were in San Diego last weekend, delighting in the gloom and drizzle in Balboa Park, visiting family, and getting a crash course on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the San Diego Museum of Art.

On our slog home along the 405, we stopped in Costa Mesa to pay homage, and engage in some camera play, at a magical corporate plaza where landscape architecture meets sculptural art - Isamu Noguchi's California Scenario.

The gathering of sculptural icons amounts to an allegorical tale of water in California as it cascades down steep mountains, nurtures forests, flows through fields and deserts, and eventually is consumed by The City, disappearing into a dark slot in a glistening, low-slung, somewhat sinister looking pyramid.

I learned of this Noguchi work when I studied landscape architecture and have returned from time to time as a reminder of what design and art can say. I also enjoy seeing how the plantings have evolved and matured over the decades.

California Scenario is bounded by a parking structure and by two nothing-to-write-home-about glass office towers. The massive scale of these buildings is brilliantly balanced by Noguchi's command of space and scale.


The Buck Stops Where?

I'm such a wimp. In my pretend world I'm a tough-as-Sally-Hanson's nails investigative reporter, holding the heinous, Earth-defiling villains and water wasters under the searing white heat of my inquisition (which nobody expects). I slash with my rapier-like pen (actually, my 5-year-old, pre-Intel PowerBook G4 laptop keyboard, but that lacks poetic umph), striking fear and shame in their hearts. I'm the genetic mutation of Woodward, Bernstein, Stevie Segal and Godzilla.

My fantasy is broken when the phone rings. The guy in charge of facilities maintenance for a major Santa Barbara institution is just getting around to returning my call.

Sweet! I can lure him in, spring the trap and feel him squirm on the other end of the phone. Now where are my questions? I had them right here. Damn! I'll try to remember off the top of my head.

"Billy, so glad I caught up to you," he says cheerfully, unaware of the impending onslaught I have planned. "I'm so sorry I didn't get back to you last week. I was up to my eyebrows in meltdowns and intended to call. Then I ran across your message and called you right away. What can I do for you, buddy?"

Buddy? The guy sounds friendly, sincere. "Too bad Jack. Justice must be served and punishment meted out. I'm on a deadline for Edhat and I need answers!" No, I didn't actually say that, but I sure was thinking it, in a gruff, cigar-chomping tone.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

"It's Like Road Rage, Only Wetter" for Blog Action Day

I'm a bit stuck for time, so rather than develop a whole new blog post for this important occasion, I skimmed back over my water-related features and found this very appropriate blog post. It first appeared in the middle of summer 2009, but the sentiment is timely.

Road rage: A motorist’s uncontrolled anger usually provoked by the behavior of another driver. The affliction is officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “Water rage”, however, is not yet listed. But if it were, I’d probably be the poster child.

Recently, Biff the Wonder Spaniel and I were on dawn patrol when lo and behold, a sinuous finger of water was racing down the gutter, leaves riding the surge like a white-water kayak run. As cooling as that image might seem on a warm summer morning, I could feel my body temperature ratchet up and my pulse quicken. Images of an 8-ply, non-kink, heavy-duty, all-weather garden hose noose danced in my head—a textbook symptom of water rage.

The motel three blocks up the street was at it again, watering the four-foot wide strip of turf between the curb and gutter. 1950s-vintage sprinklers sprayed halfway into the street. To top it off, the gardener was hosing down the driveway, thumb pressed over the opening, stubbornly coaxing a few soggy leaves toward the gutter.

What a waste.

[You can finish reading this article, pick up a few tips about reducing or replacing your lawn, and even a link to a zany YouTube video about murdering your lawn by clicking on this link to my Fine Gardening blog.]|Start Petition