Saturday, January 22, 2011

Washing Machines and Art Collide in a Santa Barbara Garden

"Honey, I'm so proud of you turning off the tube and taking a sculpture class at the community college. And I'm sure there's a perfect spot near the hose bibb where that thing be very happy."

Unfortunately, that's how a lot of "art" winds up in the garden, along with the accumulation of stuff you just couldn't pass up at the swap meet. Some people have a knack for "eclectic", but for the rest of us, there's another way to personalize your garden.

Take the approach my clients John and Constance Thayer used, for example. Their new garden was something they'd been waiting years to design and build. When it came time to put the finishing touches on the garden, Jonstance (that's how they sign their e-mails; I think it's cute.) took their time and saw the importance of marrying the ideal pieces with each garden room.

If you were the Thayer's letter carrier, you'd know right away that these folks know how to have fun.

See more fun art and a perfect bench at my Cool Green Gardens blog at Fine Gardening.

Get Thee To A Garden Show

This is the time of year when all my writing pals blog about New Years resolutions for the garden. Since I've never kept a resolution longer than the time it takes to pass across my well-intentioned lips, I'm not gonna even attempt that feat. Instead, I'll ask YOU to make -- and keep -- a garden resolution.

Repeat after me: "THIS is the year I'll go to a garden show!" And what more appropriate time to dream about spring and working in your own garden than the icy grasp of winter?

At this very moment some of the most imaginative garden designers are hunkered down at their drawing boards putting the finishing touches on displays that'll knock your socks off. Most shows have dozens of seminars presented by experts in every gardening niche - container gardening, vertical gardening, succulents, tropical displays, outdoor living spaces, preserving your harvest, off-planet terraforming -- you can't miss.

[Health precaution: Before you step into the show's vendor section, have a full check-up from your physician - some of the luscious plants that debut at the shows will make even a seasoned gardener palpitate.]

To Which Show Shall You Go?

No matter what region you live in, there's a garden show -- too many for me to write about here. So I posted a note at Facebook asking some of my hort homies which ones they'd recommend. It didn't take long to get some rave endorsements. Here's what my peeps say you gotta go see...

San Francisco Flower & Garden Show - Wed. Mar. 23 - Tue. Mar. 29; San Mateo Events Center

Laura Livengood Schaub (Schaub Designs), perhaps a bit prejudiced, since she's social media manager for the show, told me "The SFGS is not to be missed, since you're speaking!"

That's right, Laura. My readers can meet me at the show. I'll be speaking on Thursday, March 24 (check the schedule when we get closer to the date). My seminar is titled, "How To Create Any Style Garden Using Mediterranean Plants." (If you live in snow country and can't grow a silver-leaf princess flower to save your life, come anyway, if only for the jokes.)

In the first hour, I'll teach you the same design principles I use in my own garden designs. Once you're brains are filled with cool design ideas, I'll release you to the vendor's hall to hunt for killer plant combos for your own garden. When you've shopped until you drop, come back for a bit of show-and-tell and personalized design advice from yours truly.

Check out the rest of the top shows around the country at my Fine Gardening blog.

A Full Order of Plump, Juicy Succulents

I throw my head back as sinister rumbles of laughter well up from the dank caverns of my black heart. I rub my scaly hands while the rest of the nation cowers under the wrath of the WINTER WEATHER BOMB burying the rest of the country.

I just finished watering Lin's collection of potted succulents, the ultimate symbol our benign Mediterranean climate. Oh, and I was wearing shorts. Eat your hearts out!

I mean it's not like spring is sproinging throughout the 805 just yet. Most of the showy garden plants are biding their time, waiting for longer days and consistent warm temperatures. But that doesn't mean there isn't anything going on in the garden right now.

A few weeks ago, dear reader Mitzie suggested I write about "succulent gardens in winter," a topic I haven't covered. So that's where we're going, folks.

"Succulents" is a catch-all term for any plant that stores water in its roots, stems and leaves. They're not all desert plants - some Sempervivum species grow in rocky crags in the Alps, though many will turn to mush in a heavy frost.

I started my fact finding at Ganna Walska Lotusland, world renowned for its exotic collection of rare specimens and eclectic plantings. When Virginia Hayes, Curator of the Living Collection and deep-knowledge columnist for the Independent, met me in front of the main house, the first things that caught my eye were succulents in bondage - like a scene from Gulliver's Travels.

Lots more yummy photos and the rest of this story at

Friday, January 7, 2011

Did Vertical Gardening Start During the Gold Rush?

I'm no garden history expert, but I'd be willing to bet that vertical gardening, the current rage, started in San Francisco in the middle of the 19th century. At least it looked that way from where I was standing.

Little did the Gold Rush-era sailors know that the stone they were blasting and hauling off as ballast for their ships would someday support a rich tapestry of lush plants smothering the sheer, stony cliffside of Telegraph Hill.

Before all those tons of rock were removed, water lapped at the base of a gently sloping hillside inhabited by grazing goats (good name for a band). It's taken a century and a half to revegetate the barren, jagged rock face, but the results are impressive, as I witnessed on a recent trip to The City (that's what cool people call it).

Lin and I were in San Francisco taking in the Post-Impressionist show at the DeYoung Museum, and visiting our son, Cosmo, who's living the life of a poet, cooking on a gourmet Vietnamese lunch truck and finishing college.

We rose early, ate a power breakfast with the kid and headed for the waterfront. "Oh heart, be still!" I gasped. "I've found unexpected free parking on a side street in the commercial depths of the Embarcadero, just a few blocks from our destination, Filbert Steps." (I tend to talk that way when I'm excited.)

The eastern face of Telegraph Hill looked wild and inaccessible, like El Capitan rising from the floor of Yosemite Valley. The rock face cascaded with ribbons of green, framed by the shimmering golden foliage of poplar trees. Fortunately, we weren't going to need a Sherpa or oxygen masks to mount our assault - we'd hoof it a couple of blocks to the Filbert Steps and take the more civilized route.

Lots of great photos and plants at Fine Gardening

A Book That Fattens Your Wallet

I don't think I've ever started my blog with a joke, so here goes.

Scene: A dark, cold bedroom, 3:27 AM.

Margie, bundled in layers of blankets, startles Mort with a loving elbow jab to the ribs. "Honey, shut the window. It's cold outside."

Mort, ever the logical and snarky one, mumbles, "So if I shut the window it's going to be warmer outside?"

Okay, it's a pretty lame joke, but there's a point to be made. What if you could improve the comfort of your home without opening and closing windows, piling on and peeling off layers of blankets, or fumbling the thermostat with freeze-dried fingertips?

Better yet, what if you could combine your love of gardening with your environmentally keen attitude, AND reduce your energy bill?

Well, here comes Massachusetts-based landscape architect Sue Reed's book, Energy-Wise Landscape Design - A New Approach for Your Home and Garden, with a whole lot of smart advice. The book's back cover promises that you can "Save money and energy while adding natural beauty to your home." Sue delivers on that promise.

The first four sections of the book address ideas for designing landscapes with energy in mind, like arranging plants to make the interior of the house more comfortable in summer and winter. Other chapters are packed with strategies for making outdoor spaces around the house more usable.

Lots more to learn at my Cool Green Gardens blog at Fine Gardening

Please Stop Landscaping! Pt. II

On January 11, 2011, I will stand before Santa Barbara's City Council and respectfully ask them to stop all new landscaping projects, at least until they can get their, ahem, organic fertilizer together.

They're heading in the wrong direction.

Tip of the Iceberg

An unpredictable chain of events began a few weeks ago when I saw the disturbing new planting at a public building. It got my blood flowing, not in a happy sort of way. Initially, I was elated that I had something to rant about here at Edhat, but I ended up writing about the sorry condition of our once-glorious parks. (Read my last article) I promised to let you in on the location.

The new planting in front of the Louise Lowry Davis Center (corner of De la Vina and W. Victoria) misses the mark on several levels. The big thing is that it just doesn't make sense with this building.

The Davis Center -- a small, stately, not-very-Santa-Barbara civic building -- is now fronted by a visually noisy collection of plants that might make sense in someone's back yard, but looks absurdly out of place here -- an example of "one-of-each-itis."

Plants that will grow six-feet across are planted one-foot from their neighbors. Freestanding Pyracantha (able to eat tall buildings in a single bite) are lashed to stakes, biding their time. Sun-loving, low-water-using plants intermix with others that would be happier in the understory of a cool forest somewhere outside of Seattle. Partly funded by the Water Conservation Division as a low-water-using demonstration garden, it's nothing I want home gardeners to learn from. If it survives, the Parks crews will have their hands full, taming the chaos.

Hearts were in the right place. On the heels of the very successful butterfly garden at Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, a crop of Master Gardeners came looking for another project site, knocking at the Parks Division's door. "Oh boy! A free design for a building recently spiffed up, but in need of horticultural TLC," they must have thought. The weak link, as I wrote in my last article, was that there was no one at Parks to scrutinize the design. And it somehow skirted the normal design review process, which might have improved the outcome.

Okay, I'm done flinging nasty bombs. It's fixable. Unfortunately, the Davis Center is just one symptom of a malady requiring immediate action.

Now read my heartfelt plea...

Billy's Lament to Santa Barbara's Parks - Pt I

Good thing I saw the cute pink Vespa in my rear view mirror or I would have locked up the brakes. I had just driven past a new landscape installation by the City of Santa Barbara and even at 24 miles an hour I knew something was wrong.

The good news was I'd solved my bi-weekly Edhat dilemma, "What the *#%$ am I going to write about THIS time?" Once again, something to snark about.

I parked, approached on foot and took it all in - too visually "noisy", too crowded with plants that will get really big, too stylistically disconnected from the building… That was just my warm-up.

My first instinct was to launch another diatribe in my Crimes Against Horticulture campaign. But what if I'm off base? What if I'm just being an ass?

So I emailed some of my more levelheaded, cucumber cool landscape designer friends, asking them to visit the landscape. I thought they'd recommend that I chill out and take my meds. Nah, they all agreed with me.

So big deal. It's not the end of the world that someone planted a bad landscape, but this is a symptom of a bigger problem I've been meaning to write about for a few years. This time, the scale tipped, so I'm putting it in words.

Here's what I wrote about...

Pickin' Up Pawpaws

Picture a 14-year old Ohio kid and a thrown-together fruit stand built from two-by-fours and canvas. His name is Norman Beard. Now fast forward a bunch of decades and see how Norm has exemplified the adage, "As the Asimina triloba twig is bent, so grows the tree."

The Asimina genus is where you'll find the largest edible fruit that's indigenous to the North American continent. It goes by the common name of pawpaw and it helped pioneers stay healthy by providing fresh fruit during their explorations.

Though Norm wasn't optimistic that we'd find any ripe pawpaws this time of the year, he hit the jackpot as we reached the lower end of his 5-acre home, greenhouse (roofed with photovoltaic solar collectors) and orchard.

We split open the smooth-skinned, light green, egg-shaped pawpaws with our fingers and bit into the creamy, sweet flesh. Mouthgasm...

Wait! There's more...