Friday, December 23, 2011

Sustainable Landscaping: 1830s La Huerta Style

Jerry Sortomme has done more to promote sustainable landscaping in the Santa Barbara area than anyone I can think of. As the chair for the Environmental Horticulture Department at Santa Barbara City College for twenty-two years, Jerry taught, mentored, and regaled thousands of students. Many of "Jerry's Kids," as some affectionately call themselves, have moved on to careers in environmental science, horticulture, contracting, design, and other green professions.

I met Jerry not long after I started working for Parks and Rec in ‘87. From the start, I knew he was a force to be reckoned with. Aside from his bottomless storehouse of horticultural and environmental knowledge, his sense of advocacy for his horticulture program made him and his students frequent partners on City projects, with a double bonus of having his classes get their hands dirty in real- world projects while doing a good turn for their town.

Well, Jerry might have retired from SBCC in 2003, but he's still eyebrow-deep in very historic, very local dirt. He stepped out the door of room A-162 and right into a volunteer position as project manager and consultant for La Huerta Historic Garden at the Old Mission Santa Barbara. The goal of this unique project is to "exhibit era-specific plant materials, revealing horticulture art forms, techniques, and the science of the Spanish mission-era."

Huatza Huerta?

Simply put, La Huerta (Spanish for ‘orchard') is an extension of the Old Mission's museum (under the direction of Tina Foss) but moved outdoors. This project, begun in 2003, is literally bringing back to life a side of California's Mission era many people don't know about, especially visiting third- and fourth-graders studying California history. (This is the year when their parents pull an all-nighter, finishing the Mission San Juan Capistrano model - complete with a holographic projection of returning swallows - that's due tomorrow.)

Travel back in time via

2011 Santa Barbara Not So Beautiful Awards

Well, plant lovers, it's time to take a slug from your pretty, pink, Pepto-Bismol pitcher and turn your attention to this year's installment of all things awful in the local garden world.

Last weekend the generous, good-doing folks at Santa Barbara Beautiful bestowed their annual honors on designers, property owners, and big-hearted community members. The recipients are locals who lend their talent, time, and support to making our area a place of horticultural and artistic beauty.

But now it's time to turn our attention to The Dark Side, and share the goofy, "What were they thinking?" examples that have earned their own 15 minutes of shame. It's not my intent to just point a finger and say, "Ewwwwwwwwwwww". My hope is that by tossing these perpetrators into my Cuisineart of criticism, I can prevent readers from committing their own crimes against horticulture, and quite possibly become proud honorees at future award events.

This time around I'm sharing tales of bondage, cartoon character simulations, math-challenged manglers, and will explain why I think the City of Santa Barbara has some ‘splainin' to do.

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (with apologies to Pedro Almodovar)

One of my favorite go-to plants is Myer's Asparagus (Asparagus densiflora ‘Myers'). I love its soft texture, cheery chartreuse color, and eerie resemblance to Sideshow Bob's hair. It grows in partial shade or full sun, and en masse, creates a softly sculptural effect. Place it near dark, broadleaf foliage, like this pairing with bear's breech (Acanthus mollis), below, at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, and you've got a study in subtle contrasting foliage.

So what were they thinking over at Ahi Restaurant on upper State Street? Who came up with the clever idea of using the nylon string the delivery guy uses to keep the LA Times from scattering to put these plants in kinky S&M restraints? Kudos to Ahi for trying to enhance a boring white wall, but do they think we wouldn't notice the passive restraints? I'm sad to announce that the horsetail reed (Equisetum hyemale) that played a central role in this threesome has since passed on (probably forgot the safe word). Dudes, if some of the frilly fronds are in your way, it's a simple snip to cut them at soil level and let the rest of this delightful plant dance its graceful dance.

Brace yourself. There's plenty more at my blog...

Groovy Zoo Gardens

If you love gardening, want to discover some new plants, and make new friends who understand why you have dirt under your fingernails, how about volunteering at your local zoo? More about tapping this mother lode of horticultural fun in a second, but first, a quick detour...

I was always grateful my former neighbor Janie, the elephant tender at the Santa Barbara Zoo, didn't bring her work home with her. The steps to her second story apartment were not up to her "co-workers" popping in for an after-hours beer.

I was thinking about Janie - who has since moved up the food chain to the San Diego Wild Animal Park - the other day while researching a story on zoo landscaping. I was admiring the Santa Barbara Zoo's Asian elephants as they reached for stalks of bamboo and giant bird of paradise leaves, suspended from a towering umbrella-covered support system. Their meal hadn't traveled far. Called "browse" in zoo parlance, these munchies were harvested from landscaped areas around the grounds, doing double duty not only as a staple in the diets of zoo inhabitants (gorillas and giraffes get second "dibs"), but also as ornamental plants simulating of each animal's native habitat.

Wanna see penguins and palm trees? Follow this link...

Gift Idea? Give the Hippest Garden Photos on the Planet

Last time I posted here, I spilled the beans regarding all the green and not-so-green options for Christmas trees. So I thought it might be a good idea to forge ahead with an idea for a gift to put under the tree for the garden lover in your life. No, you can't dig holes and plant bulbs with it, but you can make some magical moments when you combine a new iPhone with the hippest photography app on the planet.

I saw my first Hipstamatic image a couple of years ago, posted at a Flickr page for aficionados. The image that caught my eye was a fairly mundane composition - the exterior of a 1930s era office building. But it looked like someone had dug it out of an old shoebox in the attic: grainy, tired colors, and lighting irregularities that gave it a dreamy feeling.

To my delight, I found out that Hipstamatic is an app created for iPhones, and for $1.99, I thought I'd splurge. (Biff the Wonder Spaniel can go a day without a rawhide chew.)

Hipstamatic is photo enhancement software that digitally simulates different types of lenses, films, and flashes to create an almost endless array of sometimes hauntingly unpredictable effects. Launch the app and you'll see what appears to be an old pocket camera, complete with textured, matte black case, a small view window, and a big yellow button that triggers the shutter.

See lots more cool pics at