Friday, December 21, 2012

Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams

My book doesn't come out until March, but in the meantime, you can catch a few enticing minutes of video to get you ready. Preorder now at Amazon, Barnes&Noble or

Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Deck The Halls, Forget The Holly

I'm really upset with my dearly departed mom. As much as I imagine myself an in-your-face, intolerant critic crusading for high horticultural standards, when it comes to face-to-face encounters, she raised a quietly considerate coward.

The same goes for flaunting my horticultural paradise when I post stuff on-line. It would be so tempting to pose, tongue sticking out, next to retina-dazzling hibiscus flowers while my gardening pals in the Midwest chip booger icicles from their livestock's nostrils. But I don't want to be the cause of my buddies sliding into a wintery depression as they watch their garden disappear under a blanket of black ice.

So, I'd like to delegate the flaunting to you, dear readers, knowing that, vicariously, I've played some small role in this taunting. Surely, you know some igloo-dwelling, blubber-eating peeps you'd like to agitate; someone who flaunts their flamboyant fall foliage, luscious lilacs, and redolent rhododendrons, coveted plants that don't stand a chance around here. Well, it's payback time, and here's the ammo you've been seeking. 

Your Mission: Forward this Edhat blog post to them as soon as you're done reading.

Did anyone actually piss off their friends? Find out at

Santa Barbara Zoo – From Jungle to Jewel

"It was a Thursday afternoon, around 1959, when I volunteered to help Bob Kallman and the Jaycees clean the tangle of Eucalyptus, vines, and weeds at the Child Estate. The house had been razed by the fire department and the place was a mess." Ted McToldridge was filling me in on a bit of local history as we strolled the lushly planted paths commanding panoramic views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Pacific Ocean. "It was the kick-off event to develop a new park that would include a community center, ice skating rink, botanical garden, and farmyard."

Long ago, this area served as a camp for Chumash who fished the coastal waters. Centuries later, John Beale, a retired New York coffee and tea merchant built a pink stucco, red tile roof mansion on the site and named it Vegamar, meaning Star of the Sea. At age 68, he married 35-year-old Lillian Bailey, who years after Beale's death, married John H. Child, hence the more recent estate name. Through the Great Depression, Mrs. Child extended her compassion to dozens of out-of-work "hobos" who rode the nearby rails. She allowed them to live in shacks on the property, governed by their own mayor, provided they lived respectful, sober lives. Locals called it Childville, but it was also known as the Hobo Jungle. The hobos have passed away, but "jungle" still applies.

More flora and fauna fun at

The Flip Flops Are Hung By The Chimney With Care

As the end of 2011 nears, I've been checking off all the significant dates on my calendar. I just survived National Undo the Top Button of Your Slacks For One More Bite of Turkey Day. But I sat out Black Wear A Football Helmet To Shop for Deals At Midnight Friday.

On the heels of these revered holidays comes the ever-perplexing fortnight known at our house as Are We Gonna Get a Christmas Tree This Year? Let's face it, Santa Barbara isn't exactly the land of winter holiday icons. Segways are more practical than one horse open sleighs, LEDs take the place of icicles on our eaves, and there are only so many tiny surprises you can conceal in a flip flop.

Last night Lin and I discussed going treeless for the first time since our now-21-year-old son, Benjamin Cosmo, was born. We've outgrown needing a spot for Santa to leave the 12,347-piece Wuthering Heights-themed Lego set our boy once coveted. Even better, there'll be no rearranging of furniture, and no worries about Biff the Wonder Spaniel lapping sappy water from the tree stand.

If you're certain about having a Christmas tree this year and want to make the most environmentally enlightened decision, you've probably wondered what's the greenest way to go. If you're on the fence, let me lay out a few options to consider.

Read my five alternative ideas at

Friday, February 24, 2012

Motel Landscaping with a Santa Barbara Vibe

Got guests visiting the Central Coast for the first time this holiday season? If they hail from the land of the ice and snow, are you hoping for 80-degree days just so you can get your smirk on? I can only imagine what it's like for visitors who just spent their upstate Michigan morning flame-throwing through the glacier blocking their driveway, and a few hours later, being greeted by sky-scraping palm trees, luxuriant birds of paradise, and exotic succulents dotting the landscape.

Santa Barbara is a tourist-oriented town, and as you'd expect, lots of hotels and inns cultivate that Santa Barbara look: whitewashed stucco walls and red tile roofs, wrought iron grills and polychromatic Moorish tile patterns. Sadly though, very few hotels have carried that look into their landscaping. I see lots of sickly rose bushes poked here and there, clots of misshapen junipers abound, and for that little splash of color, a pot with decades-old geraniums wheezing their last hurrah. But very few seem to embrace our rich plant palette and used it to enhance the ambiance of their grounds. I can't think of a better way to make a long-lasting impression on their guests.

I've thought about writing about hotel gardens ever since the Lemon Tree Inn ( reinvented themselves a few years back. They enlisted the adventurous landscape design talents of Eric Nagelmann, the creative force behind Ganna Walska Lotusland's extraordinary cactus garden. Eric has a great eye for dramatic, high contrast design and an encyclopedic knowledge of some out-of-left-field plants we generally don't see in commercial landscapes.

See the botanical fun some Santa Barbara lodgings are having at

Trinity Gardens – Open Hearts & Dirty Fingernails

Something wonderful happens when people who care about other people meet in a garden. In this case, a handful of Trinity Lutheran Church members are plowing forward with their vision to grow food for the needy, teach kids about healthy eating, and provide a space where locals learn to cultivate hand-grown food.

Earlier this week, I was standing at the south end of the church's parking lot at 909 North La Cumbre Road, getting the grand tour from Judy Sims -- a legend in Santa Barbara's school gardening movement -- and Linda Vogel, two of the dynamos behind Trinity Gardens.

According to their map of the future garden, this flat, stubbly, gopher-pocked plateau will house a varmint-proofed one-acre vegetable garden divided into 33 plots. Other features include a fishpond, tool shed, shade structure, propagation bed, and composting station. Just down the east-facing slope, fruit will blossom and ripen in the orchard. Along the perimeter, they envision a buffer of California native plants used by the Chumash who lived off this land.

Read on to find out how to get involved in Trinity Garden's local efforts...

Boost Your Garden Design Skills and Save Money at a Flower and Garden Show

What if you could complete a master garden design course in a day? That's what you get when you attend one of the major flower and garden shows in anticipation of spring. Certainly, looking through web sites, books, and magazines are useful ways to find inspiration, but walking through dozens of gardens in a day (sans bone chilling winds and snow drifts) is my idea of comfort and efficiency.

If you live anywhere near Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco or any of the big-time, celebrity-studded venues, you'll find the inspiration to push your design chops to the next level. True confession: I've only been attending shows for a few years, mainly to find fresh ideas to share with my readers. But even though I've been designing gardens since the 70s, each time I visit a show, I come away with new tricks, discover hot plants, and find innovative products to use in my own clients' gardens.
(And this year, you can find me sharing my design wisdom at two West Coast shows, but more on that in a minute.)

My intent isn't to diss the smaller regional shows scattered around the country, but the resource pool of top-of-their game designers, garden creators, and speakers can be limited. On the other hand, regional shows feature local professionals intimately aware of the opportunities and challenges of gardening right where you live. If a local home and garden show is as far as your spare time and budget can take you, by all means, get thee to a nearby exhibit hall and soak up everything you can. The following advice applies regardless:

Didn't mean to tease, but you'll have to click to get the good advice at my January 16, 2012, Fine Gardening blog post.