Friday, November 30, 2007

Was Ernie Hemingway ever photographed with rubber duckies?

So, I'm a published writer. Not that blogging isn't writing, but we're talking about becoming a real live, bona fide, ink on paper columnist! As of the November 2007 issue, I'm the GARDEN COLUMNIST for Coastal Woman magazine, a quarterly publication aimed at local women.

As their website says, "Women today are more interesting than ever as they seek ways to balance traditional roles and unconventional choices. Coastal Woman explores the ways we each make it work living in Santa Barbara, juggling nature and nurture, family and career, personal time and community care."

Needless to say, I'm stoked (that doesn't sound very literary - let's try that again). Needless to say, this is like soooooooo cool (that's better). See, I'm already rising to the occasion.

If you can't find it at one of the local outlets, you can click this link to download a copy and read it on-line (page 44).

I first came across Coastal Woman when my Garden Wise Guys TV show co-host, Owen Dell, and I were interviewed about our show. I asked the writer, Nancy Shobe, to check out my blog and give me a writing critique, and to my delight, she suggested I get CW publisher Barbara Lantz-Mateo to take a look. Well, Barbara checked out my blog and I guess she liked what she read and offered me a page in each issue.

I knew this was going to be fun when I met with the art director and photographer for the photo shoot. There I was in a yellow rain slicker, sitting in the middle of the lawn, giant red and white umbrella in hand with Barbara off to my side spraying me with a hose. Intrigued? Just download a copy or if you're local, pick one up from the newsrack.

I'm honored to be given this opportunity to reach a wider audience and having Barbara's support in spreading a pro-environmental, pro-sustainability message. Let's raise our glasses and toast to a long relationship!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yipes!!! Been Meme'd again!

Having been "tagged" with a meme once before, I played along, not quite sure what it was all about. Well, it happened again today when I opened a message from the Bare Bones Gardener blog.

So, right to Google go I and found this from Chris Garret's blog: "In science, a Meme (pronounced to rhyme with “theme”) is a self-propagating unit of thought that is spread from one host to another. Richard Dawkins invented the term as a kind of idea-gene. Like genes, as Memes spread they mutate or die."

Chris continues: "For bloggers Memes have become synonymous with internet quizzes, surveys, and novelties that people link to and pass around on their blogs, forums and via email, things like the “which superhero are you most like” test." The real reason for a meme, though, is to proliferate one's blog and connect with lots of other bloggers. We LIVE to know we're being read, so it's a lot of ego gratification. Never one to turn down a few good connections, here we go.

Bare Bones meme asks recipients to list 8 (why 8?) things we're happy about, then link to 8 other bloggers... (in no particular order)

8) We'll have a new president soon.

7) My wife and son are healthy and love me back.

6) I live in Santa Barbara CA, and though I can't afford to own a home in this high priced paradise, life is good.

5) I'm seriously thinking of retiring and starting a new career - it's very exciting after 20 years at the same job.

4) I'm still actively playing drums with an incredible band (King Bee)and getting my rocks off in the process.

3) The gardens I've designed change peoples' lives

2) My car works

1) I'm happy with who I am and the people I have in my life

So here are the great eight...please help keep this in motion.

Growing a Garden In Davis



A Study In Contrasts

Gardening While Intoxicated

Golden Gecko in the Sierras

The Diva Tales

Craig Smith's Blog

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Not All Grass is Evil - Alice’s Fall Beauties

Where do you go to hear someone rant about grass? Everybody…shout it out… “The Garden Wise Guy’s blog! He wrote that article about Murdering Your Lawn and another on how to rid yourself of the corpse.”

Trick question – I don’t hate grass; I’m just maniacally opposed lawns that serve no purpose other than looking green and sucking up precious resources.

But don’t get me started about my love of all the other grasses! Tall grasses from the prairies of North America that used to feed herds of buffalo. Exotic striped Maidengrass species from Africa and Asia that dance on the slightest breeze. Blue Oat Grass with its stiff silver stems, like a 70s Rod Stewart hair cut.

I don’t use grasses in every design, but they are the “go to” plant for creating informal naturalistic compositions or for inserting a strong vertical burst in a bed. Also, if you have breezes that frequently pass through your garden, the tall grasses will jump to life as the air movement animates their tall flowering stems.

Looks like I got myself started.

Alice has a nice menu of grasses, but it’s by no means exhaustive. All of them will grow in just about any Santa Barbara garden and fit perfectly within the parameters of sustainable gardening. Many ornamental grasses need little supplemental water, are virtually pest and disease free, and don’t require fertilization. That’s what I can sustainable.

Here are a few I spotted on my photo tour at the beginning of November. I’m also throwing in a few non-grasses that provide a similar impact. Let’s just go at it alphabetically…

A is for Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum 'Variegatum', but you can just call it Bulbous Oat Grass. This particular plant is growing in a bed close to the northwest quadrant of Alice. It’s in a somewhat shady bed so the white stripes (‘variegation’ is the term we use) brighten up the composition. It spreads slowly and only gets about eight inches tall.

Along the Santa Barbara St. side of the park is a dried stream bed with a pretty nice variety of grasses and grass-like plants. There are four silvery leaf players and one of my favorite tall grasses. When I look at this area, it’s like little fireworks are going off – all the leaves and flowering tassels heading skyward create a burst of animation that contrasts nicely with the various ground covers.

Could there be a cooler name for a plant than Silver Spears? Astelia chathamica isn’t a grass. It’s from New Zealand and in the Lily family, so it’s not even closely related to any grasses. But it’s sharing a mostly-grass bed and with its wide, brilliant leaves, adds just enough textural variation to add a bit of life to the bed. This close-up shows the chalky coating that gives the plant its common name.

Nearby is Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens – looking a little tan this time of year) set among a very similar grass named Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina glauca). They have almost the same color, but the Oat Grass looks like you took the Fescue and resized it by 200% on a copier. I like that effect – a very subtle play of contrasting sizes with all other visual elements (form, color, texture) remaining the same. That big guy in the background is another form of Miscanthus.

There’s one other very silvery grass here. Canyon Prince Giant Rye (Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’) is a Channel Islands native selected, propagated and introduced by Dara Emery and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. It stands about one to two feet high, has a beautiful flowering tassel in the summer, and reflects sun in the late afternoon. At Alice, it’s been gradually spreading by underground stems (rhizomes) and has filled in nicely among the boulders.

But the big kid on this block is Miscanthus ‘Morning Light.’ It stand about shoulder high and when it flowers in the summer, only a pro basketball player could reach the tops of the flowers. This is one of those plants you want to have when the breezes kick up. It’s also a plant that should be cut to the ground before spring so it can completely regenerate as the weather warms. I don’t see that as a problem but something to look forward to. Imagine this giant mass just disappearing for a few months, leaving the garden open and revealing whatever was growing behind it. Then, in a few months, it’s back and booming! Kinda like removing a big piece of furniture from the living room for a while.

One more grass-like treat and I’ll let you go…Fairy Lily (Zephyranthes candida) – the name says it all. It’s native to Argentina and Uruguay and creates a great meadow of dainty white flowers. It’s a little more thirsty than some plants, but it is a bulb, so if you cut back on the water, it tends to just show up again after a good soaking. I like it mixed with some low grasses and ground covers.

Here’s what some of these dudes look like all put together. Maybe this will encourage you to explore the world of grasses. The west coast’s most active proponent of these and other grasses is John Greenlee. Pop over to his web site for a little more propaganda!

And hats off again to Grant Castleberg, the original designer of Alice and a landscape architect who continues to remain active in the design of this gem. His wife, Ann-Marie wrote a fabulous book that's available at our local Chaucer's Books and also on-line (but please shop locally!). It's beautifully printed with photos by Ralph A. Clevenger (another Santa Barbarian).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Don't Lean Against That Tree

I’ve been thinking about what to write about. I tried writing about what I want to think about, but that doesn’t really get me anywhere, since I have to think in order to write (I know it doesn’t always look like that to my readers). At the same time, I’ve been working on building my photo collection so I can put together nice presentations for my clients, showing them what the plants I want to use look like, and to enhance my lectures.

In a parallel universe, a few blocks away…I recently installed a feature in this blog and my web site that allows me to see who’s reading this tome, how long they stay around, how many pages they click on and (here’s the fun part) where they’re reading from. It’s a free service from Google Analytics and I highly recommended it to any bloggers reading this. I just added the feature a few days ago and have noticed readers from all sorts of exotic places like Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Finland, France, Thailand and Lompoc.

Back to the photos…Today it occurred to me that since I live only a few blocks from Santa Barbara’s botanic masterpiece, Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, I’d walk over there with my trusty Nikon CoolPix S10 and shoot Alice once a month to capture what’s looking good at various times of the year. Hence, I build my photo collection!

[Brief historical aside] If you’re not familiar with ‘Alice’, it is without a doubt the jewel in the crown of the Santa Barbara park system. Named for it’s benefactor, Alice Keck Park (yes, her last name was Park, so it could have been called Alice Keck Park Park, but cooler heads prevailed), it was the site of the El Mirasol estate of the Herter family in the early 1900s, then became the El Mirasol (sunflower, en espaƱol) Hotel.

There was actually a proposal from a local real estate developer (who shall remain nameless, for now) to erect two 9-story condo towers on the site in about 1969!

“Alas,” thought I, entering the garden in late afternoon. “November is not exactly the time of year for great floral displays and sumptuous photography.” But off I went to give it a try. As I was lining up a shot of a soft shell-pink Canna Lily, I thought about those folks in Germany and the Finland and what November probably looks like in their gardens. So I checked. Berlin – High 48 F / low 33 F. Helsinki – high 35 F / low 27 F. I’ve also got some regular readers in the northern US where evening temps are dipping into the low 30s and upper 20s.

“Hmmmm…How, under the guise of horticultural education, could I rub it in that here in our Mediterranean climate, where most of us are just now thinking about donning a sweater in the evening or switching from flip-flops to shoes with socks, we have a lot for which to be thankful. I know – I’ll put my Alice photos on the blog! ”

So here are a few bits of eye candy to get the ball rolling. I’ll try this for a few months and see what comes of it. Leave a message if you want more articles like this one.

The first thing that caught my eye arriving at the park from the intersection of Arrellaga and Santa Barbara Streets were the shimmering pink blossoms of the Floss Silk Tree (Chorisia speciosa).

These are truly exotic looking trees originating from Brazil and Argentina, and are related to the African Baobab, though the trunks aren’t as distinctively “bloated.” Most stunning right now are the five-petaled pink flowers with tiny brown-on-ivory leopard spots.

There’s also a white flowering variety at Alice. But perhaps the most distinctive trait is the massively thorny trunk that some (but not all) of the trees develop. I can’t imagine even a rhinoceros with poison oak rubbing up to one of these bad boys.

Later in the year I’ll catch a photo of the floss-like fuzz that bursts from the seed pods, giving the plant it’s common name.

Just a hop and skip from these spiky beauties is a display of giant tree dahlias (Dahlia imperialis) that I await every fall. There are dahlias and then there THESE dahlias. This perennial appears to be on steroids, growing from little stubs that were cut back to the ground the previous year, into 12-foot high 3” diameter stems that rival some timber bamboos.

And in the fall, beautiful sparsely distributed lavender flowers with yellow centers appear.

It’s a marvel what nature can program a plant to do. Kids go nuts keeping track of the growth. If nurturing a 400 lb. pumpkin is out of the question, this is one plant that will get everyone’s attention.

Got time for one more? Good…Here’s a little oddity. Many folks, regardless of whether you live in the land of winter sandals or snow shoes, know the Aloe plant. The most familiar of these South African succulents is Aloe vera, used to treat burns and other skin inflammations. But have you seen an Aloe that can scamper up palm tree?

Climbing Aloe (Aloe ciliaris) has orange flowers almost year round, stems about the diameter of a pencil and short white cilia (barbs) that protrude from leaves and stems to trap neighboring upright branches and bark, allowing it to lean against trunks and continue to mound up on itself. Unlike vines that actually spiral around branches, climbing Aloe holds on more like Velcro. It’s growing up a Date Palm near the pond if you want to check it out.

I’m about Aliced out, but look for more articles this month. I have quite a few more pictures and a few woe-filled stories to unload. Comments would be greatly welcome, especially from those of you whimpering inside your igloos.