Friday, December 19, 2008

Listing to Port

My on-line column at last week listed five plants I would never use in a client's garden. It generated about a bazillion hits and lots of requests for more lists that people could use in their own gardens.

So this week, I offered my readers the first of a series of lists, leading off with Billy's Killer Combos--a veritable cornucopia of eye-popping plant combos that anyone is free to rip off. If you live in Minnesota or one of those other places that can't grow palm trees, you might want to just look through the sumptuous pictures and swear that you'll move to California sometime before we burn up or break off into the ocean.

Here's the link

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter Sunset - Sharing Blogs

Sunset at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge - Santa Barbara, CA.

Saturday night was a gig night for my band. We had an early set up and I was going home to chill before coming back for our performance. Leaving the parking lot of the Montecito Country Club, I saw a tumultuous blanket of clouds smothering the western sky, but plenty of room at the horizon for late afternoon rays to underlight this canvas. The shot above, moments before the light ebbed, is the most dramatic.

That's it for me. Here are tidbits from a few fellow bloggers I have listed at my blogroll.

Susan Harris wrote a very thoughtful entry about "being" in a garden, rather than looking for the next great photo...
The Sustainable Gardening Blog
When visiting a garden, be “still as a needle”

It's hard to get into that Bing Crosby "White Christmas" mindset when I'm observing fiery sunsets through palm trees. This helped...

Chiot’s Run (Ohio)
Christmas in Zoar
December 8th, 2008

Benjamin Vogt writes a thoughtful, but rippingly funny blog I've recently encountered. It invites participation by using REJECTION as a vehicle for composing. Mysterious? Venture forth...
Deep in the Middle
Other People’s Rejection Letters

Always a hotbed of insightful commentary and wry humor, Amy links to a great excerpt from an LA Times Opinion article...
Garden Rant (Posted by Amy Stewart)
Everything I Needed to Know About Foreign Policy I Learned in my Garden

Friday, December 5, 2008

Five Plants I Hate...

For a quick, silly read, check my bi-weekly on-line column at Santa Barbara's very own news and events

What are YOUR bottom five?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shootin’ Blanks

I need more ammo! I’m running out of words. Frankly, I’m surprised. I tend to be a pretty vocabularious guy. I’m hoping to enlist your help.

In my 21 years at my day job as landscape architect for the city of Santa Barbara, I’ve been called on to write staff reports, memos and the occasional grant proposal. I do a pretty good job—even convinced the powers in Sacramento to send some significant didge our way a few times. It’s professional writing; no Pulitzer prizes in my future.

But now I’ve expanded my writing endeavors. It began about seven years ago, e-mailing cheeky gig alerts to adoring King Bee fans, hoping they’d come see us (next chance: SOhO, Friday, December 12). I launched this blog in May 2007, ranting about bad gardens, teaching design principles, occasionally extolling the charms of Santa Barbara. This attracted the attention of now defunct Coastal Woman magazine (we miss you, Barbara!), where my quarterly feature, Garden Coach, raised the bar on my writing skills. No more off the cuff bursts; people were actually reading this magazine. Additionally, I write a thousand words a month for Santa Barbara Homeowner Magazine, and then let my hair down at in a bi-weekly on-line column. That’s a lot of writing for a landscape guy.

Mostly, I write about gardens and here’s where the word shortage manifests. There are only a handful of ways of saying “garden” or “green” or “beautiful.” I get bored and you don’t want an article that reads like an assembly manual for a bookcase. That’s where you, my erudite, imaginative readers come in. Bear with this minor digression, as you might be wondering why a landscape architect is getting all bent out of shape about writing.

Like I said, I’ve been at my day job for over two decades and quite frankly, the thrill is ebbing. Lately, thoughts of retirement have been dancing in my head. I figure that with the pension I’ll receive I can retire to Botswana and be set for life. But it’s hard to find free wi-fi there, so I’ll be staying around and needing supplemental income.

Right now, I trade my writing for advertising. If you’re an Edhat regular and occasionally glance at the top of the screen, you see a banner ad—sometimes it’s for my consulting business, bgdc. I advertise to find new clients. It works. However, given the current state of the economy, it might be awhile until I pull the chord on my pewter parachute.

As should be obvious, I’m not really a writer—I don’t even play one on TV. I backed into writing and so far it hasn’t tried to bite me on the ass. Here’s the dilemma: I’ll have more time for the clients I’m generating if I can streamline the writing process. Yet as I sit down to tackle each assignment, I feel like I’m fumbling through a foggy cloud of June Gloom. I’m enjoying the writing—I just wish it came as easily as designing.

What I need is a reliable process; I need words to pour from my noggin, arrange themselves on the page with √©lan and brilliance, and then push the ‘send’ button on their own, whilst I set about making landscapes more beautiful, functional and sustainable.

To jump start my training, I attended a garden writer’s conference in September. I’ve spent a small fortune on writing books and bought lunches for generous freelance writers. It’s helping. Who knew there are actual techniques for writing? Like fitting the number of topics to the number of words in the assignment or writing “shitty first drafts” before you polish the rough edges. It’s amazing what a little strategerizing can do.

Now imagine my delight when I discovered, a website that generates veritable spider webs of word associations in a dynamic, colorful, animated format. I typed the word “green” in the text box. From the center of the screen, fourteen lines blossomed from the original word, bouncing like marionettes, each one displaying a different meaning for “green.” One arm connects to “not mature; unripe” while another defines a piece of land set aside for recreation. One leads to where golfers putt, another to the political party. Click on the synonym “park” and a new octopus word map in generated. You’ll find yourself going down a labyrinth of rabbit holes after a few clicks.

Here’s where you come in. Right now my goal is to expand my garden design vocabulary and I’d like your help. In the comment section at the end of this article is your opportunity to inundate me with garden design words—words about flowers, spaces to hang out, the sensations you feel when you’re in your garden, the sights and smells that take you out of your everyday life and trigger your pleasure centers.

Put on your thinking cap, whip out your Roget’s and unleash your inner Shakespeare.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ready the Confetti!

Imagine if we had evolved from the South America three-toed sloth instead of primates out of Africa? If we had six fingers instead of ten, would the numbers we revere lose their significance? Would the highpoint of the Late Night With David Letterman be his Top Six? Would anyone even blink when our nation celebrated its bicentennial, or would we still be talking about our hundred and forty-forth?

I’d like to expound of this random happenstance of evolution, but I have some big news to share. For the sake of time, I’ll just submit to the dominance of ten and try to move this momentous event along.

[You can’t see it from where you’re reading, but at this moment the members of a 60-piece brass ensemble are flexing their embouchures and practicing deep breathing, ready to herald this auspicious announcement. Volunteers have inflated scores of gold and silver pearlescent balloons and a half-cubic yard of confetti of varying tints and shades of green, hoisting them into the rafters of the sports arena I’ve rented for this occasion. Young girls will loft fragrant rose petals into the air, coordinated to fall at my feet as I exit.]

You, loyal readers, are experiencing the Garden Wise Guy’s BLOG ENTRY 100!

[Waiting for the cheers to die down]

Not unlike a limping TV show that is fast running out of fresh ideas, I thought I’d recycle my ten favorite blog entries since I started this thing in May 2007. I know it can be a chore to drill down into a blog’s archive, so sit back, relax the grip on your mouse (ahem!) and take a stroll down Memory Lane.

1. As the world’s greatest authority on my opinion, I take a strong stand when I see people wasting our most precious resource, water and continually beat the drum to get the attention of the lawn fanatics who get my goat. So let’s start the review with…
Murder Your Lawn - July 17, 2007

2. I’ve been a drummer and music lover since I was five years old. From what I’ve read about brain development, there are a lot of advantages to having musical training—lots of neurons hook up for the better. In this post I try to connect the synaptic paths between music and design.
WWZD – What Would Zappa Do? - June 21, 2007

3. My hometown of Santa Barbara just experienced a devastating fire that took out at least 220 homes. This is nothing new, just Nature saying, “I’m not done yet.” This post tries to persuade people to pay more attention to the landscaping around their homes.
Gardens and Fire - October 23, 2007

4. If you click over to my Flickr photo site, you’ll see that the plant compositions that really get my juices flowing are all about form and foliage. Here’s my little treatise on…
Who Needs Flowers? – Feb 23, 2008

5. Why on earth would someone plant a shrub that is genetically engineered to be ten feet wide in a three foot planter? Plants come with labels, they’re written up in books. Get a clue!
Your Miranda Rights are on the Label – March 1, 2008

6. This is a mini design lesson focusing on one of my coaching clients, The Divine Ms. M. We tackled a small planter where a venerable oak tree had recently moved along to that big mulch pile in the sky.
Playing Around In a Doughnut Hole – April 9, 2008

7. Yes, it’s fine to have flowers in your garden. I’m not a complete curmudgeon on the subject. But if you’re going to play with flowers, it helps to have a good grounding in color theory. This post explored painting with pink and apricot petals.
A Snippet of Floral Theory – Tints & Shades – April 24, 2008

8. Pink and apricot? Are you kidding me? What a wimp! Roll out the heavy artillery. Stand back!!!!
Passion in the Beds – Unleash the Reds – May 3, 2008

9. When it comes to protecting children from seeing too much of the grownup world, I’m more concerned with images of violence than a kid seeing a few pubes. Hence the R-rating. Get the kids out of the room. This could be traumatic…
Rated R – Horticultural Chainsaw Massacres – June 7, 2008

10. I’m wrapping up this little retrospective with observations about my recent writing seminar in Portland. Slowly-butt Shirley (I used to date her sister) I’m seeing the fruits of time well spent in the company of writers. The Portland big bonus: It rained!
Portland Day 4 – Soaking It In, Wringing It Out

Now, to find some fresh ideas. Any suggestions?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Santa Barbara Ablaze

[photo from - thanks Peter]

I've had a few e-mails from friends and readers about the fire here in Santa Barbara. I just sent this reply to Elyse Umlauf, a writer friend in Chicago. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts.
Elyse: Thanks for checking. It's a raging inferno, but not of any immediate threat to me. My full-time job is with the City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department, so I spent the night as an emergency service worker, running the logistics command post. I started my shift around 7 pm and got relieved at about 2 am. 100 homes lost in the wooded and brush foothills. One of my son's friend's home was the first to go.

The town is blanketed in smoke and ash this morning - bit of an Armageddon vibe, but the weather is in our favor right now. Virtually no wind, but that could change by sunset - that's when the hot 'sundowners' can kick up, but the meteorologists are optimistic. We had 70 mph gusts in the fire areas until abut 10 last night, then the wind laid down for the rest of the night. This is the first time we've had night vision helicopters picking up water from the ocean and doing a few drops. Today we get jumbo flying tankers laying down retardant. The raging orange flames I saw as I reported for duty subsided before I left the command post at about 1:30 a.m.

All I could think about was how many homes could have been saved if people understood and heeded the principles of fire-wise landscaping. My TV partner, Owen Dell, and I produced four shows on the concept of Firescaping that aired last year and are still on-line starting with Episode Six. Owen and I also completely redesigned the City's Firescape demonstration garden to help inform homeowners in fire prone areas how to create defensible space. I'm hoping that a lot of people took the message to heart and made changes to their landscaping. I'll be interested to hear how many of the lost homes ignored the admonitions.

I have a song lyric going through my head – Joni Mitchell’s ‘Help Me’. Her song is about love, but it applies today.

It's got me hoping for the future
And worrying about the past
'Cause I've seen some hot hot blazes
Come down to smoke and ash

Nuff for now - bg

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Expressing the Verticality of the Space"

When I was studying landscape architecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, all of us students fell into the trap of "design speak." You couldn't just say "I've designed a plaza." It was a "vernacular space intended to inculcate a sense of tranquility and mindfulness" or some such crap. The most memorable was a student who, when designing a project between two tall buildings, admonished us not to "deny the verticality of the space."

Plants with a strong vertical architecture are my favorite device for injecting excitement and dynamism into the gardens I design. Depending on how these plants are grouped with others, they can be singular explosions—like fireworks going off amid a placid setting of gently mounding cloud-like plants—or part of a continuum of other vertical plants—like combining various grasses, sedges and reeds, each one contributing slight variations on the theme.

Then you’ve got your variations on vertical: there are the Viagrically emphatic, dare I say phallic players like bamboo. No doubt about it; these guys have their pumps primed and are in 24-hour readiness. Shallow, but effective.

Or there are those that start off with good intentions but seem to lose enthusiasm, like some of the big Miscanthus species that leap from the ground, then flag a bit, tips drooping dejectedly back at the ground.

[Dang – where is this going?]

Anyway, if you want to create a little excitement in your garden, pick from a few of the star players pictured above. If you can’t grow these in your garden, find some substitutes. But read the caution label: “If your verticality last more than four hours, please call your physician and don’t try to operate a vehicle with a steering wheel.”

I gotcha verticality right here, buster.

Clockwise from the upper left:
Top row: Senecio; Dasylirion & Euphorbia; fence from recycled lumber and bamboo
Middle row: Equisetum & Scirpus; Anigozanthos; Lavandula & Heuchera
Bottom row: Bamboo; Chondropetalum; Miscanthus 'Morning Light'

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Portland Greens

Portland Japanese Garden
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

I was clicking through my September Portland photos at my Flickr site and ran into this lovely scene. I had just attended a "getting the most from your point and shoot" session at the Garden Writers Association symposium and took my little Nikon S10 CoolPix out on a garden tour.

As much as I know that most people are drawn to gardens for the floral color, I'll continue to delight in shades of green, pairings of plants both subtle and starkly dramatic, and enjoying the way light plays throughout the day.

I heard garden writer and grand dame Penelope Hobhouse speak at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden years ago. Regarding her classic tome "Color in Your Garden" she confessed that if she wrote the book again she'd expand her section on foliage color to encompass half of the book.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Eye Tuning

Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

I'm learning that photographing plants is all about framing and light. My early morning walks with Biff the Wonder Spaniel (and his amazing patience while I compose) have sharpened my eye. This massive planting and "killer combo" is part of a garden I walk past every week. This time I, camera in hand, I saw it anew.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I've Been Cheated!!!

I’ve been cheated, hoodwinked, chiseled, deceived, cozened, deluded, lead on, betrayed, befooled, jacked, humbugged (I also found a great thesaurus program on line)!!!!! Earlier this week I had two days of fall weather—cool, sunny, breezy days; chilly nights. I even wore gloves and a cap on Wednesday when I took Biff the Wonder Spaniel out before sunrise.

When we got home, the local weather guy was showing upper 70s and low 80s for this week. Crap! Today feels like we’re in the low 90s. WHAT THE @$#$*&? IS GOING ON HERE?

I don’t like sweating. I hate the feeling of moisture between me and my clothes and it’s not practical to conduct my daily affairs in the au naturel (thanks, new thesaurus program!). I plan my lunch-hour walks based on the shadiest streets; I engineer open window strategies to maximize the slightest increases in air movement. My mastery of thermostatic manipulations is held in awe by co-workers, some of whom wonder if I’m curing a side of beef somewhere in my office.

I like nothing more than a slight chill in the air, sun on my face and mucking about in shorts and a thick Henley. You lizards can keep Tucson; this mollusk is hitching to Portland.

But the big news is that my “harbinger of winter” is out of whack. A few years after I got into plants and such, I made the correlation that when jade plant (Crassula argentea) bloomed, it heralded the end of summer and Billy weather. But this year it’s anyone’s guess.

Tuesday night I was going out the door for an “I hope Obama kicks some serious butt” party (he did!) and optimistically donned my favorite sports coat. It’s a beautifully crafted Harris Tweed coat (my wife found it in a thrift store when we were in college), a background of dark green with warm threads of brown, gold and a host of other greens running through it. It’s been hanging in the closet for months, calling to me. But here in Santa Barbara there hasn’t been a moment in the last eight months when it cooled down enough to consider throwing on even a flannel shirt.

Until the good weather arrives, I’ll be crawling under a rock and hangin’ til the mercury creeps down a skosh.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Redeeming Myself - There's Beauty in Santa Barbara

Hey, rather than start a new post here, stop by my new posting at

It's a story of redemption, after ripping so many hideous landscapes in my hometown.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Be True To Your Teeth And They Won't Be False To You

Why did that come back to me? It's something Soupy Sales used to say in the 60s. But I digress...

What do you do while someone is reaching into your maw with sharp dental tools, jack-hammering bastions of plaque from your chompers? As loquacious as I usually am, holding a conversation in this compromised position is less than productive—it can be downright dangerous. Actually, Meghan said my teeth looked better than she’s every seen them. Must be my final rinse with Tidy Bowl that’s keeping the bacteria at bay.

This time my strategery (thanks Dubya) was to breath deeply, melt into the chair to avoid tensing up too much, and pondering the connections between dental hygiene and the plant kingdom. Here are a few word play brain farts that managed to materialize in a few minutes of oral bliss:

Castanea dentata – American Chestnut. A more majestic tree you will not find, but being a Left Coast So Cal dude, I’ve never really stood “under the spreading chestnut tree” nor have I met the village smithy. But there is a Santa Barbara connection: Castanets. With our Spanish historic links comes the week-long summer Fiesta celebration, replete with brightly costumed flamenco dancers, high-stepping and clacking their castanets—slightly more pleasant sounding than the chattering of the Donner Party’s teeth (there we are again, with the teeth!).

Hibbertia dentata - Trailing Guinea Flower. I’m familiar with its lovely golden flowered cousin, Hibbertia scandens, but it looks like this delicate vine from the eastern tropical forests of Australia would grow just fine around here. To complete the connection, I understand that lot of Australians have teeth. See how that works?

Floss Silk Tree – Chorisia speciosa This is a stunning tree from South America, featuring copious displays of brilliant pink flowers on and off throughout the year. I haven’t actually tried flossing with the thread-like interior of the seed pods, but that’s where it got its name. Another killer feature—no I’m not exaggerating, these could kill you—are the massive thorns that adorn the light green bark of the lower trunk. Here’s a link to a few shots at my Flickr website. Remember, a flossed mouth is a happy mouth.

Just about the time Meghan reached my canine teeth, I thought about dogs, hence dogwood, which until last week, I thought didn’t stand a chance in Santa Barbara. But there’s actually a Cornus californica in the yard of a landscape architect I was interviewing for an article. It’s a graceful multi-trunk shrub right now and turning a delicate pink fall color. Live and learn! Photo at Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery in Atascadero, CA.

Now for the easy pickins (oh no, Mr. Bill! Not tooth pickins?)-

Crown – two in my mouth, one at the point where the trunk meets the roots; also another name for the canopy of a tree.

Root (hopefully not of the “canal” variety) – That’s why I floss and brush assiduously.

Stem – that’s the part of the tooth below the crown and if I have to tell you what this has to do with plants, please click away from this site now.

Did you know that your baby teeth are considered to be “deciduous”? Really. I’m going to have to find a little kid with a loose tooth and see if it turns a nice fall color before the fairy gets it.

That reminds me: To prove that I was probably dropped on my head one too many times by my big brother, when I see a little kid who’s lost a few teeth I ask if I can look at their hands. I exclaim, “I see you still have your baby fingers.” If they look perplexed I hold up my hand and show them how much bigger grown-up fingers are and explain that soon their fingers will fall out and be replaced with big people fingers. Most of them know that I’m kidding. Some of them are undergoing intensive psychological counseling to this day.

I gotta go. Time to eat some shiny Halloween candy corn.

Monday, October 20, 2008

OBAMA: This has nothing to do with gardens or landscapes...

I know, I don't do lists, but here's a great one sent to me by Comments are welcome, whichever "side of the aisle" you're on...


1. The polls may be wrong. This is an unprecedented election. No one knows how racism may affect what voters tell pollsters—or what they do in the voting booth. And the polls are narrowing anyway. In the last few days, John McCain has gained ground in most national polls, as his campaign has gone even more negative.

2. Dirty tricks. Republicans are already illegally purging voters from the rolls in some states. They're whipping up hysteria over ACORN to justify more challenges to new voters. Misleading flyers about the voting process have started appearing in black neighborhoods. And of course, many counties still use unsecure voting machines.

3. October surprise. In politics, 15 days is a long time. The next McCain smear could dominate the news for a week. There could be a crisis with Iran, or Bin Laden could release another tape, or worse.

4. Those who forget history... In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote after trailing by seven points in the final days of the race. In 1980, Reagan was eight points down in the polls in late October and came back to win. Races can shift—fast!

5. Landslide. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, passing universal health care and a new clean-energy policy is going to be hard. Insurance, drug and oil companies will fight us every step of the way. We need the kind of landslide that will give Barack a huge mandate.

If you agree that we shouldn't rest easy, please sign up to volunteer at your local Obama office by clicking here:

We're just two weeks away from turning the page on the Bush era—but we can't afford to take our eye off the prize. We've got to keep pushing until the very end.

Monday, October 13, 2008

You Say It's Your Birfday!

It's mine, too! Optoger therteemph! I gave myself a cake (courtesy of Wayne Thiebaud - one of my favorite contemporary painters).


Tonight I celebrate by teaching my Adult Education class - think I'll bring cupcakes for everyone.

[Late breaking news - Anna just wrote to say I have the same birthday as fiction children's book character Paddington Bear, so I did a little research...]

I’m also in the company of:

  • Chris Carter (X-files)
  • Sammy Hagar (can’t stand his music)
  • Marie Osmond (can’t stand her music)
  • Paul Simon (some huge hits; other stuff I’ll pass on)
  • Lenny Bruce (NOW I’m in some gooood company)
  • Margaret Thatcher (great – Ronnie Reagan’s best pal!)
  • Yves Montand (need to rent some of his movies again)
  • Sasha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shirley Bovshow - Eden and Edenmakers

Not being much of a religious scholar (I’m the guy who picked a drum set over a Bar Mitzvah) I had to pop over to the “Readers Digest of research”, Wikipedia, to make sure I’d get this reference right. The concept of “Eden” grows out of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). That’s about all they can agree on, as the probable location tends to move around depending on the zip code of the believer. But it always connotes paradise, so the garden metaphor tends to stick.

Shirley Bovshow and I have had a virtual connection for a little less than a year via our mutual blog postings. She an L.A.-based landscape designer and host of the very popular “Garden Police” TV show (Discovery Home Channel). She also hosts a blog called Edenmakers, hence my in-depth research.

Shirley just posted a very thoughtful piece about how along with a great piece of video about how all of us who engage in gardening and landscaping practices are creating slices of Eden for ourselves and others:
Shirley starts the post, “An Eden Maker brings a little bit of paradise to our world by creating a garden, growing a plant or preserving the beauty of our natural world by establishing a beneficial relationship with nature.” I wanted to make sure my readers don’t miss this enjoyable and inspiring piece.

Enjoy – leave a comment for Shirley if you’re so moved.

PS: I just made another connection - my Edhat biweekly column is titled "In the Garden of Ed(en)". How 'bout dat?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ugly Is In The Eyes of the Beholder

The Second Annual Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards

It came and went. Unless you stay involved with local architecture and landscape happenings, you might have missed the September 28 Santa Barbara Beautiful Awards at the Granada Theater. The hard working folks at SBB are “doers.” They raise money for planting park and street trees, educating youngsters, and recognizing quality design through their monthly awards.

When your out-of-town guests enviously effuse about the beauty of this little slice of the coast, you can pass a bit of credit to SBB. Their annual awards event is all about shining a well-deserved spotlight on the property owners, designers, contractors and care-givers who care enough to nurture beautiful projects to enhance our community.
Out of necessity—but more likely to preserve their ability to fund worthy projects—Santa Barbara Beautiful does not have an evil twin who rants and spews about the aesthetic blight perpetrated upon the community. If they did, I’d certainly lobby to be the prez—make that benevolent dictator.

This secret cabal would root out and expose those who plant and tend the landscapes we are daily subjected to. Whether through innocent ignorance or utter lack of appreciation for quality design and maintenance, there are those whose gardens, trees, and commercial landscapes deserve to be pilloried. My first act as Fearless Leader would be initiating public stockades at Plaza de la Guerra—tastefully landscaped, of course. But I digress.

At my blog last year, I initiated the first
Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards. It’s time for round two. I’d love to say this diatribe is offered tongue-in-cheek, but the images you are about to see truly put my knickers in a bunch.
My criteria to enter the panoply of past recipients are simple: Offensive to the eye, and/or flying in the face of resource conserving/sustainable principles.

My comments, though cheeky, are intended to be instructional.

Category One – Most Bone-headed Location to Plant Ivy

I’ve been in the green biz for years. I don’t think I’ve seen a more ridiculous place to plant, and then spend years trimming into submission, an uglier patch of Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis). Imagine the hours spent keeping this potential monster at bay. This is the plant that can assault and devour a hundred-foot tall palm tree. I’m not a fan of paving the planet, but ridding us of this chlorophyllic insult and setting a couple of well-placed stepping stones sure would make it safer to get out of your car. Time to call Point Mugu Naval Air Station for the precision napalm strike.

Category Two – Most Artistic Pruning

Step one: Find a plant that is genetically predisposed to grow twenty feet tall and ten feet across.
Step two: Plant it under the roof overhang, two feet from your wall, and a foot from your walkway.
Step three: Prune to reveal the graceful inner branches (forever).
I give you Hollywood Twisted Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’). It might cost a few bucks to have it removed and replaced with a right-sized plant, but I wouldn’t have to stifle my gag reflex while I walk Biff the Wonder Spaniel.

Category Three – Most Serious Underestimation of the Power of Bougainvillea

Look it up in your Sunset Western Garden Book. Bougies get huge. You put it in a tiny location and you have to hack the hell out of it. It blooms at the tips. You just whacked it back to Hackensack and cut off the tips to keep it from eating your pet badger. Now it can’t bloom. Remember—you bought it for the pretty flowers, “Mmmmmm, pretty flowers!” Now it’s ugly. Rip it out and throw it in your greenwaste container. Get something smaller that will look nice and fit in the space allowed.
[bougie hack job]

Category Four – You’re Dead; Time to Move to the Next Plane
I couldn’t make up my mind, so let’s use the buck-shot approach. Some plants go dormant and lose their leaves, which sometimes turn brown first. That does not apply to these neighborhood eyesores. How’d you like to live across the street? Really, once a plant is dead, it’s not particularly pretty and does not enhance your home.

Second runner-up: Damn near dead…

First runner-up: Damn near deader…

And the winner is: Damn near deadest…

Category Five: New Member of the National Juniper Preserve

When I lived in the San Fernando Valley in the 60s, thousands of homes addressed their landscape needs by carpet bombing their landscapes with cheap junipers. Plants that grow fifteen feet across were placed three feet from their neighbors in five-foot wide parkways. Do the math.

Again, there were countless worthy candidates around our neighborhoods. This front yard oozed to the top of the mound. Judging from the laser-like precision of the pruning, I’d guess fume-belching gas-powered hedge trimmers are the weapon of choice. At least it doesn’t need irrigation. Perhaps some gray blocks of Styrofoam would reduce the maintenance and produce the same effect?

Category Six: The Other Man’s Grass is Always Browner

I expend a lot of keystrokes ranting about lawns. I’m not 100% anti-lawn. If it serves some recreational purpose, is conscientiously tended – push-mower, organic fertilizer, efficient irrigation system – there’s really no substitute. Then there’s this one. Too steep to irrigate or mow, it inexorably submits to Darwin’s laws. [Business name pixilated to protect the innocent tenant]

Tune in next year. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more worthwhile candidates.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Portland - Day 5: It's a Wrap!

[The author at the Japanese Garden]

It's too damn late to blog, but I'm hooked and I know there are a few kind souls who have been following my exploits and vicariously living off my cheap thrills here in Portland. Speaking of...just as one of the educational sessions was about to start, the speaker, rather than ask us to put our cell phones in "stun mode" (a little Star Trek humor) she referred to it as "cheap thrills setting." I think I'll be getting some mileage out of that one. It's already 11:45 PM and I just got done checking e-mail, verifying my return flight for tomorrow, and downloading about 120 shots from today's events. I culled through the pics and selected a whopping 17 that captured my impressions of today, but if you want to see a whole slew more, click over to Flickr and find them at I seem to have this compulsion to post the more esoteric, rather than picture postcard shots, on the blog.

Let's get this show on the road so I can get to bed. Out the door at 7, loaded with my notes for my next Santa Barbara Homeowners magazine project, and caught
this sunny scene...

...on my way to the DoubleTree for a muffin and a decaf (you don't want to see me caffeinated) and started re-outlining my piece. I had 45 minutes until the first session and got some good work done.

I sat in on three presentations this morning - "What the Web Wants" taking a broad look at different kinds of web sites. I thought it would be more about what writers need to produce in the way of content, and how web writing differs from other media. It was interesting, but no new tools for my toolbox. Up next was "It's Not Necessarily on Google." The presenter was a research librarian at the L.A. Arboretum. A few good tidbits about how to get good info by working with institutional libraries.

The high point of the morning was yet another class on how to make the most of a point and shoot digital camera. Ian Adams covered so much info, my head was spinning. Here's what it looked like from my perspective.

Lunch time / tour time. I got to sit with Shirley Bovshow, a blogger, designer, HGTV host and fun lady. We chatted our way to the first two gardens, one a residence with over-the-top planting combos. It was nice eye candy, but my style and taste just doesn't connect with this much froo-froo. I thought the choice of table cloth behind the pot made for an interesting combo - kinda 50s Barbie colors.

[bizarre - the owner seemed to have such refined taste]

The second stop was just down the road - can't remember the name of the institution, but it had the words "Elk" and "Bishop" in it. Some reporter I'm turning out to be. It was very park-like with little in the way of floral beds or trendy combos. Looks like it's been there for a long time and about as edgy as a John McCain campaign rally. But they had some cool brick paths.

I got pretty bored pretty fast and wasn't ready to shoot a lot of pixels on either garden, so I hoofed it down a long road to where the buses were parked. On the way I caught this turfed drainage swale. I'm guessing the rocks keep cars from parking there. It's too green to be going without water, likely gets mowed with an inefficient, gas mower, and might even get the occasional dose of chemical fertilizer. Murder your lawn, please.

[but I like the photo]

I got to the bus and was enthralled by the gathering clouds and variations of green.

Our next stop was the Chinese garden in downtown Portland. I've had a prejudice against Chinese gardens, in part because I haven't spent much time in them and because I find the Japanese aesthetic so much more natural and in tune with my DNA. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself absorbed in this complex, meticulously maintained garden. I need to revisit when there aren't so damn many garden writers there. My camera class seemed to pay off with this bamboo shot. Plenty more at the Flickr site.

[my nikon point & shoot]

I was happy to find this rock in a pavilion at the garden. Not unlike the Japanese, and likely preceding them, the selections and display of rocks like this create a miniature world that leads the viewer to deeper contemplation of the physical world.

Finally, we were off the the Japanese Garden, which my family had visited when we were here in April. But that was a slow-ending winter and none of the deciduous trees had leafed out. The lighting was, of course, very different. Today, we were fortunate to arrive at about 4 pm, so the longer, softer sun angle was a photographer's delight. Again, lots more at Flickr.

[detail at gravel garden]

[detail at gravel garden edge]

[rail at gravel garden]

[bamboo fence and maple]

It was a short drive from the garden to the Portland Zoo. That's where the banquet was to be held and we had free run of the place as they were closing down. Lovely layout, but my big thrill was seeing a Mandrill up close and personal (though clouded by a Lexan enclosure). Amazing creature and the facial markings are stunning.

As we entered the lobby of the banquet hall, which was unexpectedly grand and comfortable, they displayed a painting by one of their elephants. I'm hoping it was only the brilliant brush strokes that were done by the talented pachyderm, because whoever did the background must have worked for the Hallmark "cutesie" division prior to joining the zoo.

Great salad - greens with a light balsamic vinaigrette, topped with toasted almond slivers and grapes. The chicken was offensively drowned in a cloying sweet and sour relish. Good coffee (that coming from a Peet's snob!) and a fine chocolate mousse cake slice.

Awards were handed out to a lot of likely worthy people (I'm a newbie, so how should I know?) and then everyone got blurry. Couldn't have been my technique. I just took two 45 minute seminar classes.

It's 12:41 AM. I'm heading for dreamsville, daddy-o.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Portland - Day 4: Soaking It In, Wringing It Out

I'm back at my hotel room after finally making it into downtown Portland where my family vacationed last April. We were pretty impressed with everything about our stay, from the generous people, to the great restaurants and bold new architecture. Coming back for this week was a pleasure.

The Garden Writers Association is throwing their shindig on the east side of the Willamette and I hadn't ventured into the heart of town yet. Mike and Sheila, our Peetnik Santa Barbarian friends, arrived on vacation today and we met for dinner at Pazzo's. It's a fine Italian dining establishment on the ground floor of the Hotel Vintage, where we stayed earlier this year. Dinner was great (try the roasted beet, cucumber, horseradish creme, and sunflower seed salad - magical). Mike is a professional writer, so we had a lot to talk about. Equally important was having them hand-off the extra business cards my wife provided. I've run out and there are still lots of people to connect with.

I hit three sessions today: Finding the Right / Write Word, covering some simple techniques for expanding the breadth of language we can access when we write. I had never thought of creating a "word tree" - basically a free association of synonyms and related terms for words we use when writing. Lucy Hardiman, our presenter, put the word "flower" on a flip chart and at least 200 words were offered from the house, some predicatable and flat (petal, stem, leaf...zzzzzzz) and others that drew hoots from the crowd (fecund, alluring, burgeoning, phallic - being one of few men in the room, I decided not to offer 'vaginal'). It might be an exercise I'll practice in my never-to-arrive spare time. I think I'll be spending more time reading other writers and noting the variety of descriptive words they use and grow my repertoire.

Lucy's presentation was followed by two separate sessions dealing with photography - one showing how grasses come to life when shot with sensitivity to different natural lighting angles, and another on how to create publishable images using a point and shoot camera, like my trusty Nikon COOLPIX S10.

Most everyone took off for a tour of production nurseries that were going to show off all their newest introductions. Not only was I uninterested in seeing plants I have little chance of growing in Santa Barbara, but the idea of using plants that are grown in Oregon, then shipped nationwide on trucks would give me a carbon-footprint guilt trip I couldn't endure. One more reason to use plants provided by local growers - they're not only adapted to my climate, but the impacts of shipping are miniscule.

Besides, I promised myself I'd work on an article that's due at the end of the month, so I hightailed it back to my room and started putting some of my new tools to use.

[Proof that I'm multi-tasking: working and eating an apple]

First up - outlining. In this instance, I've just downloaded a new piece of mind mapping software and knew that this article could benefit from putting the program through its paces. If you're not familiar with mindmapping, click this Wikipedia link for a quick eyeball. It's a technique for brainstorming ideas and creating relationships between thoughts. I use it at work on my PC, but just found a native Mac application from Tony Buzan. Here are a few shots of it at work.

[iMindMap at work]

It's far more powerful than this will sound, but at its most basic, a mind map is a bunch of branches you can create, with subbranches of related ideas. I'm a visual person who needs to see everything at once, so this technique has become part of my DNA. It worked middlingly well. I should be brighter than to think that I could effectively utilize a program that I'm just learning. When I get this blog entry posted, I think I'll continue with a hand-drawn mind map and hold off on the software until I'm home.

Regardless, the article is taking shape and I'm seeing just the slightest sense of control in what I'm doing. I'm pretty sure that's a good thing. Oh, yeah. It rained pretty heavy while I was working, so when I left to catch then light rail downtown, I snapped a few wet shots. It satisfies the banana slug in me.

Toodles - not sure I'll be able to contribute anything tomorrow. We have an afternoon tour, then I banquet. I'm on standby, so if I get bumped, you'll have something new to read.