Friday, June 27, 2008

Mars Soil Capable of Sustaining Plant Live...however,

I was walking Biff the Wonder Spaniel, leash in one hand, LA Times in the other. Yes, I'm that nimble. On page A14 (Friday, June 27, 2008) was an article about "flabbergasted" scientists who were analyzing the potential of Martian soil. But what the story didn't delve into was the implications for professional garden coaches. No surprise there!

The Phoenix lander at the Martian pole has just analyzed a sugar-cube sized soil sample and the business implications for my landscape architectural consulting services are somewhat mixed. With a surprisingly alkaline pH ranging between 8 and 9, the variety of ornamental plants that can be grown will be similar to what I'm already used to here in SoCal. Lots of Mediterranean plants fall in that range and that's what I'm all about. The article only discussed edibles, indicating that asparagus and green beans would be fine, but strawberries would be hard pressed to thrive. I can extrapolate from this information that my plant palette potential will be most comfortable.

Phoenix also detected magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride "all of which are useful in organic processes." However (and this is where my business model starts to fray a wee bit) there are no organic compounds. No carbon-based nothing. After doing a little number crunching and factoring the rising cost of gas, I can't imagine how I'd ship enough compost and manure to remedy this essential missing piece.

One more glitch: I usually charge 50% of my consulting rate as travel time for out-of-town clients. With flight times ranging from 6 to 9 months (not to mention the billable hours sucked up while trying to find parking at the airport), I'm wondering if there will be enough Martians of means to make this worthwhile.

I think I'll do some more market studies before I upload my ad to Craigslist.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mexican Evening Primrose and Osteospermum

Mexican Evening Primrose and Osteospermum
Originally uploaded by gardenwiseguy

I was poring through my photo library and this sweet image popped up. Two very simple, easy to grow plants coexisting side by side made such a lovely combination that I had to snap this shot. The pink Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera berlandieri) can become pretty invasive in a well-watered garden, but can be a great slope holder in the right circumstances. It's purple partner (Osteospermum fruticosum - African Daisy) is another tough guy, but you wouldn't know it from the flowers.

I'm going to revisit this planting to see how Darwinism applies - who will prevail? I'd love to see the Primose scampering through the Daisy, a tangle of the two colors playing off each other.

If you look closely, the margins of the Primrose petals deepen to a richer pink that makes a nice transition to the purple beyond.

Nothing profound here. Please move along. Thank you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fantasia Mushrooms in a Pink Polka Dot Plant

I run the plant rescue facility where I work at the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department. My official title is City Landscape Architect, but whenever an office-mate's gift orchid or grape ivy begins to succumb to benign neglect, guess who adopts them. It's not that I have a great affinity for house plants (although that's one reason I got interested in plants in the first place). I just have a great south-east facing window ledge along one side of my office. That, and I actually remember to water them when they need it. 

Enough preamble. A few months ago I became the adoptive daddy of a Pink Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya). The plant had all but died a number of times, being a moisture loving specimen that had become rootbound in its original pot. So I cut it back to the nubs, repotted it in a slightly larger pot and it's been going strong for a number of months. I watered it. It lived. End of story?

Nope. Earlier this week I went to water it, and lo and behold, this absolutely perfectly formed, pale yellow funky fungus had sprouted along the edge of the pot!

It's a pretty sure bet that some spores had taken up residence in the potting soil and the planets just happened to align the right way to have one of them sprout. Looking a little further into the pot, a similarly colored, miniature colony had also sprouted a few inches away.

These were just stubby little, headless creatures with minor variations in their form. 

Like a breathless little kid who'd just won the 3rd grade science fair, I carried this bit of botanical wonderment around the office, first to the co-worker who had surrendered her parental rights to the plant in the first place. The universal response was "That's not real, is it?" Not being an expert on these creatures and knowing that some mystery mushrooms had toxic tendencies, we all decided to view it from a responsible distance, rather than poke and prod. 

I wish I could claim responsibility for this little bit of eye candy, but except for watering the cute lil dickens, I deserve no special accolades. By this morning, it had flopped over, turned a zombie-like shade of gray, and the thrill was gone. I hope it had enough time (and libido) to spread a few more spores. It would be fun to get a rerun of fun. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Got Bored With My Template

Nothing new to post. Just got bored with my template so I switched to this one. The former bright green was starting to grate on my nerves and strain my eyes. So, being a landscape blogger, I have the requisite green theme; just a bit easier on the rods and cones.

Got some hot blog ideas blooming, including the surprise "Fantasia" mushroom that appeared overnight in my Pink Polka Dot plant on my office ledge.

Later, skaters

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Rated R - Horticultural Chain Saw Massacres

This blog is rated for Mature Audiences. Send the little ones out to play.

There are people out there who must hate plants and live to see their demise. There's no other explanation I can think of for the hideous photos you are about to see. Perhaps they were startled by a swaying willow tree when they were a child, or told gruesome stories about a mean thorny rose bush that eats little children. Why else would people do things like this to perfectly innocent plants?

I posit a few explanations...

No. 1: People who get paid to garden are actually plant janitors who feel that if they own pruning tools, they are obliged to use them regardless of the aesthetic results.

Fer instance...

(stub cuts, cylinders and blobs, oh my!)

...or this...
(started life as a birch tree, but something went terribly wrong)

No. 2: Rather than install plants after first considering their ultimate size, then placing them so they can grow unfettered as nature intended, someone thinks it would be fun to indiscriminately plant them into any spot in the garden, only later to be "modified" to fit the space (again ignoring the aesthetic result).

For example...

(Algerian Ivy in its natural habitat)

No. 3: On their planet, this is a form of humor...

(Doctor, can you do something about this lump in my throat?)

No. 4: There wasn't a big enough block of styrofoam to paint green and place at the Jack-In-The-Box drive-thru lane, so they were forced to do this to a real plant. Ah, nature!

(This is bound to bring in more burger fans)

So you see, there's always a perfectly good explanation for the visual blight we are continually subjected to. I hope this clarifies it for some of you. Just doing my part.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My 45 Minutes of Fame – From a Humble Blog

If Andy Warhol was correct - that "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" – I’m multiplying by three this week. Though this posting won’t be about my typical subjects, I know that a lot of my readers are fellow garden bloggers. It’s looking like writing is starting to expand my landscape architectural business considerably, so perhaps this bit of recent history will encourage some of you to expand your blogging talents in the pursuit of a higher profile writing endeavor.

I just got my third writing gig, this time for an eclectic on-line publication that caters to our little paradise of Santa Barbara. is a collection of local news stories, goofy contests, pet of the week stories, photo galleries, and special events coverage for my home town. Just who Ed is remains a mystery, but the misty legend continues to be a source of mystery for well-funded researchers.

I started this Garden Wise Guy blog just over a year ago, in May, 2007. Part of my motivation was to increase my consulting work and thanks to blogger Susan Harris at GardenRant, I realized that I was actually a garden coach. I was pretty much done with full-service landscape architectural services and needed to cultivate a more light-footed approach. Blogging seemed like a great was to do some guerilla marketing with zero dollar outlay.

About the same time, my Garden Wise Guys TV-show partner, Owen Dell, and I became the subject of Coastal Woman magazine, a regional publication geared toward entrepreneurial women. Owen and I were featured as “The Men We Love” (strictly platonic). We had an absolute blast during the interview with writer Nancy Shobe. After getting a few blog posts under my belt, I asked Nancy for a critique of my blog.

Lo and behold, she told me that the publisher of Coastal Woman had been considering a garden column and suggested I get in touch with her. Two e-mails later, I was writing “The Garden Coach” in exchange for advertising. 800 words of clever landscaping advice in exchange for thousands of eyeballs viewing my ad seemed like a no-brainer. The phone started ringing and jobs were coming my way.

Meanwhile, Owen, who’s even busier than I am, referred another local magazine publisher to me. Santa Barbara Homeowner is a mostly-advertising mag that’s direct-mailed to select zip codes in our area, offering materials and services for (you’ll never guess) homeowners. “Could you give me 1000 words every two months? Something that help people tackle their own landscape projects? And have fun with it.” said James Kappen, publisher. So far, I’ve tackled the topic of the role of color in the landscape, how to figure out the best landscape style for your home, and a few other subjects. I get a half-page ad and, again, the phone’s been ringing. Great, adventurous clients, too!

Yesterday, Edhat launched my first article. It’s just a quick “hello, this is who I am, here’s what I’ll be writing about.” But Ed has quite a tolerance for tall tales, bizarre facts and tongue-in-cheek satire. I think I’m up to it. My reward? A banner ad and links to my blog and business web site.

The challenge is finding three “voices” for three very different audiences. Needless to day, I’ve been spending some time at the local independent bookstore browsing and buying books about writing. We’ll see if it rubs off on my blogging.

So pop by a few of the sites and think about how blogging can not only link you to a world of amazing people, but put a few bucks in your bank account without having to sell vitamin supplement ads at your site.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is It Okay To Eat This?

It only looks like a scruptuous sorbet, but it's Tecoma smithii (Orange Bells). I conducted my end-of-class tour on Saturday and this amazing shrub was in full glory. I call it a shrub, because it's a shrub, but I'm working hard at turning it into a small multi-trunk tree in the focal point corner of my favorite client's yard. I visit their house twice a year to prune out a lot of volunteer sucker growth, am rewarded with a turkey sandwich (rye, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and Swiss - no mayo, PLEASE!).

We're gradually making headway on the structure after 5 years from a 5-gallon starter. It's now about 12 feet tall with a spread of about 10'.

But it's the marmalade-colored flowers that steal the show, surrounded in late summer by Salvia madrensis (Forsythia Sage) with it's lemon-yellow blossoms. Nummmmmmers!

Just wanted to share. Lots going on, but no time to write much right now. Hope this holds you.