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.