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.


Weeping Sore said...

You've got my enthusiastic vote to be the benevolent dictator. '

Your pics are gorgeous, and I love your comments. I fear you probably didn't have to go out of your way to find awardees.

You've inspired me to think more creatively about some of the landscape faux pas in my neighborhood - dead or mortally wounded trees especially.

Anonymous said...

Okay Billy, maybe you could have been the third garden designer on my show, "Garden Police!" You are merciless and with good reason. Great post on what not to do in the garden.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Fantastic! So lovely to follow your wit. The sad thing? S**t like this happens every 20' it seems. I have a neighber who just planted 5 'Fineline' buckthorn right up against their garage. Now, they don't get wide, 2' maybe, but that's all that's there, buckthorn for just the front 10' of the garage or so. Whatever--a beautiful shrub made to look like toe fungus.

Amy Stewart said...

Heh. Brilliant. You rock.

Aiyana said...

I must be unbalanced--I loved looking at these atrocities! I'm going to have to take some photos of Phoenix area uglies and feature an ugly post of my own! Some are so awful I have to laugh--others just piss me off.

Unknown said...

LOL! Amusing, as always. I wonder how many award-worthy mistakes I performed at my old house when I was just starting out? (A bunch, I'm sure.) Makes me want to leave a note for the "kids" down the street who planted 4 weeping cherry trees 2ft away from the sidewalk that goes up to the front of their house--2 on either side. I don't care how "dwarf" they get, you aren't going to be able to walk through there in a couple of years... and they have all kinds of open lawn to put those in if they really want some! I am afraid that they just haven't realized what they've done yet...

Garden Wise Guy said...

Blackswamp - I guess that to be completely fair and balanced (just like Fox News) I need to take some photos of the well-intentioned, completely vile landscape I infected my former clients with, when I was just learning the ropes. I can still remember one cavalcade of junipers (kind of a Heinz 57 variety mix) along a 4 foot wide bed in a front yard. It was about 30 years ago and I ran across the drawing in my old files.

If there is a just God somewhere, for this design alone I'll be roasted over juniper branches when I reach Hell. We learn by making mistakes - I got paid by check for mine.

Anonymous said...

This is the funniest dad gum thing I've ever read.

Mary Beth said...

THanks for my morning laugh! Can't wait to go back and check out last year's winners.

kate smudges said...

Sadly, you'll probably never run out of candidates for these awards. Maybe we should all do similar things in our respective areas. I wouldn't know where to start though ... I'd probably need to add a category for the worst-painted concrete patio stones (my latest pet peeve).

Garden Wise Guy said...

This from my friend Karen (who preferred not to create a Blogger identity - can't blame her. There are some pretty weird peeps around here)...


I am laughing so hard that I may not be able to function for several hours. As a ( will be done right or you will DIE) gardener and homeowner from Indiana (10 acres, 60 foot trees, one day mowing, one day weed-whipping per week, 20 years) I can only say that I love what you notice and what you say and how you say it.

Please write a book about anything so I can buy it and have you sign it so I can say I know you.

love, light and laughter,


lostlandscape said...

"Know your materials" seems to be the theme here. If something's small in a 1-gallon can why won't it stay that way forever?

I'm sure your #5 has a certain hideousity-ness about it in person but I'll have to admit to liking it at the same time...reminds me of the work of some of the modern European hedge people like Jacques least in the picture.

Anonymous said...

Will you sign my book too!

Anonymous said...

ow, ow, ow.... how can it hurt and be so funny at the same time?

Just discovered your blog through the magic of blotanical and all those other links, and i'm hooked.

Marie said...

As an East Coaster come late to the party, I appreciate these very much. This is a whole new ugly aesthetic.