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.