Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fruity Street Trees? No Free Lunch!

Imagine that you're walking down the street and get an urge for a triple-scoop cone of Everybody Loves Rhubarb, Lumpy Gravy, and Cioppino Siciliano. The saliva floodgates burst. A nano-second later, in a voice oddly reminiscent of dear old mom, your macrobiotic-hi-fiber-omega-3 conscience interjects: "Have a piece of fruit. It's good for you."

As luck would have it, growing right there in the parkway is a Magical Fruit Cocktail Palm (Phoenix delmonteana). Clusters of familiarly labeled cans hang within reach. Why, there's even a hollow in the trunk containing a handy can opener!

"What an enlightened and generous place I live in," you think to yourself. "Which forward-thinking civic leaders had the foresight to use fruit trees as street trees? Not only are these trees doing their part cooling the urban heat-sink effect (which, in turn, reduces ambient temperatures and lessens our dependence on energy-hogging cooling systems), but I can also increase my fruit intake!"

[For the sake of brevity I will agree that canned fruit is inferior to real live stuff. But it was cuter and quicker to produce a graphic with cans of fruit cocktail than to futz around in Photoshop all day.]

Better yet, what if instead of magical palms, your community planted trees that actually bear life-giving, palate-tickling, colorful fruit? It stands to reason: If you're going to invest resources in planting, watering and pruning trees anyway, why not get something back?

Not Such A Peachy Idea

I called Ron Combs, City Arborist for the San Luis Obispo, inquiring if SLO had fruit trees in their public places. Aside from the pavement staining olives in Mission Plaza, Ron couldn't think of any fruit trees in his inventory. He did, however, use words like rotten, messy, slip and fall, gnats and rats. "The concept of edible street trees sounds great, but they come with problems," he said.

(I'm imagining the sidewalks during persimmon season.)

Get the rest of the scoop at

Let's Give Me Something To Write About

I love my readers - you folks rock. I ended last week's post with a plea for new blog topics and I wasn't disappointed. Well, that's not 100% right. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure many readers would find them interesting, but what these well-intentioned people don't realize is that some of their ideas require actual journalistic investigative reporting.

Which leads to the logical response "What the hell to you want from me? Professionalism?"

Here's the sitch: My typical month includes my bread-and-butter work as a landscape architect - you've probably seen my banner ad pop up here at Edhat from time to time. (Veiled threat: If you don't call about my design services soon, I'll drive past your house, take grainy black and white pictures and write terrible things about your garden in my next Crimes Against Horticulture article).

I'm also swamped with teaching, magazines writing, speaking gigs, the Garden Wise Guys TV show, playing drums with King Bee (the most fun I have without disrobing), family time, watching helplessly as my life get sucked into the Black Hole of Facebook, and following Biff the Wonder Spaniel's debris trail with a little blue bag.

I'm a busy guy - I've considering hiring a personal sleeper - so when my calendar reminds me that my Edhat deadline is barreling down and the wave of cold sweats subside, I spring into action and start writing.

Happily, there were quite a few doable story ideas in last week's comments. I'm excerpting them and responding below. Fortunately, this will be an easy column to write and I won't have to interview sources, travel or burn too many brain cells to meet my Thursday noon deadline, so here we go…

Mitzie ("I loved this article!") is new to Edhat and enjoyed the travelogue aspect of the last piece. "How about special botanical things to see…such as the best autumn leaves, succulent gardens in winter or wildflowers in spring." I'm up for the travelogues. I've pitched the idea of borrowing Ed's corporate jet and shadowing Anthony Bourdain No Reservations around the world, eating his leftovers, then breaking away for a garden visit in suburban Ouagadougou. I wrote about fall color last year (Keebler Elves and Chlorophyl), and have a few great sources for succulent gardens (this calls for a visit with my buddy Virginia Hayes, curator at Lotusland and columnist at the Independent and decades-long buddy).

Lots more great story ideas and comments at

Let Mr. Spock Choose Your Plants

Close your eyes. (Bad move - now you can't read this. Change of plans...OPEN your eyes. Drat! What if you don't see that I just typed "open your eyes"?)

Sorry, let's start over. Imagine that you're looking out the breakfast nook window when an 18-wheel tractor-trailer jumps the curb, it's back-up beeper piercing the early morning calm. Air brakes hiss and the engine revs. The bed tilts skyward. As the tailgate creaks, a river of ping-pong balls floods your front yard.

"What the...?!?"

You spring from the breakfast table as the truck pulls away. Tying your robe, you and your bunny slippers shuffle outside to inspect this curious cargo. Words are printed on each shiny orb: Miscanthus 'Morning Light' reads one, Cotoneaster dammeri, Artemisia schmidtiana 'Silver Mound', on and on, each sphere bearing the name of a different plant that grows in your region.

I don't know about you, but that's what it seems like when I start a new design project for a client - the realm of all possibilities. My Sunset Western Garden Book boasts "Over 8,000 Plants".

That's a smidge too much variety for the average residential lot. So how on Earth does an adventurous but rational gardener winnow all those tempting choices down to a manageable palette?

The Logic of Logic

Simple. Pop an old episode of Star Trek into the Blu-ray and unleash your uber-logical Mr. Spock. Shut down the "oh-but-it's-so-cute-with-its-sexy-maroon-leaf-bordered-with-a-darling-crinkly-chartreuse-leaf-margin" lobe of your brain. Delay your aesthetic gratification.

There's more to read at Fine Gardening...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dumber Than A Potted Plant? Not So Fast...

Out here in the far west, October is usually summer's last blast, but you wouldn't know it from the umbrella weather Lin and I ran into down San Diego way last weekend. Don't get me wrong - I love having to use the windshield wipers in our SoCal near-desert climate. An early start to the rainy season makes me happy as a banana slug in a redwood forest.

After a jolting blast of Peet's dark roast coffee and a couple of wrong turns on the freeway (so much for my iPhone MapQuest app) we made our way to Balboa Park, a 1200-acre cultural park that was originally the location of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and then the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition.

Not knowing quite where we were heading, we pulled into the first parking lot we saw, seeking the Museum of Photographic Arts. As we found our way through a newly planted garden between the buildings, there it was, framed in the arch of a colonnade - the 1915-era Botanical Building, one of the largest lath structures in the world.

The massive but graceful edifice houses more than 2100 permanent plants, mostly tropicals, some of which you might find in the houseplant section of your local garden shop. There were also a slew of specimens you probably wouldn't see unless you macheted your way into a jungle.

There's more at Fine Gardening...

Rain Dance

I'm a slug, not a lizard. I'd rather be under a boulder than baking on top of it. My ideal weather is the cool temps of a SoCal winter; my favorite sound is rain softly thumping on fallen leaves. That's when I work in the garden, go for long bike rides or read old issues of Fine Gardening.

It's too early to know if this will be a good rain year on the Left Coast, but whether Santa Barbara reaches our usual 18 inches or the stingy six of a few years back, doesn't it make sense to take advantage of every ounce we do receive?

With all the paved surfaces that surround us, it's amazing anything gets into the ground. Back in the heartland, you're "winterizing" your cars. I think we'd be wise to do the same for our gardens. So here are a few things you can do to make the most of every drop that falls on your property.

Let's start with that lawn.

Fundamental question. What does your lawn do for you? I'm not a complete anti-lawn zealot, mind you. If you've got kids who need somewhere to blow off some energy, or you're trying out for the Olympic croquet team, a lawn is the only practical surface. But if you don't use it, lose it-or at least downsize it.

Consider the monetary and environmental costs of a typical lawn. In the West, 60 percent of our residential water use is for lawns. The monthly water bill is only part of the equation: add the environmental cost of polluted run-off from fertilizers in our creeks and gas mowers that spew 10 times more emissions than a typical automobile and you can see why you might want to rethink your attachment to this big green beast.

Read more at Fine Gardening...

Dallas In September: Sweatier than A Bronco Rider's...

(You fill in the blank. This is a G-rated blog and I have a pretty vivid imagination.)

For all you folks who live where the summer norm is 90-plus temps and 2437.3% humidity, I am in awe of you. I've been back from the Garden Writers Association annual symposium in Dallas for a few weeks and I just don't know how y'all do it.

My raging souvenir cold has run its course, induced, no doubt, by slogging from the uber air conditioned hotel, to vegetable-crisper busses, to jungle-steamy-hot gardens best described as "air you can wear."

But rather than delve into the esoterica of what 600 garden writers do when they get together, I thought it would be informative to share some of the truly coolio products I ran across at the symposium's exhibit hall. The trade show gives nurseries, garden product sellers and professional organizations a chance to meet, greet and impress "garden communicators." Their hope is that we'll say nice things and create demand for their product. I'm game!

I didn't stop at every booth. I'm was sniffing out the products that fit my predisposition for the coolest, greenest, most sustainable ideas - or the ones lure me in with brimming bowls of handmade, Belgian dark chocolate.

So here's a digest of the offerings that made the biggest impression, the ones I hope you'll investigate further, and perhaps welcome into your own garden.

Read more at Fine Gardening...

More Trees Than You Can Shake A Stick At

Lin and I were in San Diego last weekend, delighting in the gloom and drizzle in Balboa Park, visiting family, and getting a crash course on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the San Diego Museum of Art.

On our slog home along the 405, we stopped in Costa Mesa to pay homage, and engage in some camera play, at a magical corporate plaza where landscape architecture meets sculptural art - Isamu Noguchi's California Scenario.

The gathering of sculptural icons amounts to an allegorical tale of water in California as it cascades down steep mountains, nurtures forests, flows through fields and deserts, and eventually is consumed by The City, disappearing into a dark slot in a glistening, low-slung, somewhat sinister looking pyramid.

I learned of this Noguchi work when I studied landscape architecture and have returned from time to time as a reminder of what design and art can say. I also enjoy seeing how the plantings have evolved and matured over the decades.

California Scenario is bounded by a parking structure and by two nothing-to-write-home-about glass office towers. The massive scale of these buildings is brilliantly balanced by Noguchi's command of space and scale.


The Buck Stops Where?

I'm such a wimp. In my pretend world I'm a tough-as-Sally-Hanson's nails investigative reporter, holding the heinous, Earth-defiling villains and water wasters under the searing white heat of my inquisition (which nobody expects). I slash with my rapier-like pen (actually, my 5-year-old, pre-Intel PowerBook G4 laptop keyboard, but that lacks poetic umph), striking fear and shame in their hearts. I'm the genetic mutation of Woodward, Bernstein, Stevie Segal and Godzilla.

My fantasy is broken when the phone rings. The guy in charge of facilities maintenance for a major Santa Barbara institution is just getting around to returning my call.

Sweet! I can lure him in, spring the trap and feel him squirm on the other end of the phone. Now where are my questions? I had them right here. Damn! I'll try to remember off the top of my head.

"Billy, so glad I caught up to you," he says cheerfully, unaware of the impending onslaught I have planned. "I'm so sorry I didn't get back to you last week. I was up to my eyebrows in meltdowns and intended to call. Then I ran across your message and called you right away. What can I do for you, buddy?"

Buddy? The guy sounds friendly, sincere. "Too bad Jack. Justice must be served and punishment meted out. I'm on a deadline for Edhat and I need answers!" No, I didn't actually say that, but I sure was thinking it, in a gruff, cigar-chomping tone.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

"It's Like Road Rage, Only Wetter" for Blog Action Day

I'm a bit stuck for time, so rather than develop a whole new blog post for this important occasion, I skimmed back over my water-related features and found this very appropriate blog post. It first appeared in the middle of summer 2009, but the sentiment is timely.

Road rage: A motorist’s uncontrolled anger usually provoked by the behavior of another driver. The affliction is officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “Water rage”, however, is not yet listed. But if it were, I’d probably be the poster child.

Recently, Biff the Wonder Spaniel and I were on dawn patrol when lo and behold, a sinuous finger of water was racing down the gutter, leaves riding the surge like a white-water kayak run. As cooling as that image might seem on a warm summer morning, I could feel my body temperature ratchet up and my pulse quicken. Images of an 8-ply, non-kink, heavy-duty, all-weather garden hose noose danced in my head—a textbook symptom of water rage.

The motel three blocks up the street was at it again, watering the four-foot wide strip of turf between the curb and gutter. 1950s-vintage sprinklers sprayed halfway into the street. To top it off, the gardener was hosing down the driveway, thumb pressed over the opening, stubbornly coaxing a few soggy leaves toward the gutter.

What a waste.

[You can finish reading this article, pick up a few tips about reducing or replacing your lawn, and even a link to a zany YouTube video about murdering your lawn by clicking on this link to my Fine Gardening blog.]|Start Petition

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jury Duty: My Horticultural Inspiration

Dateline: September 21, 2010; Santa Barbara County Courthouse - Jury Assembly Room
A few weeks ago, the U.S. Postal Service delivered an all-too-familiar, neatly folded brown and beige mailer. JURY SUMMONS. I get them every year; I'm special that way.

Perverse as it might sound, I used to look forward to jury duty. At least, that was the case when I was a municipal government employee. I've been called at least a dozen times, served on two local and two federal district court trials while receiving my full pay, playing hooky and spending many fascinating hours listening to testimony about international kidnapping, racist police abuse, brain surgery and a very twisted foster mom. I enjoyed using my Spock-like mental acuity to balance the scales of justice (I'm a Libra, after all).

This year? Not so much. In my post-layoff, Billy v2.0 life, I pretty much spend all my waking hours working, networking and engaging in shameless self-promotion.

If I'm not writing for Edhat, Fine Gardening Magazine, 805 Living, or putting the final edits on my Trader Joe's shopping list, I'm prepping for and teaching City College and adult education class, creating landscape designs for clients, shooting a TV show, or banging on my drums with King Bee. (I have people who eat and sleep for me.) So the prospect of eight days of testimony and who knows how many days of deliberation for an assault, battery and lewd conduct in an adult bookstore trial, for $15 a day plus mileage was about as attractive as the south end of a northbound peccary

The jury selection routine proceeded throughout the day without hearing my name. Though I tried paying attention to the interview questions thrown at the other prospective jurors, I was preoccupied thinking about my Thursday noon deadline for Edhat. What if I'm selected? What could I write about off the top of my head, in the scant two evenings I might have at my disposal?

Day one was almost over when I heard "William Goodnick." Taking my seat and grabbing the microphone, I was straight up with the Honorable Judge Ochoa. Name, rank, serial number, occupation, etc.

Lovely pics and more words at

Scotts-MiracleGro Stole My Ammo!

As you know, I'm not a big fan of water-sucking, fossil fuel-dependent, stream and lake-polluting lawns. My design practice is in Southern California where growing lush carpets of turf is as natural as Trump's comb-over. My distaste for strictly decorative lawns is one reason I'm a founding member of, a nationwide group dedicated to silencing the siren song of the perfect lawn.

And since I also love taking pot shots at those who I perceive as bad guys, imagine my delight when I saw that the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company was sponsoring breakfast at the annual Garden Writers Association symposium in Dallas last week. I mean these are the folks whose very existence has been built upon putting-green-perfect yards where weekend warriors get their NASCAR-meets-John-Deere jollies.

Eggs, taters, sausage and downright drinkable coffee were served, followed by a pitch from Jan Valentic, Sustainability Officer for Scotts. "Great," I thought, anticipating fuel to top off my next Molotov cocktail rant, "another corporate PowerPoint ‘greenwashing' indoctrination."

More at Fine Gardening...

Calling On The Capitol - DC Revisited

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but something's up. Why would those tricky devils at the Garden Writers Association derive so much pleasure from watching me perspire?

A little background: I joined and attended my first GWA annual symposium in 2008, when it was held in cool, drizzly Portland, Oregon. Since September is usually a hot month for Santa Barbara, I looked forward to traveling north, splashing in puddles and maybe having to wear a scarf!

What a great organization. Not only was I welcomed with open arms by the members and given the tools to launch my newfound career as a "real" writer, but they even provided a climate suitable for a banana slug like me.

Last year, it all changed - they had lured me in, then sprung the trap. My second GWA symposium was in Raleigh, North Carolina. The weather was gummy -- that's "muggy" spelled inside out. It wasn't all bad. There were lots of great people and great educational sessions, but then we'd get on a bus, tour a garden and I'd be reduced to a whimpering puddle of sweat.

But there was lots of good stuff going on in DC, too.... click and read on:

Monday, September 13, 2010

2010 Not So Beautiful Awards

Dateline: Dallas, TX, Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm sitting in room 511 at the Hyatt Regency, air conditioning set at a comfortable 72° while the remnants of Tropical Depression Hermine blow through. This is the week I attend the annual symposium for the Garden Writers Association, a professional organization dedicated to communicating the beauty of gardens in words, pictures, television and interpretive dance (good, you're paying attention).

I'm paralyzingly freaked out about the hot, muggy weather ahead. I spent much of last year's symposium touring gardens in Raleigh, North Carolina, feeling like a wet sponge in a microwave oven. At the end of the conference they announced that this year we'd be in Dallas, where it would be "hot, hot, hot! But it's a dry heat." Sure, and armadillo road kill tastes like truffles.

I tell myself that I'm just delaying the inevitable, but for now I have a good excuse for not leaving this vegetable crisper of a room: Ed needs this article by noon, tomorrow.

Why Now?

September is when Santa Barbara Beautiful gives out their annual awards for exemplary architecture, landscaping, public art and signs. Since 2008, I've been giving out my own Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards to help balance the ledger. Aside from the delirious endorphin rush I get from taking sarcastic shots at the f'ugliness that some people pass off as gardening, I also seek to enlighten readers to a better, smarter path that leads to more sustainable landscaping.

Category I: The Sisyphus Award

He's the mythological dude who spent his entire life (including federal holidays when lots of people get three day weekends) pushing a big muthuh of a boulder up Mount Ararat, only to have it roll back to the bottom, ad nauseum.

That's what's going on in this Chapala Street parkway strip near my house. Like clockwork, the plant janitor teaches the plants who's the boss, after which the lantana flips him the single digit salute and grows back to its intended size.

On the bright side, someone is getting a paycheck and putting shoes on their kid's feetsies for this perpetual dance. On the dark side, it looks really stupid. If you want to grow lantana (or any other woody ground cover that grows four feet across) in a narrow planter, space them four feet apart and at least two feet from the edges. They'll actually end up looking like plants and you won't be in a perpetual, fruitless struggle.

It gets better, a lot better and a lot weirder, too. Right this way...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Begonia-Induced Laryngitis at

“If I see one more #%@*?~ ________________ [insert name of overused, hackneyed, bored-to-death-with-it plant] in one more garden, I swear, I’ll SCREEEEAAAAMMMM!!!!.”
I’m a lying. It’s an empty threat. There are so many plants I’m stupefyingly weary of, I’d be struck mute by chronic laryngitis.

All you’d hear is a raspy sound -- like when you’ve waited 10,000 too many miles to get new brake pads. So I just shake my head, weep silently and write this column to vent my frustration.

As I started to say two weeks ago (read I’m Sick of These Plants, Aug. 14, 2010), there are a lot of plants I’m truly sick of seeing in gardens, but what can I do? They’re ubiquitous because they’re workhorses. They show up and clock in every day, they don’t ask for a raise, and they do the job you hire them to do.

See all the plants and comments at

Calling On The Capitol - DC Revisited

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but something’s up. Why would those tricky devils at the Garden Writers Association derive so much pleasure from watching me perspire?

A little background: I joined and attended my first GWA annual symposium in 2008, when it was held in cool, drizzly Portland, Oregon. Since September is usually a hot month for Santa Barbara, I looked forward to traveling north, splashing in puddles and maybe having to wear a scarf!

What a great organization. Not only was I welcomed with open arms by the members and given the tools to launch my newfound career as a “real” writer, but they even provided a climate suitable for a banana slug like me.

Lots o' pics and plenty more words at

Last year, it all changed – they had lured me in, then sprung the trap. My second GWA symposium was in Raleigh, North Carolina. The weather was gummy -- that’s “muggy” spelled inside out. It wasn’t all bad. There were lots of great people and great educational sessions, but then we’d get on a bus, tour a garden and I’d be reduced to a whimpering puddle of sweat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden :: Fine Gardening, August 13, 2010

Saturday was the big deal, horticulturally speaking. I've heard for years about the legendary 10,000-plus species collection ensconced at the 34-acre University of California Botanical Garden (UCBG) on the Berkeley campus. The main focus of the collection is on plants from the five Mediterranean climate regions: California, South Africa, Chile, southwest Australia/New Zealand, and the Mediterranean basin. But the UCBG also does a heck of a job with plants from eastern North America, Mexico/Central America, Asia and desert regions of the New World.

Lin took off with her camera and I headed into the wilds of the Garden with mine. These images are just a handful of the hundreds I snapped. There's no theme to the pictures - they're just the ones that jumped off the monitor.

Come tripping along...

Five Step Program for SMS - Help Is On The Way :: Fine Gardening, July 30, 2010

Do you suffer from SMS? Saturday Morning Syndrome is common among gardeners, but frequently goes undetected. The effects of SMS manifest as a garden filled with plants that appear to have been randomly catapulted from a speeding train, then smashed together into an undifferentiated mass of jumbled foliage and clashing colors.

Take this painless diagnostic test to learn if you are among the many gardeners who suffer from this embarrassing and expensive condition.

Do you find it impossible to resist the mysterious power that overtakes your steering wheel as you drive past a nursery?

Does your blood pressure shoot up like a bottle rocket on the 4th of July as you approach the shiny new plants cleverly arranged by the nursery's sorcerer, er, I mean merchandizing specialist?

Have you found yourself waking from a dreamlike state, driving home with dozens of strange plants lovingly strapped into the back seat of your car?
Do you find yourself stumbling around your yard, arms extended zombie-like, a plant in each hand, mumbling "Where can I put these?" as you search unsuccessfully for three square millimeters of bare space where you can squeeze in just one more plant?

Wait, there's more...

The American Meadow Garden by John Greenlee :: Fine Gardening, July 11, 2010

I couldn't wait to get my hot little hands on The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn (Timber Press) written by grass and meadow madman John Greenlee, and seductively photographed by Saxon Holt. The book promised tools for my landscape architect's bag of tricks-philosophical reassurance, design inspiration, a new palette of plants, how-to details.

I just read it. It delivered.
Trade In Your Old Lawn...
You know I'm no fan of traditional lawns. They're stultifyingly boring and often serve no useful purpose-anybody seen the neighborhood kids playing in the front yard lately? They consume too much stuff and foul our precious nest. NASA photos put the collective national lawn at upward of 30 million acres. We can get by with a lot less.

John Greenlee is a dynamo of energy and passion when it comes to ornamental grasses. I won't take up space with his bio. It's all in the book, starting with John's childhood memories of "the field", the only wild space in his SoCal cookie-cutter neighborhood.

John doesn't insist that everyone plow up their existing landscapes and blanket the continent with meadows, but he does make a compelling argument for meadow gardens in more landscapes.

More about this book...

Garden Design - A Dog's Eye View :: Fine Gardening, June 15, 2010

Guess what? Dogs aren't actually colorblind; they just have a lot less chromatic sensitivity than humans. That's why I don't let Biff the Wonder Spaniel pick my outfits. On the other hand, he might have a leg up on me (dog pun) when it comes to designing gardens.

When I start a new design, I picture the plants the same way Biff probably sees them. I imagine they will never bloom—that I'll have to rely on something other than floral color for interest. I select and combine plants using all their other visual qualities—the silhouette of the plant, its foliage shape, leaf size, density and surface texture, for example. The flowers ice the cake.

So I got to thinking. What if Biff took after his old man and created a garden blog for dogs? How would he describe the two most fundamental design principles that dogs and their bipedal slaves should master?

Cool images, thought-provoking words follow...

I'm Sick of These Plants! :: Edhat, August 14, 2010

Landscape designers can get a little full of themselves, me included. We know so many more plants than you do and can recite polysyllabic botanical names like Parthenocissus tricuspidata without coming up for air.

Discovering a cool, new Heuchera with crinkled, copper-colored leaves and chartreuse polka dots is like a crack head's deep toke smacking the brain with a dopamine two-by-four. Then comes the roller coaster ride - cosmic sensations of euphoria and empowerment, then the inevitable crushing crash. The story endlessly repeats as we find ourselves down some sketchy alley, peering over the nursery wall, scouting our next fix.

The trouble is, some of the shiny new plants designers get all throbby about haven't been around long enough to reliably know what happens ten years down the line.

Sometimes it's safer to work with the plants we see every day. There's a reason they're so damn ubiquitous. They're everywhere because they'll grow anywhere, whether you're a Master Gardener or a nursery newbie.

Sure, I would love to design every project as an artistic and botanical adventure, but that's not realistic. For many clients, it is preferable to create a garden filled with common, but thriving plants that require minimal resources, than to create a short-lived masterpiece of exotica that demands constant life-support.

I've got more to say here...

Masses of Grasses :: Edhat August 1, 2010

Gimme grasses. Gimme blades of green, gold, silver, striped, speckled, ghostly gray, purple. Grasses that fury in the wind and nod in the rain. Enchanted grasses that capture first and last light of day. Grasses of every size: ground cover types to walk on, giants to get lost in.

Grasses fit into every style of garden from Tarzan-meets-Gilligan's-Island-tropical to Muffin-Mouse-cottage.

And the flowers! No, not like your great granny's geraniums, all lipstick red and showy. I'm talking about delicate, smoky puffs of soft purple, or stiff, quaking stalks that sound like a prairie rattler.

Use them in big drifts or pop just one into a perennial bed for an explosion of contrast. Group different types of grasses together to create tapestries of subtle color shifts, or mash them up for high-contrast impact.

Get the idea? You need some ornamental grasses in your garden. If you find that when you're done reading this article, your pulse has quickened (or you've overflowed your drool cup) get these books (preferably at a local independently owned book store): Grasses-Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design by Nancy J Ondra (Storey Books), and The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, by John Greenlee (Rodale Press).

There's more to read...

By The Sea :: July 18, 2010

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see Rhynchelytrum nerviglume ‘Pink Crystals’ nodding in the breeze, I wonder if there’s a simple and sensitive procedure for enzymatic assays in single cells that can be applied to the measurement of beta-glucuronidase in single parenchymal cells of liver.

That’s because Linda Wudl hung up her career in biotechnology and, along with Fred, her organic chemist husband (I don’t mean her husband is organic, though I’m sure he is—I mean he is a chemist who works with optical and electro optical properties of processable conjugated polymers [but you probably would have figured that out for yourself], so I’ll finish off this sentence that’s already gone on WAAAY too long and has probably tempted you to click over to Ed’s story about that pinstriped, double breasted albino puffin that was spotted in a palo verde tree near El Pollo Loco last night…But I digress), founded Seaside Gardens, a one-of-a-kind nursery in Carpinteria, CA.

Read the rest...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who's Afraid Of A Little Orange?

It happens a lot. When I get to the place in the interview where I ask new design clients about their favorite colors, I help out by first explaining the difference between cool and warm colors, just to get a read on their preferences. Donning my professor's ascot and corduroy sport coat (with leather elbow patches), it unfolds something like this…

"Green, blue and violet are cool colors: They soothe and bring calm to the garden. In color theory terms, cool hues "recede", blending into the background and making no demands on our attention."

I pause, receiving a nod of comprehension from the client, then reload and start the second volley…

"On the other side of the color wheel are the warm colors: red, yellow and orange. They tend to be more vivid and add excitement to…"

I realize that she didn't hear a word after I mentioned The Color That Shall Not Be Spoken.

"No orange," she snaps, visibly shaken, but mustering a semblance of outward calm.

You'd think I'd said, "And over in that corner we'll put the zombie coop and feed them children and puppies from the neighborhood."

"No orange…please!"

I've got plenty more to say...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Art City Studio : : Hidden Art Trove in Ventura

Art City Studio (197 Dubbers St. Ventura, CA) is a fantasyland of stone-shafts of raw, rough, black-scarred basalt; twenty-foot towers of stacked travertine, internally lit, coming to life after dark.

For years, I've been hearing tales of Art City from landscape designers raving about the custom fountains their sculptors conjure up. Since I'm not only having my Edhat turf expanded 250%, but also writing for Conejo Valley-based 805 Living magazine, I decided to sniff around for a story.

This art lover's wonderland occupies a sizeable lot surrounded by unapologetic industrial buildings, stacks of shipping containers, and car mechanics. But you instantly know you're somewhere special. Along the sidewalk, rough-hewn columns of Kansas limestone, or "post rock", signal something unexpected in this invisible neighborhood.

Now it get interesting, so click...

Garden Like A Vulcan : : Let Logic Guide You

After I've been declared Supreme Ruler of the Universe, I'm making Star Trek's Mr. Spock my Magistrate of Sustainable Gardening. He'll be in charge of a new mega-bureaucracy with far-reaching powers to bring clear, logical thinking to landscape maintenance, because so much of the work people do in gardens makes no sense.

Take raking, for example.

CRS (Compulsive Raking Syndrome)

I don't understand what's so bad about seeing fallen foliage under plants. With all the zero tolerance raking going on you'd think someone had dumped radioactive, Ebola-infested asbestos everywhere. As my buddy Owen Dell says, "Why do you think they call them leaves? You're supposed to leave them there."

Week after week you or your gardener are out there scraping away with one of those harmless looking flex rakes, rounding up every leaf that had the temerity to fall in your garden, and then having the pile hauled away.

That's quite silly, really. Not only are leaves a multifaceted resource for the garden, but excessive raking will eventually compact the soil's surface into an impenetrable, crispy, lifeless crust.

Lots more to read here...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yo! Germinatrix – Here Ya Go…

Here’s something I’ve never done before—use my blog to respond to comments at Facebook. I need space and a few of the tools that Blogger gives me.

I’m here because I need to ‘splain wazzup. I’ve been good-naturedly called on the carpet for being what amounts to a wuss, a flip-flopper, a blade of grass (I’m kinda partial to Muhlenbergia pubscens, but had trouble with it rotting out at the crown, but I digress) that bends with the wind.

“Nuh, uh!” I reply!

[Author’s note: You might want to click away from this page now. This is going to get messy (it’s Saturday night and I’m not going to fine-tooth edit) and it’s probably of no interest to more than a handful of people. I’ll be pimping it around at Facebook and Twitter, so you can always pop off and find it later. No, I’m not trying to get rid of you; I like you—I really do like you. I’m just showing a little respect for your time and sensibilities.]

And we’re offfffffffff…..

Quick history: I do a shtick I call Crimes Against Horticulture (CAH). Anyone who follows my blogs or knows me from social media is in on it—pictures of bizarre, f'ugly-in-the-eyes-of-this-beholder-things that people do when they butcher their trees and shrubs, accompanied by my snarky comments.

Long story short(ish): Joe Lamp’l, creator and host of the new PBS sustainable gardening TV show, Growing A Greener World, wanted to have some fun with a pruning episode, so he invited me to meet him in L.A. this week to do a segment based on Crimes Against Horticulture. Am I stoked?

Joe figured we could have some fun, while at the same time passing along a useful message about selecting the right plant for the right place. The 5-minute tidbit ended with Joe and me standing at the base of a massive green cube of a tree I've dubbed Sponge Bob Square Tree. Bob was discovered by a fan of CAH who sent me a picture from his phone camera months ago. I was in awe! You’ll see why.

I forwarded the photo to Joe as an idea for the segment, got a thumbs up and headed to L.A. to scout locations.

One month later: We filmed our stuff last Thursday morning and had a blast. By that night, Joe had posted a picture at the show’s Facebook page with him and me standing in front of Sponge Bob. Comments flooded in.

Ivette Soler left some words, too. Ivette (aka The Germinatrix) is a delightful, passionate, funny (in a slightly Pythonesque sick and twisted way that I totally love), talented landscape designer. After a few years of reading each others tweets and blogs, we met this spring at the SF Flower & Garden Show. I love this lady and enjoy her wit and design eye.

What follows is a thread that starts with my first post and caption of Sponge Bob at Facebook, then an FB post with a pic from my recon trip, and finally Joe’s Facebook post.

[End of history lesson]

Andrew Cheeseman (you might know his wife, of Christy Wilhelmi, alias Gardenerd) sent me this photo of Sponge Bob. It’s not exactly hi-res, but I had a good idea what I was looking at.

My caption: “My quest for the perfect Crime Against Horticulture is now complete, thanks to Andrew Cheeseman, hubby of Christy Wilhelmi, alias Gardenerd. I don't yet know where this resides, but somewhere in Los Angeles, George Jetson's gardener his hovering above this tree, assuring that the top, sides and bottom are laser straight. Actually, I do appreciate the effort and finesse of the work. But it's still SOOOO FREAKING WEIRD!!!!”

[Link to FB post]

Ivette: One point to you—I start by calling it the “perfect crime,” most definitely categorizing it along with all the UFO-inspired junipers I bitch and moan about. That said, as you can see, I almost immediately soften (not in an erectile dysfunction way) and admit to appreciating the effort and finesse.

See, here’s the deal. Snark aside, I’m a very fair-minded guy. It probably comes from being of Vulcan parentage and being born under the sign of Libra. Even when I see a mind-numbing example of bone-headed horticultural acts, I understand that there are a whole lot of complex reasons for the act of butchery.

My Facebook friends’ comments for this photo ranged from humorous to shock to unabashed appreciation. I weighed in with this reply:

“I didn't sleep well last night. Visions of geometric shrubbery danced in my head. I'm soooo conflicted about this one: On the one hand, appreciation for the technical skill; on the other, confounded why someone would go to all this trouble, waste of resources, generation of greenwaste, consumption of fossil fuels and the noise and pollution.”

My bad. I made an unsubstantiated assumption that they were using environmentally harmful methods to maintain Sponge Bob. (Not very Spockian of me.) Turns out, after speaking with Mrs. Vasquez in my mangled Spanglish, I was wrong. Her hubz does the whole thing from a ladder with loppers and pole pruner--no gas, no fumes, no racket. I’m not sure if he composts the litter.

After my pilgrimage to L.A. to seek out Sponge Bob and see him in person, I posted a better photo...

...and included this comment…

“I'm actually here! If ever the letters O, M, F (especially F) and G belonged together, this is that time. You can keep Cheops' pyramid. Behold Sponge Bob Square Tree, soon to appear on Growing a Greener World.”

Though the caption can be taken as something other, the OMFG was an expression of awe, of ending my quest. It’s not a dig, since I go on to compare it to one of the Wonders of the World.

Link to second FB post]

So then Joe posted his thing on Thursday.

His caption:
“So here's how our morning started; Billy Goodnick taping a segment on crimes against horticulture and then, we get to meet Sponge Bob Squaretree in person. You never know who you're going to meet out here in L.A.!”

There’s a lot of chatter in the comments section and then it happens: The saloon doors swing open, the piano player stops just before the 8-bar turn-around going into the bridge of Monk’s Straight No Chaser, customers dive under tables, and Ivette ambles in, spurs jingle, jangle, jingling.

[Ivette's comment] I always thought "Crimes Against Horticulture" meant just that - that Billy was pointing out crimes against horticulture. He states that he doesn't like plants that are altered by shearing and pruning and that proper choice of plants is crucial so that excessive shearing doesn't need to happen. I always LIKED this tree…but was under the impression that Billy didn't and considered it a "Crime" ... what's with the switch-a-roo?...C'mon, Billy - what happened?

In a later exchange…

[Me] Ivette: read my original FB post about Sponge Bob. Never was heard a discouraging word.

[Ivette] OMFG! The "Cheops" comment! Come on!!! You are always so on point Billy!!! You KNOW what you meant ... the subtext was clear!!! I say snark away - but don't back off! We need our snarkers to HOLD THE LINE!!! …So what IS your position on excessive pruning? Maybe I have misread your mission statement, Wise Guy!!!

No switcheroo, my lovely. Per my previous testimony, I might have been conflicted about it, but I was far from ripping it a new orifice. As for stating that I don’t like altered plants, that’s still the case in my own design work and the gardens I’m attracted to, but I’m not opposed to pruning plants, with a few provisos:

ONE: Do it in an environmentally aware way, preferably without gas-powered tools, assure that the greenwaste doesn’t go to landfill, and eschew toxic products.

TWO: Use some artistry rather than the Random Form Generator app on your smartphone.

THREE: Use pruning methods that are appropriate to the specific growth habits of each plant. My Horticratic Oath says “do no harm.”

Here’s how Ivette and I left it at Joe’s post. I didn’t want to bog down his FB page any more, so here we are.

[Me]: gimme a day (too much going on right now and I'm writing from my phone while driving and deep-frying chicken) and I will reply at my blog or FB. I don't wanna weigh Joe down with this. I think you'll be good with my reply.

[Ivette] Wise Guy, I'm good with you ANY way - you know that! Now go handle your chicken!

[Me] NOW look what you did! Made me laugh so hard I dumped the boiling oil. I'm looking forward to putting this into written word.

Ivette’s possible double entendre aside, it was all good-natured fun, but I figure I needed to address her points. And I enjoy having the opportunity to clarify my thoughts for myself.

I think I’m done. Did anyone other than Ivette make it to the end?

Growing A Greener World website
Germinatrix blog
Gardenerd blog

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Famous Footwear - Me and Michelle Obama

I'm flattered to be in the same blog post as the First Lady. My new friend, Charlotte (Daffodil Planter) Germane, asked a few garden "rock stars" (I guess I'm a celeb now) to send her a pic and some words about their shoe-du-jour when it comes to the garden. Hands down (or is that feet), it's Crocs for me.

If you've got a minute, pop over for a fun read - also in the line-up are Angela Davis (blogging Gardening In My Rubber Boots), Shawna Coronado, Dianne Benson in her too, too sexy leopard skin footware, and, of course, the First Gardener.

Read it - Daffodil Planter

Friday, May 28, 2010

Growing A Greener World - Sustainable Comes to PBS

I’m going to let Joe Lamp’l, aka Joe Gardener, introduce himself: “I am a full-time gardening & sustainability communicator in the media. Former host of two national shows on DIY and PBS, I am currently producing and hosting a new show on this subject to begin airing nationally in spring, 2010.”

That’s from the little box on the left side of Joe’s Facebook screen. I wish he’d checked with me before posting it, because there’s some stuff he left out. Like the stuff about what a funny, friendly, nice, enlightened, sincere guy he is. I discovered that for myself last year when we got to hang out at the annual Garden Writers Association symposium in Raleigh. Here’s Laura Schaub's candid photo of Joe getting his cool on in my now notorious stingy-brim. Work it, Joe!
Joe’s newest, greenest, most ambitious TV adventure is Growing A Greener World, now showing on multiple public television (PBS) stations around the country. Joe’s impeccably produced, lusciously filmed HD video, 30-minute weekly show is a top-notch visual treat, but it’s the content that has me so excited.

I’m all about spreading the word on sustainability and praise Joe for this show. In his capacity as executive producer and on-camera host, Joe turns the camera on people, organization and events that are making a difference in our world, focusing on gardens and horticulture. The goal of the show is to raise awareness about the environment, and to motivate viewers to be good stewards of the planet.

See what makes Joe's show so cool at my Cool Green Gardens blog at Fine Gardening.

Urbanite - A New Mineral?

Even if you were paying really good attention in your Geology 101 class, you probably haven’t heard of urbanite. It comes in almost any color you can imagine, sits conveniently on the earth’s surface waiting to be loaded on a truck, and is as hard as concrete.

That’s cuz it IS concrete—recycled slabs of pavement seeking a second career. It makes sense to put such a durable and multi-use material back to work, instead of dumping it into landfills, then mining and manufacturing more.

Urbanite has lots of uses in the garden, as I was reminded on my Open Days garden tour in Pasadena last month. If you can build something with flagstone, you can generally substitute urbanite at a much reduced cost. It’s free, since scrap concrete is usually seen as a waste product that has to be disposed of. Most of the expense is in short-distance transportation and labor for installation. Better yet, if the concrete is from your former cracked driveway or patio, you can even scratch the cost of loading and transport.

See what else you can do with broken concrete at Cool Green Gardens

Severe Cutbacks

A few weeks ago I was taken to task about my word choice. It seems, in the opinion of more than one reader, that using "sucks" when describing many of the gardens I see might prevent me from reaching a wider audience.

I also mused about what a wonderful world it would be if we could eliminate gas-fueled tools. A reader offered, "Pretty good stuff. But I'd tone down the attack on folks who use power tools…I don't use chemicals in the garden, but do use gas in the mowers. I'm a sinner, not a saint."

Mae West allusion aside, I guess should set the record straight. I know that power tools are here to stay - they're just so damn convenient.

[Darn it! I said "damn". That pretty much locks up spending eternity in H-E Double Hockey Sticks.]

I've gotta admit, power tools are fast, convenient and allows a gardener to keep his monthly charges down. I only wish the guys wielding these tools had a microgram of understanding about plant physiology. As long as I'm dreaming, what if they had imagination and a sense of play?

Shear Madness - Plant Physiology 101

Whether it's you or a hired gardener shearing a hedge, keep in mind that leaves are the solar collectors that drive the plant's engine. Sunlight provides energy to convert carbon dioxide to carbohydrates, the food the plant needs to survive. If you're continually shearing off the productive leaves, it's like throwing a blanket over your solar collectors.

Read the rest and check out the delightful pruning fantasies at

Nibbling Through the Nosh-O-Sphere

You're probably a few months from that frightful moment when you machete your way to the back of your veggie bed, lift an umbrella-sized leaf and behold a zucchini big enough to have its own zip code. I don't know if this is an urban legend or something I heard on A Prairie Home Companion, but there's supposedly this town in Wisconsin (or San Diego or something) where at the end of summer, when the garden is pumping on all 12 cylinders, people sneak under stealth of night, dumping their unwanted green bioblimps on their neighbor's porch. The neighbor, in turn, fattens the collection with a few of their own and then tiptoes away on their own ninja escapade.

The Burden of Bounty

It's easy to go overboard planting fruit trees and other edibles, only to find that you'd have to be a reality-TV family like Kate & Nate and Their Horde of 38, to eat everything you've grown. Simpler to find a willing recipient for your overstock and find something else to feel guilty about.

You can find a welcoming home for your extra edibles by checking out what Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns is doing to make our area a healthier, better connected, sustainable community.

See how you can do this in your own neck of the woods - In The Garden of Ed

My Ten Commandments (Minus the Burning Bush)

This is my 50th blog post at Edhat. Overlooking my schizophrenic swings between writer's block and the fear of numbing repetition, blogging for Ed has made for a jolly good time.

Writing has been therapeutic. Putting my thoughts into words forces me to examine my beliefs about beauty, purpose and sustainability. Along the way, I have either confirmed what I already thought to be true, or reexamined long-held beliefs and come away with a fresh perspective.

Stupid = Ugly

Most gardens I see are either blah or they outright suck. If they were just ugly, I wouldn't be so pissing furious driving through suburban neighborhoods. After all, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. What one person sees as stunningly beautiful can trigger their neighbor's gag reflex.

Read the rest at Garden of Ed

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Very First Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour!

True confessions: Last Sunday was the first time I attended a Garden Conservancy Open Days tour.

It was all Lin’s idea. After reading an eye-catching article in the Los Angeles Times, my spousal support unit suggested we spend the a next Sunday in Pasadena, strolling other people’s gardens (without fear of getting arrested for trespassing). No way I could turn down an offer like that.

That’s what’s learned was so cool about Open Days, a program that, since 1995, has allowed folks like you and me – and about a million others – to wander through more than 3,000 private gardens around the country. It’s the perfect marriage: Visitors pick up ideas for their own gardens, meet lots of like-minded garden enthusiasts and talk to designers.

And the Conservancy benefits by raising money and increasing public awareness of their primary mission: “…preserving exceptional American gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public. We seek to develop and deepen public appreciation of gardens as integral elements of our national artistic and cultural heritage.”

One thing I like about garden tours is the opportunity to take a pazillion digital pictures and write blog posts about all the fun I had.

Here's the scoop on the rest of the tour at my Fine Gardening

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wastewater No. 5 or Eau de Toilette?

What possessed Chanel and all the other tres continental Parisienne companies to think that splashing water from the potty behind your ears will get you laid? "Eau de toilette" translates to toilet water, plain and simple, but if you say it in French, maybe it sounds romantic.

But I'm not concerned with the $800 per ounce kind they sell at Neiman-Marcus. This week, I'm writing about wastewater, wee-wee, piddle, poopie or whatever euphemism soothes your sensibilities.

Here's the rest of on

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dinosaur Garden By Bay Area Kids

On my second day in the cavernous halls of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, I discovered Sproutopia in a generous side room. The folks at the show thoughtfully created a space where the darling munchkins could learn while blowing off a little steam. There were kids jumping on beanbag chairs, a too-cool collection of carnivorous plants, and tables loaded with miniature gardens. It was those little tabletop worlds, created by students around the Bay Area, that lured me in.

Come join the fun! Read on...

Did You Make It To The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show?

What a week I had at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show last month. Aside from the Tweet-ups with friends I've never met and the side-trips to some of the finest gardens in the country, I got to poke around the show for four days!

If you've never been to a full-fledged garden show before, you'll enjoy reading about the exhibits, products and very cool, actively green people I met along the way.

Read the real deal at my Cool Green Gardens blog at Fine Gardening!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I Discovered A New Plant!

Have you dreamed of having a plant named after you? Buddleia ‘Bubbah’s Blush’ or Marrubium ‘Mandy’s Madness’, maybe?

Perhaps my time has come.

Tennisia goodnickii ‘Cool Green Gardens’ has a nice lilt. Not that I’ll do the final naming of the never-before-seen tree in my new client’s garden. Okay, it wasn’t a whole tree, but you’ll see what I mean.

At first, the magnitude of my discovery didn’t compute. I at a client’s property dragging a measuring tape with my right hand, scribbling numbers with my left, and video-recording with the other.

Read the rest...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Wanted To Call This Post "A Tale of Two Titties"

I don't know how many adult video stores also feature well-designed gardens, but Santa Barbara's got one. And I found it purely by accident while I was capturing a few more images of moronic Crimes Against Horticulture next door.

It might be all about erotic gizmos and gadgets inside the Riviera Adult Superstore, but outside is an exquisitely restful, well-designed entry garden.

Who'da thunk it?

Excerpt: The garden sits in front of the Riviera Adult Superstore--the Blockbuster for lonely guys; the Toys R' Us for consenting adults. I stood paralyzed in the driveway that separates two botanical worlds: Looking east, a garden worthy of Hannibal Lecter; to the west, Lao Tsu.

Now, turn down the lights, put your favorite Barry White album on and click here to read the rest.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pot Dispensaries of Santa Barbara

Author's Note: One of the fun things about writing for Edhat readers in my hometown of Santa Barbara is that I can title my blog "Pot Dispensaries" and no one bats an eye. Sure, the picture is a dead giveaway, but much like naming your band "Free Beer" so folks will mob your gigs, there's nothing like a provocative headline to suck all those prurient readers in.

Here's how I got it started...

Last week the Obama administration signaled a more lax attitude toward pot dispensaries. I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling a dark cloak lifting from my conscience. No longer must I drive with one eye on the rear view mirror, one on the road and the other on my incoming Twitter feed. After decades of living in the shadows, I'll be hanging up my Unabomber hoodie. "Gimme that 28-inch Vaso Louis terracotta!" I'll say, head held high.

Flower pots are nothing new. Whether it's the empty milk carton I used to sprout an avocado pit for my third-grade science project or an exotic high-fired, crackle-glazed urn from China, there are hundreds of reasons to grow plants above ground.

Click through for the whole article and luscious pics.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Looking at Green Through Rose Colored Glasses

I'm all for making the world a better place and the buzz word for getting there seems to be "green." But who decides what passes for green? No, I don't want another agency certifying who is and who isn't. But Jeez Louise, can't we tighten the definition to exclude healing crystals, eco-friendly dog obedience classes and all the other New Age crap that some folks try to foist on us?

This blog post is a follow-up to my trip to the LA Go Green Expo, which was 90% supah dupah and dead-on in my book. But I had to have a LITTLE fun. And Ed Begley Jr. just qualified for the title of "Green Mensch" and all around fun guy.

Read the rest at my Fine Gardening blog...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

True Confessions - Honest Scrap

If you say the title fast, it sounds like Honest Crap - sort of an oxymoron. Anyway, Barbara Wise at her BWiseGardening blog, wrote a revealing "things you probably don't know about me" post as part of the Honest Scrap Awards. It goes something like this...The award has two components: First, you list ten honest, interesting things about yourself and then you "present the award" to seven other bloggers. It's more "tag, you're it" than an award, but here goes.

I'm injecting the truth serum now and hoping the statute of limitations has run out on a few of these tidbits.

1. In my rock 'n roll drumming days, I worked in Las Vegas, Little Richard came to hear us, joined us on stage and I got to play with drums behind him.

2. Staying with the rock & roll theme, my high school band, A Little Bit of Sound, won the biggest battle of the bands in SoCal. That year we opened for The Doors in San Diego.

3. The door that opened my life to horticulture can, in part, be traced back to collecting rocks at the beach under the influence of some hallucinogenic substance. Wet rocks > make a turtle bowl from a bonsai pot > pot leaked > keep the pot > make a bonsai > looks pretty damn good > become a landscape architect (left out a few steps).

4. If I could get all the necessary nutrition I needed from only one food source, it would have to be spumoni ice cream.

5. When I was in 9th grade, I set off a smoke bomb in my own locker--MORON! My geometry teacher came out of his class, saw the smoke, pulled the fire alarm and shut down the school. Got called to the Boys VP office. Denied everything. Never got called back. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

6. After a show with different band in Oakland, CA, went back to audience member Black Panther Huey Newton's penthouse on Lake Merritt and hung til dawn talking politics.

7. While in that same band (The Sisters Love, Motown), we toured with and opened for the Jackson Five. That's when Michael was still sorta normal.

8. While taking a bus from Athens to Patras in 1970, I met a Brit and told him I was from California. Like a fool, he stated, "Then you must know Alan Schwartz." Alan Schwartz lived around the corner from me.

9. I can talk exactly like Droopy, the cartoon dog. 'Cept there's just not much call for it.

10. I'd rather spend a night with a funky bassist than with professional call girl. Yes, funk drumming is that much fun.

Bloggers I'm tagging (don't feel compelled to meet this high level of honesty and candor):

1. Stephanie Martin: On The Way To My Shoes
2. Jayme Jenkins: Nest In Style
3. Laura Matthews: Punk Rock Gardens
4. Owen Dell: The Earthworm's Lair
5. Ivette Soler: The Germinatrix
6. Ross Nevin: Landscape Design
7. Duncan Brine: Landscape Large

Y'all have fun, ya hear?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When Planets Align - Me and Shirley

Every once in a while someone comes into your life who is just meant to be there. A few years ago, I met Shirley Bovshow, first via comments on each other's blogs, then dimply face to scruffy forgot-to-shave face at the Portland Garden Writers Symposium in 2008. It was like we'd know each other since we were kids.

Ever since, Shirley (the Brooklyn boy in me pronounces it SHOOOY-lee) and I have been looking out for each other, doing video projects at her skyrocketing Garden World Report online TV project and wherever else we can team up.

This weekend, the Bovshow kid told me she'd be attend the Go Green Expo in Los Angeles. Every imaginable "green" living product and service under one roof. I'll be donning my stingy brim, filling my hip flask with a full dose of smarminess and see what kind of useful information we can report to you from the show.

For more info about what's going on and what to expect from this gruesome twosome, click over to Shirley's hand-crafted, perfectly seasoned Edenmaker blog.

Hope to see you at the Expo.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The SF Flower & Garden Show is Just Around the Corner

I am SOOOO looking forward to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show this year. Although I lived in the Bay Area for a while, I finally made my first visit to the show last year, and boy, was it worth my while...

...Embarrassing as it is to admit this, last year’s SFFGS was the first “real” garden show I’ve been to in my decades-long career in the landscape biz. I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. Aside from the great visual displays, there were hundreds of product and nursery booths with experts in every imaginable aspect of gardening.

Here's the rest of the article at Fine Gardening magazine...come join me in SF?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lift a Fig Leave and What Do You Hope To See?

I enjoy being a garden writer. But sometimes I long to create something that gets readers all hot and bothered the old fashion way, with some sexy, steamy heat.

Today I got my inspiration. While walking Biff the Wonder Spaniel, I espied a flagrant act of botanical erotica. As I scrambled to capture this public display on my camera, images of tattered, torrid romance novels cartwheeled past my mind’s eye.

You know, like the paperbacks with the square jawed hero, blond hair blowing Favio-like, poofy pirate shirt ripped to the navel. And always the ravaged, redhead damsel nearly collapsed in his sinewy, suntanned arms.

There's more hot and steamy stuff here>>>

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some Real Crap Passes for Landscaping at the Malls

If I were an actual journalist, I'd make phone calls, figure out who the landscape designers were, interview the person in charge of maintenance and gain an understanding of the constraints they have to deal with. After all, every design problem is a series of compromises that hopefully lead to the best possible solution, diluted as it may be. No one expects the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (or the Spanish Inquisition!).

But gimme a frickin break, will ya? It looks like someone devised a rubber stamp that brainlessly repeated the same boring handful of plants everywhere, most of which have no coherent theme or connection. It's part "cottagey" with pink roses and variegated English ivy, incongruously slammed together in Mediterranean-style rolled rim pots.

Read the rest at

Friday, January 1, 2010

When Bad Taste Meet Power Tools at Fine Gardening

[If you didn't see this article at my Fine Gardening blog, here's a second chance...]

What better way to close this tumultuous last year of the first decade of the 21st century than by writing a “list” article? You’ve probably read your share of them: Top 100 Tech Toys, or 50 Celebrity Arrests For Acting Foolish In Public, or 10 iPhone Apps To Improve Your Dental Hygiene.

Now it’s my turn. Since starting this Cool Green Gardens blog in April I’ve written about water conservation, helpful design ideas for your garden, posted a video interview about coyote pee and shared just plain beautiful images of enchanting gardens.

I enjoy bringing you that kinda stuff. But deep inside me, pulsing like trapped magma, beats the heart of a smartass garden critic. This dark side was revealed in my June 5 blog titled Why Not Replace Your Plants With Styrofoam? in which I threw virtual rotten eggs at the worst examples of ugliness and environmentally bone-headed gardening practices. Boy, did THAT attract an avalanche of comments.

So why not do it again!

I'll fill you in on the rest of the bizarre stuff right here.