Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm Beating Up On Lawns, Again

As I read Susan Harris' blog post at Garden Rant, I couldn't help but think about how successful the big lawn-care chemical companies have been at brainwashing the masses. It's no wonder they succeeded, what with the millions of advertising dollars they throw into their multi-billion dollar business.

Dandelions get a bad rap because once the suburban migration started after World War II, these corporate merchants of everything toxic launched campaigns to convince homeowners that the only way to be a responsible member of society (and avoid the disdain of their neighbors) was to aspire to that monotonous, imagination-free dead zone called the perfect lawn.

They convinced almost everyone that dandelions - those little grantors of kids' wishes that send hundreds of seed-bearing parasols drifting on the breeze - were the enemy. Actually, it's mostly dudes who can't leave their Hot Wheels obsession on the third grade playground, so they get their testosterone fix wheeling about on big-kid mowers - watch the commercials and tell me I'm wrong.

This rant ain't over yet... read more.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sprechen sie San Luis Obispo?

Sometimes I think Ed is just out to make me feel guilty. It's not enough that every two weeks since 2008 I've had to come up with a thousand Pulitzer-worthy words and images to educate, entertain and transform the lives of my Santa Barbara readers. (Note to award committee - I've had my mantle reinforced, so there's no need to put off your decision for 2011.)
To add to my burden, Ed the Intrepid recently expanded his cyber-reach into new territories, where denizens practice their mysterious rituals. So now I feel pressured to investigate topics that Santa Lewis Obispites and Venturinians will find interesting.

So a few weeks ago, after finding a handy English to SLO phrase book and suffering through the battery of inoculations, I set off to points north on a sunny Friday morning, slowed only by the occasional border crossing check point. Two days later, I'd put on a few hundred miles (I made it to where the Bering Strait land bridge once connected Cambria with Asia), and crammed my notebook and camera with lots o' groovy stuff. I'll write about all of my adventures, eventually, but for now, let me tell you about Transitions Mental Health Association and the great work they're doing for folks in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

As described at their website, Transitions is "a non-profit organization committed to reducing the stigma of mental illnesses, maximizing personal potential and providing innovative mental health services to individuals and families in need."

There's lots more to see at the rest of this article...

Lotusland: All Those Smarts (And Pretty, Too!)

You probably went to high school with someone like her: Cover girl looks, aced every exam with her frontal lobe tied behind her back, and tales of her "interesting" past.

That's a lot like what I found when I visited the Ganna Walska Lotusland new and improved website - beauty, smarts, and a tantalizing back-story. Just in time for spring, their on-line makeover has a snappy fresh look, alluring garden scenes, easy-to-drive navigation, and is bubbling over with sustainable landscaping ideas you can use in your own garden.

Lotusland, a non-profit foundation established after Madame Ganna Walska's 1984 death, at age 97, is must-see bucket-list material, so don't make any excuses for denying yourself another season without a visit. The docents are charming and well informed, sometimes entertaining visitors with Madame Ganna Walskas's intriguing biography - a Polish opera singer with larger-than-life garden ambitions, and who married well and often.

See what Lotusland's website has in store...

SJKRAIGYTAQ: AKA Botanic Where Is It

Ed's got WWII (Wednesday Where Is It?), his weekly schtick, posting brain-baffling photos for readers to locate and identify. And as the month draws to a close, we congratulate the two-time winner of the 2011 March Edness: Holazola did it again, with Penelope805 and Camster receiving honorable mention. [Esoteric Factoid: My wife, Lin, took first place in 2007, and I finished a close second!]

I thought it would be fun to have my own contest, stealing the format that Ed uses. So I'm posting obscure photos from a botanical perspective, then having y'all try to guess where the photo was taken. ‘Cept Ed has mastered the bits, bytes and blops of web programming needed to pull this seemingly simple formatting together, and I don't know squat. What to do?

So instead, behold my simplified, slightly less challenging version, SJKRAIGYTAQ (Sunday Just Keep Reading And I'll Give You The Answers Quiz). The tricky thing is that all the answers are at the end, printed upside down, just like in a kid's puzzle book. You'll have your choice of hanging upside down from a trapeze and reading the answer, or flipping your monitor upside down.

Nine photos to entice and mystify at the rest of this article, at

Alice By Morning Light: Rays of Optimism

Predawn, Tuesday, April 12, 2011: Eyes open, pulse elevates. Fifty-two hours until I'll click the SEND button.

Topic. I need something to write about. I summon my muse; crickets. Evel Knievel couldn't jump a fresh story idea across my synaptic chasms. Last resort - grab the camera, run over to Alice and write something informative about plants. People like that.

But before I entertain, edify, and enthrall you with the charms of Alice Keck Park's lovely legacy, fast-forward a few hours. Just as I finish my photo-shoot, in comes a text message from Nancy Rapp, my former boss and Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department Director: "We confirmed for this morning?" Crap! That's right.

8:45 AM, Tuesday, April 12, 20011: Peet's downtown back patio, trusty Biff the Wonder Spaniel in tow, decaf (don't wanna fool with that restraining order). Nancy and I get caught up on personal and P&R stuff, then get down to the morning's agenda...

As you might imagine, I figured out what to write about, or I wouldn't be posting this. Lots of gorgeous pictures and enticing plant info lies ahead...

Before You Dig, Get "Fit To Garden"

Riddle: What do you get when you cross an enthusiastic vegetable-growing Master Gardener with a passionately energetic, camera-ready physical therapist?

Answer: None other than Stacy Walters, the creative force behind Fit to Garden, a program designed to help gardeners stay in the garden, not flat on their backs under a mountain of ice packs.

I was inspired to write about Stacy after reading this Facebook post by my dear friend, Stephanie: "Last of my seeds arrived today. Will get my seeds started in their trays this weekend. Will be ready after the last frost date."
Stephanie lives just outside of Boulder, CO. Now, I don't want to gloat, but out here in Santa Barbara, "last frost date" makes about as much sense as "beginning of breathing season." I forget that most of you have recently experienced that season they call winter. For months your "gardening" has consisted of rereading the tattered pages of last summer's Fine Gardening issue for the hundredth time, ordering this year's horticultural adventures from seed catalogs, and gapping the spark plugs in your trusty Fiskar's PowerGear Bypass Pruners.

See what Stacy's Fit to Garden website can do for you at

Lessons From Legendary Flora Grubb Gardens

Apologies for being a year late with this post. Good intentions and all that, but I'm here to redeem myself.

Last year, while attending the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, a Bay Area friend lured me to Flora Grubb Gardens. "You HAVE to go. You'll go nuts!" she'd breathlessly implored me for years.

On my 2010 trip, Mara and I hooked up at Flora's. The place just knocked me out (which might explain why I spaced for a year and didn't blog a word about my visit).

It's about time I paid homage to The Divine Ms. Grubb and her matchless approach to horticulture, gardens, and the educational value of inspiring displays.

More luscious pictures and useful design lessons at my Fine Gardening blog...