Friday, February 24, 2012

Motel Landscaping with a Santa Barbara Vibe

Got guests visiting the Central Coast for the first time this holiday season? If they hail from the land of the ice and snow, are you hoping for 80-degree days just so you can get your smirk on? I can only imagine what it's like for visitors who just spent their upstate Michigan morning flame-throwing through the glacier blocking their driveway, and a few hours later, being greeted by sky-scraping palm trees, luxuriant birds of paradise, and exotic succulents dotting the landscape.

Santa Barbara is a tourist-oriented town, and as you'd expect, lots of hotels and inns cultivate that Santa Barbara look: whitewashed stucco walls and red tile roofs, wrought iron grills and polychromatic Moorish tile patterns. Sadly though, very few hotels have carried that look into their landscaping. I see lots of sickly rose bushes poked here and there, clots of misshapen junipers abound, and for that little splash of color, a pot with decades-old geraniums wheezing their last hurrah. But very few seem to embrace our rich plant palette and used it to enhance the ambiance of their grounds. I can't think of a better way to make a long-lasting impression on their guests.

I've thought about writing about hotel gardens ever since the Lemon Tree Inn ( reinvented themselves a few years back. They enlisted the adventurous landscape design talents of Eric Nagelmann, the creative force behind Ganna Walska Lotusland's extraordinary cactus garden. Eric has a great eye for dramatic, high contrast design and an encyclopedic knowledge of some out-of-left-field plants we generally don't see in commercial landscapes.

See the botanical fun some Santa Barbara lodgings are having at

Trinity Gardens – Open Hearts & Dirty Fingernails

Something wonderful happens when people who care about other people meet in a garden. In this case, a handful of Trinity Lutheran Church members are plowing forward with their vision to grow food for the needy, teach kids about healthy eating, and provide a space where locals learn to cultivate hand-grown food.

Earlier this week, I was standing at the south end of the church's parking lot at 909 North La Cumbre Road, getting the grand tour from Judy Sims -- a legend in Santa Barbara's school gardening movement -- and Linda Vogel, two of the dynamos behind Trinity Gardens.

According to their map of the future garden, this flat, stubbly, gopher-pocked plateau will house a varmint-proofed one-acre vegetable garden divided into 33 plots. Other features include a fishpond, tool shed, shade structure, propagation bed, and composting station. Just down the east-facing slope, fruit will blossom and ripen in the orchard. Along the perimeter, they envision a buffer of California native plants used by the Chumash who lived off this land.

Read on to find out how to get involved in Trinity Garden's local efforts...

Boost Your Garden Design Skills and Save Money at a Flower and Garden Show

What if you could complete a master garden design course in a day? That's what you get when you attend one of the major flower and garden shows in anticipation of spring. Certainly, looking through web sites, books, and magazines are useful ways to find inspiration, but walking through dozens of gardens in a day (sans bone chilling winds and snow drifts) is my idea of comfort and efficiency.

If you live anywhere near Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco or any of the big-time, celebrity-studded venues, you'll find the inspiration to push your design chops to the next level. True confession: I've only been attending shows for a few years, mainly to find fresh ideas to share with my readers. But even though I've been designing gardens since the 70s, each time I visit a show, I come away with new tricks, discover hot plants, and find innovative products to use in my own clients' gardens.
(And this year, you can find me sharing my design wisdom at two West Coast shows, but more on that in a minute.)

My intent isn't to diss the smaller regional shows scattered around the country, but the resource pool of top-of-their game designers, garden creators, and speakers can be limited. On the other hand, regional shows feature local professionals intimately aware of the opportunities and challenges of gardening right where you live. If a local home and garden show is as far as your spare time and budget can take you, by all means, get thee to a nearby exhibit hall and soak up everything you can. The following advice applies regardless:

Didn't mean to tease, but you'll have to click to get the good advice at my January 16, 2012, Fine Gardening blog post.

America In Bloom: Rebuilding Communities a Shovelful at a Time

I've got a project I'd like you to consider as 2012 gets rolling. It'll get you into gardening mode long before freeze warnings are a distant memory, and quite possibly make you and your gardening pals local heroes. Let me explain.

Anthropologists tell us that agriculture is the basis of civilization. Instead of full-time hunting and gathering, humans literally put down roots, opening the way for cultivation of crops and domestication of animals. This fundamental shift led to spare time for specialists like bakers, animal-skin tanners, and video game designers.

I'll bet it wasn't long before native plant species were appreciated not only for their practical uses, but also as a splash of color to complement the throw pillows. I should probably look this up, but I'm guessing it didn't take long for community minded folks to propose, "Why don't we spruce up Main Street with some hanging baskets?! We'll create a sense of community pride, attract more tourists to our shops, and feel compelled to invent electricity for street lights so we can hang flowering baskets."

Plenty more to read about this America In Bloom at my December 28, 2011 Fine Gardening blog.