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Billy's Back With Crimes Against Horticulture!
updated: Jan 12, 2013, 11:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Didja miss me? Okay, did you at least notice I was gone?

It's been four months since I showed my face and green thumbs around these parts. I got Ed's permission to take time off to finish writing my book (more on that in a second), and then, wouldn'tcha know, my 95-year-old pop decided to bust a hip. But the book, "Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams" (St. Lynn's Press, March 2013), is just about put to bed, my dad is on the mend, the holidays have passed, the Mayan calendar prediction fizzled and it looks like the statute of limitations on Y2K has expired.

So it seems like a good time to jump back in at Edhat and do my darnest to keep you informed and entertained about the good, the bad and the f'ugly horticultural happenings here in paradise. During my hiatus I was saddened, along with every Edhat reader, to hear about the passing of our founder, Peter Sklar. Peter and I didn't get to spend much social time together. But I'm deeply in his debt for having the faith in me to launch what has become a surprisingly robust writing career. Peter gave me the freedom to teach, entertain, fume and bluster about whatever entered my pretty little, behatted head, with nary so much as a red line of censorship. For that, I will be eternally grateful. It's here at Edhat that I started my yearly Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards, which has since morphed into Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools (CAH). I thought it would make a great book. Kinda like Michael Pollan meets Pee-wee Herman on ‘shrooms.

I wrote a book proposal and shopped it to a bunch of publishers who politely told me, "We love your writing, but wouldn't touch your book idea with plastic willow branch." However, one publisher, Paul Kelly at St. Lynn's Press, kept the conversation going, we expanded the concept into a "real" design book and he signed me up. So come March, I'll have a full-color, 160-page hardcover book with my name on it. I'll be traveling around the country giving design talks, doing book signings and handing out rolls of my CAH crimes scene tape to audiences. (If you want to keep track of my events, some in the SB area, check my GreatGardenSpeakers.com site).

I must apologize for a few grainy pics in the following collection, resorting to using my iPhone camera for a number of them. But it did give me a chance to "snark up" the photos using Meme Design, a cool app that overlays block text on photos in about 30 seconds. So, with no further ado…

I've long wondered where all of these misshapen spheres of shrubbery come from. I know it's not the Oort Cloud. One theory posits that normal plants are installed by well-meaning garden owners, only to fall prey to aesthetically challenged plant janitors who have their way with them. Turns out they just seem to pop out of the soil along San Antonio Creek Road.

Cruising the quiet, tucked-away Hidden Valley neighborhood I was surprised to find a landscape inspired by the Old Testament. What a surprise to see an enterprising gardener reimagining and recoloring the parting of the Red Sea - Cecil B. DeMille, watch your back. Either that, or the tectonic plates are acting up again.

Even Biff the Wonder Spaniel scratched his head as we strolled past the medical building across from Cottage Hospital. I was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps these Hollywood junipers were slated for removal when the chain saw jammed. Surely someone would return the next day to end the humiliation. No such luck. There they remain. I'm all for wishful thinking, but what on Earth did they think they'd end up looking like even if these plants did recover?

Two blocks from Cottage is this landscape "renovation." On the plus side, the owners sincerely attempted to make improvements to what's likely a tired 30-year old landscape. And it's clear they were on a budget; who isn't these days? But rather than admit that a bunch of ancient ground cover junipers had seen better days and send them to that big mulch pile in the sky, someone decided to give them a second chance. Problem is, the likelihood of these bushes generating new buds from the old stems is the same as me sprouting wings and flying past this hot mess. Wait…there's more!

Holy Birds in Bondage, Batman! Same project. I'm guessing someone had a bunch of old bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) growing in another yard and moved them here. Although it's a common practice to bundle the top growth of a real palm tree to protect the tip growth while it gets adjusted to a new home, there's no logical reason to use that technique on birds. Better to cut the entire plant to ground level. Then, once the roots are settled in, new, clean, healthy sprouts will emerge. But months after transplanting, they're still tied up and flaccid.

What can I say? Maybe in the context of a topiary garden filled with abstract forms, this upside-down magic mushroom might earn a C-minus. Here's a swell idea: Hook it up to a chocolate syrup pump and make one of those fountains for dipping strawberries!

Back in March 2012, I used this space to bitch about members of a particular plant genus, in Dear Ficus: Go Fig Yourself, of particular note was my warning about how creeping fig (Ficus repens) can swallow a building in the time it takes to say "Clytostoma callistegioides." Here's proof - a gardener climbing onto the roof behind the downtown Peet's Coffee, shearing the top few feet. Meanwhile, two of his compatriots were mounting an assault from ladders that couldn't reach the ramparts. Waste of manpower, I say. Get the guy up top a bungee cord.

Think about this… Someone made a conscious decision to plant this stuff. I wonder if they informed the owner of the life-long commitment needed to tame this green monster.

Imagine living across the street from this bottlebrush tree (Callistemon species) and trying to keep your breakfast down. My guess is someone took a single, expedient cut at the top and all these new sprouts appeared. Not only is it comically Seussian, but if the new branches are allowed to fill out (not likely after looking at what these control freaks do to the rest of the garden) they'll be weak and in danger of falling on parked cars and hapless cyclists.

I'm disturbed, but relieved to report that as of this week, these poor decapitated yew pines (Podocarpus gracilior) that were butchered by the Elephant Bar's hired guns, have been put out of their misery. Cut to the ground, hopefully to be replaced with something lovely. They've been standing in this condition for months. Somebody must have thought it was okay to do this. It's not.

Here's one I can't do a damn thing about. You know how the Vatican is a separate state surrounded by the city of Rome? Well, Earl Warren Showgrounds is state of California property in the middle of Santa Barbara. My fair city has worked hard to earn its "Tree City USA" designation for high standards and exemplary care of our urban forest. And yet the jokers who run Earl Warren get away with this crap (yes, that's a light attached to the eucalyptus branch) and there's not a f*%@ing thing anyone can do, unless you want to fly up to Sacramento and try to find the right office. Burns me UP! While we're at it, how about that tasteless multi-color LED billboard that makes me wince every time I drive by? Where do they think they are? (Insert name of perceived backwater burg…I'm not going there. No way I'd suggest Bakersfield or Modesto or Hemet or…).

It's not often you witness a the birth of a conspiracy to commit a crime against horticulture. What you're looking it is a ticking time bomb that was just installed last week. I'll give it until fall to become a bona fide CAH. By then each of these lantana will start mounting their neighbors, like hyenas in heat. Why? Each lantana is a variety that's capable of achieving a spread of four to five feet. There are three rows in a five-foot parkway, some planted within six inches of the sidewalk. You do the math. So by September, at the latest, the gardener will start shearing the tips that protrude into the sidewalk and over the curb, while the remaining growth with rise, tangle and mix it up like Medusa's ‘do. If you want to observe this slow-mo train wreck, cruise up Chapala and keep your eyes peeled to the right as you reach West Arrellaga. Got time for two more?

Not only did someone shape this plant into a meatball, they had the nerve to cover it in corduroy!

Flagrantly flaunting their flailing, flaming hedge trimmers, a crew of commercial gardeners in Camarillo regularly take it upon themselves to create what might be the largest collection of phalluses, lollipops and meatballs I've yet to see. An office park just off Flynn Road is where you'll find this gallery of glop. Multiply this vignette times 50 and you'll comprehend the magnitude of this injustice - the parking lot is over an acre. Then try to figure out the monthly pruning bill and disposal fees.

:: :: :: :: :: ::

That's it for my comeback. Thanks for indulging me while I purged this stuff from my system. In the following months I promise I'll write about some worthy projects around town, wonderful plant peeps, and useful gardening ideas. Now, I need a beer and a big hit of ether to calm myself.

To learn more about Billy's upcoming book, find out where he'll be speaking or to receive his quarterly Billy's Buzz newsletter, chock full of cool plants, design ideas, Crimes Against Horticulture, educational opportunities and general silliness, visit www.billygoodnick.com

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 362798 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 11:16 AM

You had me laughing! Thanks Billy. How do gardeners know when to apply the "square" or "round" school of shrubbery butchery?


 COMMENT 362802 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 11:40 AM

Laughed till I cried.....welcome back Billy!!!


 COMMENT 362825 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 12:28 PM

Watch it, I'm originally from Hemet but escaped on the back of a flatbead Ford hauling trees to Santa Barbara!


 COMMENT 362829P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 01:10 PM

Welcome back Billy! Missed you and loved the column.


 COMMENT 362905P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 05:40 PM

Yes, I did miss you!


 COMMENT 362945P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 07:15 PM

Great stuff! Good insight and very funny delivery.
I learned a few years ago the two most important words in Spanish a homeowner can know:
NO PELOTAS. They've served me well.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 09:00 PM

Wouldn'tcha know it? I walked past the apartments with the bird o' paradise in bondage and they've been freed. I guess the plants remembered their "safe word." Too late to retract but I wanted to set the record straight. (However, the junipers still look like grilled squid.)


 CHERIDIANE agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 10:22 PM

Hysterical. I laughed out loud. So glad you are back, Billy. How great you are riling against meatballs and lollipops. (Phalluses, well, nevermind) I too look at such plants and cringe or worse. Keep on keepin' on.


 BECKY agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-12 10:32 PM

Those topiary terrorists are just trying out for jobs at Disneyland. I kind of remember seeing astonishing shapes on the shrubs near the "It's a Small World" boat ride. [Ha, ha, ha. Now you'll have that hideous song stuck in your head too!]


 COMMENT 362974P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 07:15 AM

Welcome back - are you leaving your business card at each of these disasters?


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 07:37 AM

Glad you're back, Billy; I definately missed you. Wonderful re-entry column!


 COMMENT 363006 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 09:12 AM

Can't believe you missed this one: take a stroll past Assistance League, head over toward Hillside House. Behold the Giant Cupcake!


 COMMENT 363009 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 09:21 AM

Hi Billy, welcome back. Good thing the nanny didn't see your rant. Good luck with the book.


 COMMENT 363010 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 09:23 AM

Good to see you back, Billy G. I wondered if you had been pruned in an untimely fashion while my electronic back was momentarily turned. Imagine my relief to see CAH back at the old stand. My best to your Dad as well.

I look forward to your book.


 COMMENT 363011 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 09:30 AM

I love your humor, and I really liked "his and hers toilet cleaners" from the other day, keep up the good work!


 COMMENT 363021 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 10:06 AM

good to have you back, Billie


 COMMENT 363043 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 11:28 AM

Yay, the garden crimes avenger is back on the scene! Welcome, Sir and what a relief to have you back. Thought I was the only one in town who hated the "gumball-style" topiary trimmings so prevalent in the landscape of SB. Cheers!


 ARCHIE agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 12:40 PM

Hey, glad to readya, Billy and good news about your Pop! Are you going to have a book signing at Botanic Garden?


 COMMENT 363093 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 04:46 PM

Billy, The bit about the Bird o' bondage assumes that it was consensual. It is hard to imagine the "topiary terrorists" (as Becky calls them :) being so conscientious.


 COMMENT 363126 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 07:24 PM

Welcome back, Billy. Was just thinking a week ago how much your writing lent to Edhat's online personality!

Blame the local territory Stihl rep. He is bent on becoming the largest grossing territory in the company. They've got 7 new Ace stores in SLO CO, each with 40' of fixture featuring gas everything--hedge pruners on poles, chainsaws, regualr hedge pruners, whackers, blowers, you name it. SLOCO has claimed the Hockey Puck Design as it's own, everywhere from hotels to restaurants and government buildings, scalped and sculpted by all the local plant janitors. Dizz-gustin development. Makes me want to barf.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-13 08:05 PM

To everyone who got a chuckle out of this return blog, that’s what I had in mind. Glad it hit the funny bone. For those who cried, it’s dangerous to read while slicing onions.

S.B. Ron: The decision is automated by use of the new Gardener’s Random Form Generator app for iPhones.

Person from Hemet; nice to see you pulled off the great escape.

“No Pelotas”? Thought it would translate to “No Albondigas”

Becky: Not sure I would include Disneyland along with topiary terrorists. Some of my best examples of brilliant landscape design came from that place. There’s nothing they do that doesn’t have a design reason; even the wrappers on their drinking straws. But, yes, “It’s a Small World Afterall” has been bouncing around in my noggin. Thanks for that.

No, I’m not leaving my business card. I’m putting door knob hangers for my uncle’s psychological counseling practice.

Will be looking for the Assistance League at Hillside House…I like cupcakes, except for the chlorophyll-flavored ones.

Louray and Archie: Thanks for the good wishes for my pop. Just planted some new pansies in his yard yesterday to brighten his walkway. (Discounted my regular hourly rate; what a great kid I am!)

SB Jules: Spell check. “Billie transforms me into a beehive-wearing blond woman from Texas.

Archie: Lots of book signings and talks around SB: Porch 4/6/13; SB Botanic Garden 4/7/13; also finding dates for Terra Sol, Chaucer’s, and Seaside Gardens – they’ll all be posted at my website – billygoodnick.com

Seedlady: I don’t know what we can do about free enterprise taking advantage of the ignorance and aesthetically handicapped other than keep trying to raise the bar and reduce demand for this crap. But keep fighting the good fight.


 COMMENT 363694P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-15 11:15 AM

Billy might, as he says, know a lot about plants and garden stuff; but, as far as I'm concerned, he seems to take too much great joy in finding fault with other people's lack of plant knowledge (including making fun
of such people) to be calling himself a nice guy. Just saying.


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