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Billy’s 2010 Not-So-Beautiful Awards
updated: Sep 11, 2010, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

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.

Category II: Why Bother?

Let's say you have a beautiful wall and foundation. You certainly don't want a bunch of dense junipers messing up your chance of landing the cover of Fine Gardening Magazine. Better to gently and artistically go at them with a carrot peeler, leaving only a wafer thin hint of mint green foliage to contrast the lemony stucco.

This type of hackery brings slow death for most plants, so at least there'll be an end to the visual blight. The upper foliage will gradually shade out what's left of the undergrowth, until there won't be enough leaf surface to photosynthesize the food the plant needs. When that inevitable day comes, perhaps they'll do something clever and train a vine up the dead trunks.

Category III: Knock, Knock, Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Calling Dr. Kevorkian. Myoporum laetum was once a mainstay of big hedges around these parts, but today it's almost a thing of the past. Myoporum thrips (aka Klambothrips myopori, a tiny rasping, sucking insect, distantly related to Donald Trump) have been dumping a major can of whoop-ass on this species of Myoporum since the pest was discovered in SoCal in 2005. Folks have been trying eradicating it with various sprays, and there was a glimmer of hope that an effective predator would ride in wearing a white hat. But there's no happy ending in sight.

Thrips or not, I'm trying to figure out why someone saw fit to plant this potentially view-blocking behemoth at an intersection; and in front of a stop sign, no less. It appears that someone has been hacking away at this bad boy for years, just to keep it from being a traffic hazard and menace to kids, canines and cars. Now that it exudes all the charm of a necrotic warthog, how about bribing a UPS driver to "accidently" take shortcut over the curb?

Category IV: Best Use Of Junipers To Emulate A Musical Instrument

I'm picturing that movie scene with a Roman galley, enslaved oarsmen chained to benches, sinewy muscles glistening with sweat, propelling the warship into deadly battle, as a hippo of a man pounds out a prestissimo cadence on, um, a couple of junipers?

This one has me conflicted. High marks for imagination: A sensitive blending of spherical forms, flat planes and sinuous lines-almost Dali-esque (except they forgot melting clocks). There's certainly some craftsmanship evident.

But to what end? So much effort while the remainder of the yard looks like it needs some good lovin'. Let's do the math (anyone seen my solar powered abacus?): Maybe eight monthly shearings a year at an hour each (including clean-up), times, let's see, forever = a ridiculous amount of time.

How long would it take to cut it down and pull out the stumps? Maybe two workers, for a half-day? Replacement with a couple of dozen appropriately sized and spaced plants and a drip irrigation system to beautifully landscape the entire front yard? Five hundred bucks, max.

Lesson: Maybe you don't have this exact landmark in your yard, but I bet you're spending a lot of time doing something similar. It's smarter to start over and start right. Yes, I know. The owner loves this thing-it's like having a pet, but without the poopies. I'd be curious what the neighbor who has to look at it from across the street thinks.

Category V: Most Inventive Use Of A Shoe Horn And Astroglide

Put another way, "How many numbskulls does it take to pack five species of plants into a bed the size of an Altoid tin?" (The commercial maintenance company that attends to the medical offices caddy-corner from Goleta Cottage Hospital, at Patterson and Hollister, probably know the answer.)

Reading counterclockwise from the left (unless you've got a digital watch, in which case you're on your own):

*The gray mass, artfully shaped like a map of Vermont, is French lavender (Lavandula dentata). My observations over the past few years indicate that it's sheared so often that it never flowers.

*The crinkly-leaf stuff is statice, or sea lavender (Limonium perezii), usually planted for its purple wands of flowers, often given a second life in dried arrangements.

*Tucked into the lower corner is a juniper longing to consume the adjacent walkway and shred someone's ankles.

*Just above that is a dwarf oleander (Nerium oleander variety). I'd like to be more specific and tell you whether it's the salmon or pink variety, but once again, I haven't seen it flower, since it has to be spindled and mutilated on a regular basis, depriving it of the tip growth where flowers should sprout. Yes, I said "dwarf" oleander, but that means they self-regulate to a height of four to six feet.

*And just peeking out above the Limonium is a pair of society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), an agapanthus cousin that is actually a very appropriate size for this bed, were it not for the oafs surrounding it. This is a perfect bad example of one-of-each-itis resulting in a visually disturbing composition and the horticultural purgatory of needless maintenance. Simple solution: Pick two types of plants and use more of each. A mass of statice (which doesn't spread aggressively) in the center and a couple of fat clumps of society garlic at the ends would be a simple, beautiful, low maintenance, water-wise solution. Purple and lavender flowers, contrasting foliage forms in exchange for occasional removal of the dead flower stalks, aka "deadheading" (a gardening term in no way attributed to Jerry Garcia).

That's it. I was going to rip La Cumbre Plaza again. They've got some hideous crap going on there, but I think I'll cool my jets and get my head around this Dallas symposium. I'm presenting a talk to my fellow garden writers about how to view gardens with a designer's eye, so they can write more stories about the places they visit. I'll be sneaking in a few photos from my Crimes Against Horticulture collection-bad examples can be just instructive as good ones.

It's a dirty job, but I love it.

For previous Not-So-Beautiful Awards:

2009 edition

2008 edition


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