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Let's Give Me Something To Write About…
updated: Nov 06, 2010, 10:00 AM
By Billy Goodnick
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).
Mitzie also asked about me writing Walter Tompkins-style history articles. Dream on - those require effort. But if I stumble across something hysterically historical I'll try a Tompkins-meets-Hunter-S.-Thompson approach - maybe Fear And Loathing In Carpinteria.
COMMENT 115677 (If there's a number instead of a name, it means the person writing the comment is most likely not an Edhat subscriber. They are sopping up all this great stuff and taking a free ride, but I'm not going to make a big deal out of it other than to call them a "mooch" in hopes of instilling a paralyzing mantle of shame, forcing them to reach for their credit card and do the right thing. Ed's Gulf Stream jet doesn't fuel itself.) Anyway, this stingy but otherwise wonderful person wondered if I'd visited the Huntington Gardens (I have, and took some great photos I can write about, so thanks for the reminder) and also suggested a visit to the Fern Dell at Griffith Park in LA. I haven't been to Fern Dell since I was a longhaired hippy creep indulging in pre-medicinal hippie cabbage. I'll check it out when I can get down that way, sans the inhalation therapy.
LIFESIGHS comments "Love the story, the art and landscape thing is sooo interesting to me at the moment. I'm trying to purchase a house and realize I'm choosing gardens instead." He/she/it (I'm allowing for androids) seeks "any advice for what to look for in a landscape design?"
Good stuff for an article and it's something I lecture about in my classes. A garden that is the ultimate expression of your artistic vision can have a deadening effect on the future sale of a house. Not everyone thinks that a full-scale model of Cheops' pyramid constructed from petrified smoked Gouda cheese wheels makes for great curb appeal. Finding a house that meets all your functional needs and caters to your very individual artistic tastes can be like finding a needle in a mosh pit. But there might be a story here, so don't lose hope.
Another anonymous Edhat commenter (notice I didn't call them a freeloader) asked about "ninja horticulture", which I've seen written about as "guerilla gardening." Sounds like fun, but aside from that darn thing about trespassing and getting arrested, there's some responsibility that comes with choosing plants that don't become invasive or a nuisance. I'll kick this around and see if it gets traction.
The same person continued, "Even better, how to persuade local governments to plant fruit trees for street trees or areas like the Fairview on-ramp. Their homage to orchards is lovely, but would have been far lovelier if they'd actually planted a real lemon or walnut orchard. etc."
I like it! This will be my topic next time. Suffice it to say, public fruit trees ain't gonna happen. Stop by in two weeks to find out why.
COMMENT 115732 wrote, "I hate to admit it, but I love your scorching exposes of bad gardening practices. I just pray you never visit my neighborhood." I love my scorching exposes too, and I've probably already been to your neighborhood. Nothing personal, but there's a chance you'll get flogged some day.
COMMENT 115735 offered: "In fairness to a landscape "slipping neighbourhood". When money is tight and jobs disintegrate the yard is the first to slip. Food and rent come first. That's reality."
I haven't the foggiest notion what "slipping neighbourhood" means. Either it's a British euphemism, or your spell-check is set on "snooty." I agree, to some extent. Ornamental landscaping isn't a necessity, and more and more people are putting their open space into food production, growing veggies, planting fruit trees and grazing pot-bellied yaks. Might as well put all that good dirt to a higher use.
SIMPLESIMON liked hearing about "California Scenario" and asked "how about introducing us to great landscape gardens like these?"
Sounds good, but exemplary projects like these are so few and far between, ‘specially when tightwads like COMMENT 115677 won't kick in to fuel Ed's Gulf Stream and I'm stuck in my '94 silver Camry. I'm heading to San Francisco in a few weeks and might get a chance to bring you some info about Lawrence Halprin's Levi Plaza, once considered one of the more progressive corporate designs on the Left Coast.
To COMMENT 115761, thorny plants in parking lots are a serious issue. Perhaps an article about self-inflicted body piercing WOULD be fun. Lotsa great candidates out there. Lemme cogitate.
COMMENT 115771: Someone noted that "ugly gardens are a result of the economy; seeds are cheap and you could explain about prepping the soil. Composting with kitchen scraps, leaves, etc, cost nothing. Raising some veggies, even in a tiny space, is rewarding."
Interesting theory, but I think that for the most part ugly gardens are the result of people with really bad taste - that includes homeowners, plant janitors masquerading as landscape designers, landscape designers masquerading as talented landscape designers, and people who buy impatiens outside their local supermarket. But I'm sure there's a story I can build about creating beautiful, functional, sustainable gardens without selling your kidney.
SPARKEY (I once knew a Jack Russell terrier by the same name - are you two related?) commented, "Love the photos and the info. Welcome Mitzie, edhat is a neat place to be." That's a very nice thing to say, Sparkey, and I second the motion.
BILLY GOODNICK stuck his nose in, but I won't dignify anything coming from that smartass.
BONNER took time away from his singing duties with U2 to remind me that Goleta Valley Beautiful does some wonderful work in the area. I agree. I know some of those folks and have even received a design award from them. I'll add GVB to my list.
Z28RACERGIRL was nice enough to rat out a few neighbors who overwater their lawns and flood the gutters. "Maybe…a column about how much water is plenty and how to have a friendly discussion with a neighbor to help them change their ways?"
What a cute idea; a friendly discussion. Not a chance! I call the water police and turn them in. Let them go head to head. Maybe when I finish my degree in criminal psychology and invest heavily in Kevlar.
I also received e-mails from a couple of readers: Pat Fish suggested profiling the Green Academy, a stupendous program at Santa Barbara High that teaches hands-on environmental science through horticulture, and sells plants at the Harding Elementary School farmers market. Consider it done.
And Carol Terry, a former Parks and Recreation colleague who poured her all into tending Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens for years, reminded me of Jerry Sortomme's efforts at the Santa Barbara Mission. He's been working with volunteers at La Huerta, a living museum of agricultural, medicinal and other plants grown during the Mission era.
Looks like I've got enough to keep me going for a while. No promises, but I'm sure I can spin out a few hundred words that engage, enrage, educate and entertain (without any effort whatsoever on my part). See ya next time, girls and boys.
Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.
Looking for design ideas and cool plants? Subscribe to Billy's e-mail newsletter by dropping him a line at
Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)
2010-11-06 09:07 PM
You're writing about my suggestions next. Yeah! I'd love to hear a good reason why we can't use public space to help feed people.
Then after that, you can go on to the other topic we discussed last year -- what to plant in those tiny dirt holes in the concrete sidewalks in Old Town Goleta. The palms died (preceded us). The natal plums got too big and stuck people (and lots of slobs stuck trash in them). The flowers got trampled and died. The weeds are tenacious and prolific... What would work and last? (and look good)?
2010-11-07 10:52 AM
That is one VERY handsome JRT! We have one too, named Angus!
2010-11-08 07:24 AM
Tha JRT also looks like LZ
2010-11-08 07:32 AM
I would like to "second" Pat Fish's idea to highlight the activities of the SBHS Green Club. This club is made up of wonderfully dedicated, smart and energetic high school students who are the future of environmental stewardship, and they volunteer for a variety of local habitat restoration projects. The current president is Tao Antrim, who can probably be contacted through the SBHS admin office.
2013-07-16 03:49 PM
Just an FYI Billy, but his name was Walker Tompkins, not Walter. Still glad you're referencing him, though!
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