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Alice By Morning Light: Rays of Optimism
updated: Apr 16, 2011, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

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...

You might remember my epic campaign (two consecutive blog posts equals epic - Part One and Part Two in December and January, regarding the state of horticulture in Santa Barbara's parks. Nutshell: budgets, staffing, and regulations have conspired to chop away at the horticultural legacy of our public spaces. I kvetched in this blog, then a few rabid horticulturists joined me to address City Council and the Park and Recreation Commission.

Cause for Optimism

I learned from Nancy that my concerns are alive and well, making their way through the system, though at a pace indicating that local government isn't eating enough fiber. Slow as the pace might be, steady will win the race.

Things ain't what they used to be and I don't see truckloads of funding coming back into the Parks Division any time soon. So we have to rethink what we want our parks to be and how we can set the highest standards within the limitations that will be even more constrained in the future.

Nancy has asked me to brainstorm a think-tank guest list to grapple with the new reality, while continuing Santa Barbara's deservedly high reputation as a garden spot. Questions to grapple with: How do we get the most out of the resources at hand? Can the city rehabilitate special places like Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, Chase Palm Park Expansion, How do we get the community to pay attention and pitch in? Will the community pay attention and pitch in?

Meanwhile, what better place than Edhat to pitch some positive ideas? That's what the comments feature is for. And for the anonymous skulkers out there just itching to jab "government", how about writing you thoughts on a piece of paper, taping it to your mirror for a few days, and deciding whether you'll make anything better by posting - I'm just saying.

So, stay tuned. I think the city is on track.

Sorry ‘Bout The Whiplash

Now, back to Alice.

Photograph means "writing with light" and there's nothing better than the soft early morning kind to bring out the magic of Alice. Early in the day, with the sun low on the horizon, light rays pass through lots of the Earth's atmosphere, scattering the shorter blue rays and clearing the path for those hard-working yellow, golden, and orange wavelengths that excite the eye.

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

I literally struck gold entering the park from Santa Barbara Street. Although much of the park was still in shadow, I knew there'd be yummy patches of golden goodness, few people on the paths, and more bird noises than cars. As deciduous trees push out a new generation of leaves for the coming year (like the Floss Silk Tree, Chorisia speciosa, just right of center) the new growth is charged with strong on yellow coloration, making for a crisp, fresh welcome.

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

I panned a little to the left, zooming in on the drama of golden light and emerging foliage, contrasted by the deep violet candles of Pride of Madeira (Echium candican - aka E. fastuosum), an eye-popping, easy-to-grow, early spring super star of a plant. In the foreground is the cloudlike topography of dwarf tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum ‘Reevesii') a diminutive close relative of the sprawling tea tree at Alice's southeast corner.

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

The picture says it all (but that won't shut me up). In the garden, Echium is one of those James Dean live-fast-die-young plants, putting on a great show within a year of planting, passing through a magnificent adolescent phase for a few years, then taking on Dr. Seussian qualities as time passes. No worries: The plant often takes care of that by reseeding nearby (though not in an aggressive, weedy way), so you can phase out one generation as the next comes of age. The blooms last for a month or so. It prefers full sun and can tolerate a very lean watering regimen.

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

Aaarrrrgggghhh! Somebody help me! I used to know the species of this iris and have pored through my copy of Anne-Marie Castleberg's sumptuous book, Alice's Garden, and came up blank. Regardless, here's the delight achieved by showering yellow flowers and light green leaves with morning rays mirroring off the pond. (I love my little point- and-shoot Panasonic DMC-ZS3 - thanks Linny, Cosmo and Samy's).

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

The foliage points east, the sound track rises playing Here Comes The Sun and the Kaffir Lily flowers (Clivia miniata) flowers take heed. Clivia is a common shade plant around these parts. Most of the year, its dark green leaves just sort of sit there, not adding much excitement to the garden. But in winter, these fiery hot trumpet-shaped flowers rise up and demand attention.

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

Thank you again, South Africa. The flowers of Poker Plant (Kniphofia species) serve up a lesson in the basic elements of a warm, analogous color scheme. Hues we find adjacent to each other on the color wheel create a subtle blend. It looks like someone poured a deep orange ink onto a yellow sponge, but the color didn't quite have the oomph to make it to the bottom. Notice the saturated tips of the closed flowers that appear brown (that's what happens when you mix black with orange) and the coffee-colored tips of the anther filament poking out, another variation of orange. Speaking of color schemes, that blur of purple in the background is the polar opposite of orange, making for a sweet accidental accent.

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

Enough with the flowers; let's give foliage its due. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) was showing off how fine it looks with a bit of backlighting. Once again, the fresh green growth of new foliage comes to life. Deeply shaded iris leaves increase contrast.

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

This herbaceous perennial plant is called Bear's Breech (Acanthus mollis), but Snail Candy would do the job, too. Not to worry, though; those precocious little mollusks are easily and safely controlled with Sluggo, an OMRI-listed product that's safe around pets.

The coarse looking leaves are big, about 18-inches across, with wavy edges and deep venation, and an overall plant size of three to four feet high. Morning sun, then protection for the rest of the day, shows them at their best. These Mediterranean natives aren't exactly drought tolerant, but are worth the few extra gallons for their lush tropical look. And they flower, too.

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

Backed by Yellow Band Iris (Iris orientalis), at the upper bog near East Arrellaga Street, this close-up of just emerging Bear's Breech flowers adds another dimension to an already fab plant. Before emerging, the flowers are encased behind purplish scales, similar to the edible part of an artichoke. Pure white petals appear beginning at the top of the stalk, then eventually dry, requiring a quick tidying to keep the garden looking neat. Bonus: Deer tend to leave it alone.

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

The morning light still hadn't made it to the corner where Santa Barbara St. meets East Micheltorena St., so pardon the lack of morning magic, but I wanted to show that parts of Alice are on the upswing. Using a redesign from the original landscape architect, Grant Castleberg, this prominent bed has recently been replanted, replacing some of the original species that have passed their useful lives, and introducing a few newbies. Two types of New Zealand Flax provide energetic bursts of leaves, mounding forms of dwarf bottlebrush skirt their bases, and fuzzy balls of blue Fescue grass add lightness.

It won't happen overnight, but with community support and wise spending, I think Alice's best days might still be ahead.

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

 COMMENT 164432 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-16 10:07 AM

It's always a delight to read your articles, thank you!


 COMMENT 164444 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-16 10:25 AM

If you dont mind sharing and if my description is decent enough what type are the thinner trunk, medium sized palms in Alameda and Alice Keck?


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-16 11:20 AM

Liztish: It's always a delight to hear that my articles delight.
164444: There are quite a few types of medium sized, thinner trunk palms. If it's a cluster of long stems, near Micheltorena & Santa Barbara, those are Senegal date palms (Phoenix reclinata). I think that the kiosk near the center of the pond has the palms accurately mapped.


 COMMENT 164469 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-16 11:38 AM

Thanks Billy from OP 164444?


 COMMENT 164592 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-17 10:06 AM

The delight is in the details.
Thank you as always for being our interpreter and educator. An informed public is more able to understand funding a care-taking role, to KEEP alive the parts of Santa Barbara that make it the place we want to live. And as for "how about writing your thoughts on a piece of paper, taping it to your mirror for a few days, and deciding whether you'll make anything better by posting - I'm just saying." ............. < that's a scream.


 COMMENT 164641 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-17 01:39 PM

Iris pseudacorus? (Yellow flag). Invasive in wetlands, but I've seen it from time-to-time in water gardens.


 BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-17 03:58 PM

164641: Thanks for the Iris confirmation. Heard the same thing from a friend who specialized in aquatic plants at Lotusland.


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