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Gloomy Days, Cheery Gardens
updated: May 28, 2011, 10:00 AM
By Billy Goodnick
It seemed like a fun play on words - riff on the Bermuda Triangle by writing about the "Carpinteria Pentangle." I'd simply plot the locations of five fun gardening destinations, connect to dots, and voila - a five-pointed geometric shape!
‘Cept it looks pretty weird, and I'm probably the only person on the planet who can make out the form.
Come to think of it, it looks more like an egret sleeping off a night of beer bonging. Despite my artistic shortcomings, I can still write about the garden adventures that beckon along the laid-back coastline just south of Santa Barbara.
Logic dictates that I start at an end and work my way across. So we'll begin in the middle, along Santa Claus-less Lane, ‘cuz that's where I'll be giving a talk next weekend, and I never pass up a chance for shameless self-promotion.
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Three years ago, Diana Dolan and Christy Boyd opened p o r c h , a boutique home and garden shop in downtown Carpinteria. They met while working together at Island View Nursery (more on them later), and share a passion for nature that they exemplify in the wares they sell. Their shared design philosophy sums it up well: "Where shelter and nature converge."
But their ability to display more of the nature side of the equation was limited by the four walls of their Carpinteria Avenue shop. Not any more - their new location (3823 Santa Claus Lane, Carpinteria) opened its doors in mid-March, and what a boon it's been.
With 5000 square feet of open space behind the new shop, their offerings now include coolly contemporary garden furnishings like benches, fire-pits, and ceramic-ware. There are big pieces like slab tables and galvanized water troughs (ideal for a raised veggie beds in gopher-plagued gardens), as well as inexpensive, fun little stuff to bring secret corners of your garden to life. (Relax: It's a gnome-free zone.)
Their plant material is more boutique than "big box", but the plants they do carry reflect the same imaginative taste found in all of their goods. All are well suited to our enviable Mediterranean climate, with an emphasis on natives and low-water-using plants. Christie and Diana have thought of everything - there's a potting table customers can use to pot their new plants in their new pots, meaning no big mess to clean up back home.
They've cultivated a passionate local following, in addition to a loyal stable of fans from LA to San Francisco. When asked to describe their ideal client (we assumed access to the most up-to-date genetic engineering technology), Christie told me, "Someone who reads Elle Décor, Garden Design, Dwell, and maybe Mad Magazine."
The ladies have transformed a corner of the store into an art gallery, currently featuring the abstract, vividly saturated paintings of local artist, Hugh Margerum.
Their sense of art spills out the door, into the garden's centerpiece: Los Osos landscape architect Jeffrey Gordon Smith's installation.
It's a cleverly original raised garden, crafted from up-cycled materials, like giant corrugated drain pipes, colorful O-rings, rusted pipes, and a flamboyant planting of sculptural succulents grouped around a South African tree aloe.
So, about that talk I'll be giving. Though they're literally the new kids on a very long block, Diana and Christie thought it would be fun to get the Santa Claus Lane merchants together and hold a June Gloom Celebration on Saturday, June 4. Though there's no guarantee the Fog Monster will make a personal appearance, the idea sounds like a lot of fun. And in keeping with their tradition of hosting educational and entertaining special events, they've asked me to spend an hour teaching guests how to create exciting, memorable planting combinations. I'll be packing a lot of useful design information into a little bit of space, so come join me at 11 a.m. and expect to be dazzled. And it's free!
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Back to that Carpinteria Pentangle: If you were foolish enough to dash across the freeway and successfully dodged all the cars, you'd find yourself at the fantasyland of nurseries. Seaside Gardens is not only a great nursery and garden shop with a great selection of landscaping and gift plants, but they have generously planted a dozen gardens, each in a different style, where visitors walk amongst hundreds of mature plants growing in the ground.
There's nothing more educational that seeing the plants you want to bring home growing unfettered in the ground. It's a gift to the community that I've yet to see copied anywhere else. Get the full scoop about Seaside Gardens in my July 2010 article.
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Further south, in Carpinteria proper, you'll find the most extensive array of containers, fountains, troughs, statuary, barrels, obelisks, ornaments, furniture, antiques, collectibles, and metalwork you can imagine. Eye of the Day Garden Design Center (4620 Carpinteria Avenue) has something for every garden style, and a knowledgeable staff to help you sort through their diverse merchandise. Click on their Design Gallery tab for inspiring ideas from some of the top designers around the country and Europe.
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Be sure to signal before you hang a U-ey, but it's time to head north again, then turn inland at the polo fields. Just up Foothill Road (3376, to be precise) sits Island View Nursery, home of distinctive flora and furnishings. It's hard to put my finger on a particular style, what with the giant rusted dinosaurs, carved stone statuary, luxurious orchids, indoor palm trees, and exotic vertical walls of plants. Inside the converted greenhouses, there's a decidedly South Pacific tropical vibe going on, while out in the nursery, shoppers will find well-stocked rows full of plants for local landscapes. Island View has frequent workshops, demonstrating how to make holiday wreaths from succulents, and classes taught by the GIANT Pumpkin Kahuna, Stuart Shim. Contact them to get on their mailing list and see what's coming up next.
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At the west end of my map in Summerland (the egret's beak), is The Sacred Space (2594 Lillie Avenue, Summerland). They describe their line of products and services as "Treasures From Heaven Available On Earth" in a magical series of tropical garden rooms; like being transported to a Balinese vacation without having to pack your liquids in 3-ounce containers. Owners Jack and Rose Hershorn write at their website, "We've taken many trips to Asia hunting for treasures that are unique, rare, have history, religious, or are related to personal growth. Our items have special connections to us, and then to their purchasers."
When I was "on the path" decades ago, delving into Eastern philosophies, my refuge was the Self Realization Fellowship's Lake Shrine near Pacific Palisades. It was a place for quiet contemplation and finding inner peace. You can experience a little slice of that same atmosphere with a visit to The Sacred Space, then bring home one of their Southeast Asian pavilions and get your OM on.
This week's foray into map making turned out to be a bust, so I'll just stick to what I do best (once I figure that out). I hope I succeeded in doing what I really came to do: entice you to detour off the US 101 and treat yourself to a day of garden indulgence along our tranquil coast. Misty air or not, June doesn't have to be gloomy.
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Gardeners Just Wanna Have Fu-un: If you live in, or will be around San Francisco in mid-July, come hear my Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools talk at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers on Thursday, July 14. Doors open at 6:30. Two days later I'll be teaching a design workshop at the over-the-top, uber-urban Flora Grubb Gardens on Saturday, July 16 at 11 a.m.
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)
2011-05-29 07:03 AM
Thanks, Billy; absolutely love that coastal area--so chlorophyll-rich! I see a Carp trip in the future.
Factoid @ Seaview: the dry stream bed at the south end of the property is specially planted (incl. Arundo!) to filter and cleanse the runoff from all the nurseries upstream. It has been functioning nearly 20 years to clean the water before it enters the ocean. Cool.
Totally off-topic but crucial to a day of successful nursery-hopping: may I rec lunch on SC Lane at The Garden Market Cafe, 3811 Santa Claus Lane, directly across 101 from SVN? Great salads and sandwiches. Nice sheltered sunny patio with interesting plantings.
? : someone told me some years ago about an architectural salvage place in Carpenteria. Anyone have details?
2011-05-29 04:56 PM
Hello Billy, lest you get envious of the number of comments for the Urban Hikers vs your wonderous articles, here is a comment. I love both missives, theirs and yours, even when I do not comment. Keep on writing and photo-ing.
This time your writing and pictures have excited and inspired me such that I have added the Carp nurseries and a flower place to my list of places to visit in June, with grandgirls age 9 and 11. I have been to Seaside Nursery once before and found it delightful, along with the people who work there. I will go again and buy something green.
Thanks, Seedlady, we will check out the eats at The Garden Market too.
2011-05-29 08:11 PM
Seedlady: Was hoping you'd stop by to bring some added value to this humble column: Seaside does indeed do the community (especially beach-goers) a great public service with their bio-swale planting that detains and biologically "scrubs" some very funky run-off from the upper reaches of an agricultural-dominated watershed. They are to be commended. And the Garden Market Cafe is indeed a great place for a sumptuous meal in an intimate, garden setting. The ladies at p o r c h, have a great relationship with the restaurant.
CheriDiane: I do get a little envious of the high-comment posts sometimes, but its just my own fault for being more informative than provocative. I'm happy to hear that this post has inspired you to add a visit to these venues to your travels. Thanks for letting me know. Smiling.
2011-06-04 01:46 PM
Very late here (moving, internet blues...blahblahblah) but must ditto Cheridiane. I've been a plant nut since childhood (some of it spent above Sunset not too far from the SRF with its golden lotus bud) and recently moved into a place with lovely possibilities.
I particularly *love* the idea of being able to acquire plant and container at the same place and then to be able to do the potting right there on the spot.
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