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Insidious Tendrils of Crimes Against Horticulture
updated: Jun 11, 2011, 10:15 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Santa Barbara is an incubator. We're the home of many important firsts: Motel 6, Herb Peterson's Egg McMuffin, Deckers sandals, and Seymour Duncan's sublime guitar pick-ups. We've been a launch pad in entertainment, offering the world Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dishwalla, and the bearded dude with the dead bongos on State Street. And where would the sports world be without legendary spiker Karch Kirali, wavemeister Rennie Yater, and concrete commandos, George Powell and Stacy Peralta?

So it doesn't surprise me that what started locally as my Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful-Awards has found fertile roots beyond our crappy adobe and sandstone-riddled soil. What was borne of my dark delight - posting pictures and taking cheap shots at the stupid, ugly things people do in the name of gardening - has found fertile fields beyond this sleepy beach town. I'm talking about Crimes Against Horticulture (CAH), a collection of images intended to awe, amuse, and elucidate. It's an expression of my teaching philosophy: "A poke in the eye with a silly stick gets people's attention."

Behold the tools of torture.

The posts never fail to generate a slew of "right on!"s, and a fair share of "who the hell are you?"s. In the past few years, I've nurtured this sprout of an idea in my writing and lectures, getting laughs and nods of recognition.

Now it's going to be a book. The working title is Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools (A Humorous Look at the Serious Subject of Sustainable Landscaping). It's mostly essays (like what I do here), plus lots of pictures and heaping servings of MAD-Magazine-meets-Pee-wee's-Playhouse. At the moment, though, it's gestating in the form of a twenty-page book proposal, chapter outlines, scattered sticky notes, and hundreds of jpegs.

But books don't write themselves, and they sure don't find their way to Amazon on their own, so I've developed an action plan. Next week I'll attend the newly resurrected Santa Barbara Writers Conference to pump up my writing skills while I learn something about the business of words. And, if the gods smile, I'll find a literary agent.

What I really want to do is be in front of people, educating and entertaining packed houses in dimly lit auditoria, and teaching design workshops. But the good gigs are a lot easier to snag if your resume says, Billy Goodnick, author of….

I'm optimistic. Crimes is building buzz. In the four months since I set up a CAH Facebook page (you'll need an FB account to view it), thousands of people have stopped in and left comments. Dozens have posted pictures of their own hortatrocities from around the country and far off lands. It's reassuring, if disturbing, to realize that Santa Barbara doesn't have a lock on this unfortunate epidemic.

The best news came a few weeks ago. I received a speaking invitation from the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, in Golden Gate Park. They asked me to present an evening of Crimes Against Horticulture on Thursday, July 14. I'm only slightly terrified, not because I'll be speaking to hundreds of people at such a hallowed institution, but because the Conservatory is soliciting photos from attendees, then springing them on me sight unseen, for instantaneous, snappy captions. (I'll be channeling my inner Rodney Dangerfield and keeping a spare pair of Depends handy.) If you're around the Bay Area, or have friends to the north, spread the word. Bonus: I'll be giving away rolls of my CAH Crime Scene Investigation Barricade Tape!

Well, enough of this banter; let's look at some recent additions to my rogues' gallery of psychotic plant mutilations. Some are from local sources, taken by yours truly; others from the growing group of Facebook fans.

Speaking of pokes in the eye (or some other strategic anatomical target), here's someone's handiwork at the Mobil station at Mission and Castillo. Of course, this bougainvillea will never bloom, since turning it into an Atlas missile nose cone tends to shear off the tips that produce the flowers. But who needs blossoms with such a charmingly, graceful form?

Just a few feet away up the street, stands a Hollywood Twisted (and tortured and spindled and mutilated and disfigured) Juniper; a tribute to expedience. Having trouble opening your car door? Easy peasy: Crank up the chain saw and throw aesthetics into the chipper. Could be worse - it's only butt-ugly from three sides.

What is it about Hollywood junipers that invite such perverse flights of imagination? I have two plausible explanations for this one: 1) As this plant was picking up speed and reaching adolescence, the owners realized it would soon lift the roof. Rather than minimizing their losses by feeding the bush through the grinder, they cut off all but a few precious branches, leaving behind this lopsided skeletal mess; or 2) That's the bathroom window and the shrub is trying to escape the methane.

The good news is, if you squint just right you can see the face of a cute little bunny looking off to the left. But my first reaction was that someone cranked up their 1875-watt Revlon Tourmaline Ionic Ceramic Speed Hair Dryer to the "magma" setting, then took off for the beach. Doesn't it make sense that if you were going to disfigure a plant, you would at least finish the job? Here are a few contributions from my Facebook buddies:

Behold, the ever graceful, sacred bamboo, contributed by Brian Whyte (Berkeley, CA). I'd love it if someone carved a little arched doorway into one side, like a thatched hut on Gilligan's Island. Then apply a dollop of hair putty to that unruly cowlick, and bingo, we're ready for the cover of Fine Gardening magazine.

Goal posts or an OB/GYN exam gone wild? Thanks to Tom Mann (Clayton, NC) for capturing this shot without swerving into on-coming traffic.

Rebecca Shoenenberger (Santa Clara, CA) contributed this senseless assault on these unsuspecting coast redwoods. Is it possible to impose a more ridiculous shape upon these stately trees? Can you calculate the time, energy, gas-fumes, noise, and greenwaste produced by this perpetual nightmare?

Nancy Buley (Boring, OR) is in the tree growing biz and shares my perverse fascination with arboricultural atrocities. I love the Tim Burton-esque sky casting a pall behind these sorry creatures. Now take a close look at the top of the tree on the right - yep, that's a TV antenna. If there is a god, and one of his/her acts causes these trees fall, it'll be sweet justice when they take out the owner's 42-inch flat-screen.

Ahhhhh, the enchantment of sugar maples wearing their New England fall foliage finest. Ellen Walther Sousa (Spencer, MA) didn't offer an explanation, so let me try. Theory: They didn't have enough trees to completely envelop the phone wires, so they split a few in half, like overgrown perennials, and spread the wealth.

Well, that's it for this installment. If you'd like to be part of the Crimes Against Horticulture neighborhood watch and rat out someone on your block, grab your digital camera, snap a few incriminating pics, and join us at the Facebook page. Or send them to me directly. Who knows? They might find a place in my book.

In the meantime, I'll be sniffing out publishers, then inviting you all to my first book signing at Chaucer's - time and date TBD.

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

Past editions of the Not So Beautiful Awards:






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