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Readin', Writin' and Rynchospora
updated: Aug 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

Readin', Writin' and Rynchospora - Learn Something This Fall
by Billy Goodnick


[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I intended to write this piece as a plug for my upcoming landscape design class that starts September 22 at the Wake Center. I have this column, so why not take advantage of it? At my disposal is the unimpeded reach of the internet to spread the word to the wired masses. I'm drunk with power! But it would be just a bit selfish to make this only about me and not alert readers to other offerings. So pretend you haven't read this introduction yet. Okay, I'm starting the column now...]

I wanted to begin this piece with "Fall is in the air..." but I've been sniffing around, and, no dice - it's still muggy and warm. I'm a cool weather fan. When I hear the TV weather folk using the words "beautiful day" and "high eighties" in the same sentence I want to poke my head through the screen and chat with them regarding expressing opinions about what constitutes "good weather." Just the facts, please.

It seems like only a few days ago that school kids were singing "No more pencils, no more books…" Now here comes Labor Day with all the back-to-school sales. When I was a kid there was always a bit of ambivalence in late summer. On the one hand, there's the "I'm bored, there's nothing to do" ennui that sets in after too many beach days, but on the other hand, there's the dread of homework and studying. But for grown-ups like us, going to classes to learn about something we're actually interested in can be stimulating and fun.

So here's my suggestion. If you're eager to improve the landscaping around your home, or bone up on something horticultural, take a class! Between the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and our magnificent Continuing Education (Adult Ed) programs, there's a lot to choose from. Even if you only have a few hours, there are great offerings.

On the first Saturday of each month the Botanic Garden offers docent-guided tours that will expand your knowledge of California native plants. There are classes on how to prune, design with natives, and for the more ambitious, the Master Gardener program, which gives you a broad background on lots of horticultural subjects. Check it out at www.sbbg.org.

The SBCC Continuing Education Gardens & Landscaping classes are another great community resource. Class titles include Landscape Horticulture and Construction Management; Organic Gardening; Horticultural Shortcuts, Secrets and Techniques; The Ancient Art of Bonsai; and Home Landscape Irrigation taught by Cathy Pare, a frequent guest on Owen Dell's and my Garden Wise Guys TV show.

For the more ambitious, there's the much lauded Green Gardener program. The class is geared toward professional and amateur gardeners and is packed with great information to educate locals in resource efficient and pollution prevention landscape maintenance practices.

One more possibility is Ganna Walska Lotusland. Class admission is first offered to Lotusland members, but if there are extra seats you're in luck. Offerings range from garden photography workshops to ornamental plant and fruit tree pruning instruction. Keep your eyes open for their informative sustainable gardening workshops.

So what about my class? I started teaching at the peak of the drought in the early ‘90s. I called the class "Gone With the Wind; What to Do With Your Drought Stricken Lawn." I saw too many people throwing a handful of random plants into their barren front lawns and calling it a landscape. I thought I could do them and the rest of us a favor by imparting a bit of landscape design knowledge.

Over the years, the class has evolved. It's now called "Through the Green Gate and Into The Garden." Actually, it was first called "Behind the Green Gate and Into the Garden" but whoever typed the class schedule changed "gate" to "door." As you might recall, Behind the Green Door (1972) was one of the first hard-core porno flicks to make it to the popular culture. Something about nuns, a boxer, and three trapeze artists. Needless to say, on the first night of class, as Ricky Ricardo would say, I had some ‘splainin' to do. We thought it would be best to tweak the name for the next semester.

But a class by any other name would smell as sweet, so let's move on. The first class is September 21, convening for six Monday nights at the Wake Center (300 North Turnpike) from 6 pm - 9 pm. The core premise of the class is that every landscape can and should be beautiful, functional and sustainable. My promise to my students is that even if they don't actually end up designing their own garden, but end up enlisting the services of a professional designer, they'll be informed consumers and active participants in the design process.

The class follows the process used by professional designers. We start with the topics of site analysis and developing the "program" (figuring out how to make the garden an extension of your home and lifestyle). It's about making the most of our enviable Mediterranean climate to create spaces for outdoor living, storing all our junk, growing food and using landscaping to create a climate-friendly environment.

Even if you have a good design sense for your interior rooms, people seem to draw a blank when it comes to dealing with the aesthetics of outdoor spaces. We discuss the basic principles of design: harmony, contrast, balance and scale. You'll see tons of slides demonstrating different styles of gardens and how to apply them to your specific situation. Then we take a tour around the color wheel to outline the fundamentals of color theory.

The meat of the class focuses on developing the best plant palette for your site. We don't just choose plants for their floral color - first we consider their function (shade, erosion control, screening, etc.), then what it will take to make them thrive under your particular growing conditions. Then comes the fun part - making it all drop-dead gorgeous. You'll learn to create a garden that looks great every day of the year, regardless of whether it's in bloom or not.

And everything is infused with the idea of doing it in an earth-friendly, low maintenance, sustainable way. Resource conservation, stewardship of the environment, and reducing our carbon footprint aren't just nice ideas - they're an essential component in creating a sustainable landscape.

Oh yeah. After the six evening classes, we hit the road for a Saturday morning garden tour, so you can see how all the principles come together. Bring your camera.

As you might imagine, it's all presented in a fun, energetic manner. You won't have to worry about dozing off at this evening class.

So check out the Adult Ed schedule at the SBCC website, mark a space on your calendar for September 21, and check out my class. Bring a friend or your spousal support unit. It's the best $5 you'll spend.

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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


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