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The Buck Stops Where?
updated: Mar 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

The Buck Stops Where?
by Billy Goodnick

For a moment last weekend, it seemed like the planets were in alignment. It was as if people were behaving as I expect them to. It didn't last long.

Biff the Wonder Spaniel and I were on an obscenely early morning walk. We were sniffing our way up De la Vina when my heart leapt. There she was--a woman sweeping her sidewalk. Ever since my days as a gardener, I've found a kind of tai chi-like groove when I sweep. I don't know if she was blissing-out on the experience, but the cool thing was that she wasn't using a hose or a gas-powered blower. For me, that's cause for optimism.

About two blocks away I heard the familiar sound of a leaf rake on asphalt. Fingernails on a chalkboard to you; music to my ears. A gardener was herding big, crunchy leaves from a southern magnolia tree. Not just one, but now TWO people doing the right thing! Might I be witnessing a harmonic convergence of the sustainable landscaping ideas I espouse?

Nah. No such luck. The rake guy's partner was reaching into the truck for a sprayer and strapping on a gas-powered leaf blower. The mechanical harpy belched blue smoke and crescendoed. In my silent rage I pushed the Play button in my brain for Speech No. 1. It's the one about wasting fossil fuels, polluting the atmosphere and letting pesticide-laden soup flow to our creeks. I've acted on my principles more than once, trying to nicely yet persuasively impress on homeowners and gardeners that there's a better way. It usually doesn't end well. I walked on.


The last planet came into alignment a few hours later. Driving along outer State Street, a gardening crew was busy hosing down every square inch of an office building's paving—steps, sidewalk, parking lot. My pulse spiked, bile bursting in air, and Speech No. 2 commenced in my head—the one about the compulsion to have sidewalks clean enough to eat off of and how even if the owner is willing to pay for the water, it's not really HIS water; it's everyone's water. Paying your water bill doesn't make it rain in the mountains. Water is part of The Commons, something we should all protect, share and conserve.

Short of driving around confronting gardeners—commercial or homeowners—how do we change the way our gardens are cared for? It begins with you. If you profess to a greener lifestyle, you need to walk the walk. Is it okay with you if your gardener hoses off walkways or uses gas-powered tools? Is your irrigation controller being adjusted to match the changing seasons? If your flowers are attacked by aphids, what's your tolerance level for pesticides?

One place to start making a difference is by hiring a Certified Green Gardener, whose graduates are taught about using more sustainable methods. It's your first line of defense against "plant janitors" who just happen to own the right tools but know nothing about creating a healthy, thriving garden.

Some people are intimidated by the inescapable language barriers that frequently arise, since many local gardeners don't have English as their primary language. Wouldn't it be cool if someone created a bi-lingual check list of garden practices, ranging from lawn care to pest management to green waste reduction?

Guess what? The Green Gardener program thought about that, too. You can get their pamphlet, "Working With Your Gardener for a Healthy Garden" from the City of Santa Barbara's Public Works Department (564-5460), and the County's Water Agency (568-3440). Check the boxes that apply to your idea of sustainable maintenance and hand it to your gardener. Instant communication!

Even if you don't have a gardener, you might want to pick up a copy of the brochure. You'll gain some insights into what makes a sustainable garden easier to care for and healthier to live with. So please take responsibility for what service providers do for you. I'd much rather congratulate a gardener for doing a great job than wander the streets muttering to poor Biffy.

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


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