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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.

# # # #

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


# # # #

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

 DIRTGIRL agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-12 07:37 PM

Right on Billy!


 COMMENT 22702 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 01:13 AM

I really like your posts about gardening, but you need to hyper-down a bit on your urge to control your neighbors. Perhaps you know your stuff about green gardening, but what does your decision to own a non-indigenous animal say about sustainability and green living?

It would be interesting to know whether a typical pet dog living for two-weeks in a typical American household has a bigger or smaller impact on the environment than 15 minutes of using a gas-powered leaf blower. I know I'd rather endure 15 minutes of blower than two weeks of barking.


 COMMENT 22716 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 08:07 AM

GoletaCrank - You make a good point, so I did some research on one aspect of owning a pet. Here's how to take the onus out of disposing of Biff's (and others') poops.



 COMMENT 22717 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 08:08 AM

"Green Gardening" is nice if you've also got a money tree, but those horrible machines you rail against also make gardening service affordable for the rest of us. I personally do all my own gardening, but I won't hold it against someone for being more efficient at the expense of 5 minutes of noise.


 COMMENT 22719 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 08:09 AM

Goodstix...I tuned out the moment I read "over a sprout filled sandwich".


 COMMENT 22733 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 09:33 AM

A gas powered leaf blower is not only "5 minutes of noise". It's also 5 (or more) minutes of exhaust and fecal particles, pesticide residues, etc... being blown into the air you are breathing. AND it's ILLEGAL in the city of SB! What's more, any blower is not permited within 250 ft. of a residence. I don't think blowers of any kind should be used. It's lazy "gardening".


 COMMENT 22735 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 09:42 AM

El Smurfo - just reread my column. Where'd you see "sprout filled sandwich"? Might be someone else's writing?


 COMMENT 22738 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 09:52 AM

I met with Mike at the City Farmer garden, and over a sprout-filled sandwich, we chatted about worm composting and composting dog waste.


 COMMENT 22743 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 10:48 AM

I've posted on this topic many times and even sent copies to the city council. Since Billy brings it up, here goes again.

I've been a gardener in SB since 1987. I voted for the ban because I was sick of gardeners using these machines to blow dust and debris. I agree with everything people say against the machines. However, it's no so much the machine, but the manner in which they are used.

I have two clients on the upper east side. One with 360 feet of sidewalk, the other with 280. A few weeks ago someone saw me using my nasty blower and called SBPD. They were there within minutes. (nice use of police resources) The cop asked me why I was using it and I said I felt dragging a 300 foot extension cord was dangerous. She then said, "Why don't you use a broom?" I wanted to say, "Why don't you ride a horse?" But I thought she might cuff me. . .

Anyway, I hate using it but it saves me time. That's it.


 COMMENT 22745 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 10:56 AM

DAN39: Like many things, there are smarter ways to use a blower (like 20% of the people who use them) and boneheaded ways to use them. It's the 80% of the gang that make it bad for people like you.

But my main point had more to do with the client who throws their hands up and doesn't cop to the fact that they claim their "green credentials" then let their gardener do whatever they want once the owner goes back in the house. The worst offenders are some property management companies.


 COMMENT 22757 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 03:29 PM

You know what, you're right. How did we survive before blowers?


 COMMENT 22769 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-13 07:01 PM

We either did our own gardening, or we got the local teenager to do it. Another benefit of the global depression...reverse illegal immigration. Good luck Dan.


 COMMENT 22788 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-14 08:47 AM

I live inbetween 2 agressively maintained properties with dueling blowers, and guess what? All that blown stuff winds up here. And I sweep it up. But their places look good. Go figure. I survived much better when people swept up their own trash.


 COMMENT 22807 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-14 12:25 PM

I've often wondered how that city ban on gas-powered blowers (which I support) is working out. Anyone have anything to report? Seems I still see an awful lot of gas-powered blowing going on...


 COMMENT 22810 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-14 01:47 PM

About as well as the cell phone ban...


 COMMENT 22811 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-14 04:22 PM

For me, as a supporter and violator of the law, I say it should be repealed. Blowers are awful, but police and court resources should be spent on other matters.

And don't get me started about cel phones. What a joke of a law. . .


 COMMENT 22819 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-14 07:35 PM


What is your hourly rate? I'm sure you could get some decent business here on the "hat" .


 COMMENT 22905 agree helpful negative off topic

2009-03-16 03:21 PM

The brochure, Working With Your Gardener for a Healthy Garden, can be downloaded from here:

BTW, love the term "plant janitor" - that pretty much nails the mow, blow, and go guys....


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