by Billy Goodnick
Last week the Obama administration signaled a more lax attitude toward pot dispensaries. I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling a dark cloak lifting from my conscience. No longer must I drive with one eye on the rear view mirror, one on the road and the other on my incoming Twitter feed. After decades of living in the shadows, I'll be hanging up my Unabomber hoodie. "Gimme that 28-inch Vaso Louis terracotta!" I'll say, head held high.
Flower pots are nothing new. Whether it's the empty milk carton I used to sprout an avocado pit for my third-grade science project or an exotic high-fired, crackle-glazed urn from China, there are hundreds of reasons to grow plants above ground.
* Apartment and condo dwellers with soilless balconies or paved patios can grow everything from a privacy hedge to orchids to a luscious array of fruit trees, vegetables and herbs.
* Groupings of pots make eye-catching focal points, especially when there's a well-conceived interplay of plants and ceramic finishes playing off each other.
* Plants that would succumb to your yucky clay will thrive in the customized soil mixes you create.
What You'll Need
Here are a few basic considerations for almost all container plants:
* Unless you're designing a water-loving bog garden, a drainage hole is a must. Plants need air in the soil. To keep the soil from eroding out the hole, place a rock, broken piece of pottery or wire mesh over the hole.
* If you have to protect the surface beneath the pot using saucers, find a way to drain the saucer.
* Right plant / right soil is the rule. Ask your nursery person (not a big box cash register operator) for the right mix for the plants you'll be using. Fast-draining sandy soil for succulents and other Mediterranean plants, peat moss-based mixes for acid loving plants like azaleas. DO NOT use soil from your garden.
* Know how big the plant eventually grows and choose a pot big enough for the mature root mass. Roots grow in proportion to the above-ground part of the plant.
A Plethora of Pots
On Monday morning I started my pot quest in the far reaches of Santa Barbara County, arriving in Carpinteria's Eye of the Day Garden Design Center 24 hours too early-they're closed on Monday.
No prob. I've visited scores of times and know their offerings well. Even from outside the fence, I beheld a diverse sampling of their wares, containers stacked Tower of Pisa-style on massive outdoor shelves visible from the freeway. Owners Brent and Suzi Frietas are world travelers, jetting to Europe and Asia to bring their customers containers, statuary, fountains and furnishings suitable for any style of garden.
A sarcophagus-like planter brimming with a patch quilt of succulents and flowers adorned the entryway. Though Eye of the Day specializes in high-end stuff, they also carry a great selection of everyday pots.
Cruising Camino Real
Just up the road, spittin' distance from where Santa Claus once smiled at passing motorists, sits Seaside Gardens, nestled amongst Carp's commercial greenhouses.
Sidebar: I tip my stingy brim to Seaside for their generous gift to the community. Within their grounds are twelve different styles of beautifully tended gardens (Mediterranean, Asian, Grassland, Cottage/Perennial, to highlight a few) where plants grow unimpeded by compulsive pruning and shaping. So rather than reading the plastic label stuck in the pot, then trying to imagine what it will look like at maturity, you'll see each specimen in its full glory - sort of like visiting a wild animal park, but without the threat of being eaten alive.
Back to the pots…Seaside has some really fun stuff that can add style to your patio. My favorites included the Thai pebble pots, decorated with hundreds of individual stones that create a unique 3-D surface texture. They also do a bang up job of filling their containers with eye-catching combos of succulents that, as I can attest, make great gifts.
Polo Ponies and Pots
Driving further north, across Foothill road from the polo fields, I steered my trusty silver Camry into the parking lot at Island View Nursery, where your basic ten-foot-tall rusty velociraptor stands guard. (I'm guessing folks buy these to scare the crap out of roving gangs of gophers.)
A collection of dark gray, hand-carved Balinese stone containers and statuary stood out from the usual ceramic offerings. If the style of your dream garden is South Sea paradise meets Gilligan's Island, you'll be thrilled with their unique selection. Island View also offers fun, free, hands-on weekend demonstrations where you learn to make living Valentine hearts with succulents.
North To The Wilds of Goleta
Running short on time, I blew past Home Improvement Center and 7-Day, and La Sumida on Patterson, all of which are worth a look. I wanted to check in with my good buddy, Mike Tulley, at Terra Sol Garden Center. Mike's got a bit of everything going on, with gloriously glazed high-fire solid color pots like pomegranate red and cheery chartreuse, brightly glazed hand-painted Mexican Talavera pots and a nice assortment of slender Asian-style urns.
I also saw the ultimate expression of "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade," in the form of this broken blue pot stunningly brimming with chubby little Echeveria, Sedum and curious succulents I can't begin to name.
New Kid On The Block
I believe that there's no such thing as a coincidence in this intelligent universe, which explains why I ran into Thomas Chock the other day. He was at a Santa Barbara Beautiful board meeting to inform us of his new Design Infusion Gallery, on East Cota, one door west of Milpas. I was antsy to leave, since I was closing in on my deadline for this blog post.
Thomas told me that he'd recently moved to Santa Barbara from the Bay Area to open his showroom of custom contemporary furniture, antiques and artwork. My reporter's nose sensed a story, so I stopped by his work-in-progress location, walked into the back room and espied a gas-fired, hard-as-nails Chinese pot big enough to hold a Shetland pony. He has other, more manageable pots in similar styles, perfect for creating an authentic Asian-inspired planting motif. He's even got a recycled stainless steel bank vault gate as his gallery entrance. Pretty cool.
Keeping It Green
One thing keeps pecking away at the green lobe of my brain. Every pot I saw comes from somewhere else-China, Europe, Southeast Asia, Mexico. That means that a whole bunch of fossil fuel was consumed and carbon was pumped into our atmosphere getting these little lovelies to our shores.
As much as I hate to dissuade you from swiping your gold card and supporting our local merchants, consider exploring the more sustainable approach of reusing what's already out there, whether from a garage sale, Craigslist or dragging an old claw-foot bathtub out of the garage. But whatever you end up using, remember to put your plants in green side up.
* Garden Wise Guys TV series
* Eye of the Day Garden Design Center
* Seaside Gardens
* Island View Nursery
* Terra Sol Garden Center Newsletter
* Design Infusion Gallery
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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.
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