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GARDEN OF ED

2011 Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards
updated: Oct 01, 2011, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Well, plant lovers, it's time to take a slug from your pretty, pink, Pepto-Bismol pitcher and turn your attention to this year's installment of all things awful in the local garden world.

Last weekend the generous, good-doing folks at Santa Barbara Beautiful bestowed their annual honors on designers, property owners, and big-hearted community members. The recipients are locals who lend their talent, time, and support to making our area a place of horticultural and artistic beauty.

But now it's time to turn our attention to The Dark Side, and share the goofy, "What were they thinking?" examples that have earned their own 15 minutes of shame. It's not my intent to just point a finger and say, "Ewwwwwwwwwwww". My hope is that by tossing these perpetrators into my Cuisineart of criticism, I can prevent readers from committing their own crimes against horticulture, and quite possibly become proud honorees at future award events.

This time around I'm sharing tales of bondage, cartoon character simulations, math-challenged manglers, and will explain why I think the City of Santa Barbara has some ‘splainin' to do.

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (with apologies to Pedro Almodovar)

One of my favorite go-to plants is Myer's Asparagus (Asparagus densiflora ‘Myers'). I love its soft texture, cheery chartreuse color, and eerie resemblance to Sideshow Bob's hair. It grows in partial shade or full sun, and en masse, creates a softly sculptural effect. Place it near dark, broadleaf foliage, like this pairing with bear's breech (Acanthus mollis), below, at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, and you've got a study in subtle contrasting foliage.

So what were they thinking over at Ahi Restaurant on upper State Street? Who came up with the clever idea of using the nylon string the delivery guy uses to keep the LA Times from scattering to put these plants in kinky S&M restraints? Kudos to Ahi for trying to enhance a boring white wall, but do they think we wouldn't notice the passive restraints? I'm sad to announce that the horsetail reed (Equisetum hyemale) that played a central role in this threesome has since passed on (probably forgot the safe word). Dudes, if some of the frilly fronds are in your way, it's a simple snip to cut them at soil level and let the rest of this delightful plant dance its graceful dance.

Math-Challenged Gardener

My first thought when I saw this Eugenia hedge was, "Where's John Cleese, and why didn't use his Stanley 30-foot PowerLock measuring tape?" I'm referring to my all-time favorite scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail, when Cleese appears as the French soldier taunting King Arthur from high atop the parapet wall: "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!"

I don't think there's much more to say about this. If you're trying to create an architectural effect with your plants, it might be a good idea to carve out equally sized masses and spaces. While you're at it, buy a bubble level and flatten the flat parts. This is just silly, lazy, and makes my eyes hurt.

Where's The Pita?

I have nothing against Argentineans, but I so wish they had kept their Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) in the southern hemisphere. Actually, it wasn't their fault. Rumor has it the plant was introduced as a commercial crop to make plumes for hats. This mass of grass found the growing conditions on our area just right, started blowing around and promiscuously reseeding (one plant can produce hundreds of thousands of viable seed), and has since become a very serious invasive weed. (Drive up the Big Sur coast and see the havoc it has wrought in coastal native plant communities.)

Giving the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the owner of this parkway doesn't realize the environmental benefits of totally removing the plant, thereby preventing it from becoming the scourge of this Goleta neighborhood. As suggested by their shearing technique, perhaps they harbor a secret desire to work in a Greek deli, artistically shaving wafer-thin slices of meat into pita pockets and drizzling them with savory tzatziki sauce.

Folks, it's time to finish the dangerous deed (the razor-sharp leaf edges are the stuff of a Dexter episode). Cut it to the ground, pick up a pick or hire a backhoe operator (or call in a napalm strike), but please make it go away. For the rest of you, if Pampas, or any of the other invasive species that are polluting our surroundings, has taken a foothold on your land, please consider 100% eradication.

Gimme Shelter

As long as we're handing out awards, I'd like to thank the maintenance crews at La Cumbre Plaza for consistently giving me fuel for my rantings. Who else but these artistes would think to shape bougainvilleas into a series of exquisitely proportioned awnings?

My guess is someone who didn't consider that bougainvillea isn't a delicate vine that gracefully cascades from on high. They probably thought it would be nice to soften the dull gray concrete block wall with a burst of color. Great idea, until you realize that bougies are vigorous, woody thickets genetically programmed to sprawl through, climb over, and smother everything in their way. And once you

commit to shaping them into cherry-red bonbons, there's no turning back. I'd love to know how many hours of labor go into one round of trimming. Talk about your job security.

"I Told You So, I Told You So, I Told You So"

I thought that writing this subheader would make me feel better, but I can still feel the pounding in my carotids. At the end of 2010, I kvetched about the sad state of landscaping connected to many city-owned properties, and the jarring disconnect between the City's claims of sustainability and the unconscionable waste of resources and staff time when it comes to public landscaping. (Read Billy's Lament.)

On the one hand, the city charter compels the design review boards (ABR and HLC) to assure that every new project, public or private, is landscaped, regardless of whether the owner has the resources to maintain it after the ribbon cutting hoopla subsides. On the other hand, budgets are hemorrhaging, staffing continues to be slashed, and new landscaping dies a slow, predictable death.

Your tax dollars at work.

Carrillo Hill

A few years ago, when I was still gainfully employed as the City's landscape architect, I encountered the collision between logic and desire. New sidewalks were being planned up Carrillo Hill and down Meigs Road, with the laudable goal of making Santa Barbara a more walkable town. (No allowance in the plan for oxygen masks, base camps, or Sherpas). But here comes the Architectural Board of Review assuring that the narrow strips along the sidewalk be landscaped. Never mind that there was no source of permanent irrigation - that would be a budget buster. Instead, they'd pay the installer thousands of dollars to hand-water for a year, then let Darwin have his way.

Loma Alta Drive

The same approach was used for the Loma Alta Drive sidewalks connecting the Lower Westside with the Mesa, and which offer my favorite view of the city and Pacific.

Well guess what? In a couple of years' time, they've turned into hopelessly dead, weed infested, gopher plagued monuments to waste and wishful thinking. I told them so. I sat with the city engineers and told them this was an exercise in futility. They agreed, then threw up their hands and said, "We have to landscape. ABR isn't allowed to let us slide."

So here you go: acres of dead plants, mulch, and weeds -- the default for any project that throws logic, horticulture, and fiscal responsibility to the wind.

City staff, City Council, aspiring candidates: If you're so hot on being a sustainable city, fix this unconscionable conflict between expectations and the current fiscal realities.

The Original Crime Against Horticulture

People ask me where my obsession with these bizarre botanical bombasts began (as well as my annoying addiction to alliteration). Hell if I know, but my editor at Fine Gardening always reminds me to start a new section with a good transition sentence and that last one was fun to write.

It's probably a combination of being a smartass and realizing that there's as much to be learned by observing bad examples as from good ones. I think these next three shots chronicle the instigating incident.

About a dozen years ago, I watched dumbfounded as a landscaper installed scores of little Cotton Lavender plants (Santolina chamaecyparisus) twelve inches from each other, and four inches from the sidewalk. Big mistake: Left alone, this plant grows about three feet across. Below, you see a good example of how to space Santolina - there are only four plants, spaced to account for their mature size without colliding into their neighbors. The plants look relaxed, naturally cloudlike, and require no trimming.

But here's what they did. I guess they wanted the planter to fill in quickly, and little plants are cheap, so hey, let's get crazy.

I omitted a few interim photos of tormented plants forming a brown wall of dead sticks from mercilessly shearing them at sidewalk's edge. The easy solution must have escaped the gardener and owner: As the plants mature and pile up, remove the ones closest to the sidewalk and take out some of the interior conflicts, letting the remainder expand to their normal size. Then put your hedge trimmers back on the truck and leave them there.

Too simple. After two years of watching this mess get worse and worse, this next scene just stopped me cold in my tracks.

Not only did their visionary gardener have the inspiration to outline and define each plant so the owner could take an accurate inventory, but managed to pay homage to Marge Simpson's hair stylist.

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

I'm sure that 2012 will fill my camera's memory card with hundreds of new crimes against horticulture. Just heed these lessons and there's a good chance you won't be featured in the next installment of my Santa Barbara Not So Beautiful Awards.

 

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