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