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Mad Hatter Cups
updated: Feb 18, 2012, 10:00 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Shhhh! Don't Tell Anybody about Donze Avenue!

Long before Ed asked me to write this blog, I was strolling downtown's Alameda Park neighborhood and stumbled on one of those one-block wonders that appear out of nowhere. Until my son moved to an apartment a block away, I'd forgotten where I'd left Donze Avenue. I'm already feeling a tad guilty for sharing this secret, but I'm also aware that people don't pay much attention to me, so here goes.

Donze Avenue is a hidden gem of well-kept micro-yards, tended with love and gentility. Small lots with smaller bungalows are set close to the street, most with charming gardens of every style. It seems to be one of those magical vortexes where art, horticulture, and neighborhood pride are put in balance.

It's not off the charts in terms of botanical adventurism, but even the most mundane plants are well cared for and left to their natural tendencies. This shower of ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum) is a good example. Yes, there are some hedges that need regular shearing, but even those are sculpted in rounded, natural forms, none even remotely in the running for my annual Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards

It seems like everybody on Donze understands the implications of living in Sunset Zone 24. They've chosen climate-appropriate plants and everything looks healthy. This understated cool color scheme of blue and violet variants includes fine textured, mauve-flowered germander (Teucrium chamaedry, center); prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus species, far right), which bursts with dark blue flowers in late winter; purple sea foam statice (Limonium perezii, lower left); and a smattering of society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea, upper right). The spot of contrasting, sunny yellow lantana (Lantana camara) makes it pop.

There are some bold strokes on the block, too. A young tree aloe (Aloe barbarea, formerly A. bainesii) will eventually add high drama to this inventive, easy- care strip. There's a subtle, but imaginative, play of succulents, using contrasting foliage colors instead of flowers to create year-round interest. And I give high marks for the low-water, easy-care, "right size plant in the right space" approach.

The composition is unfussy, using multiples of the same plant to bind the scheme together. There's self-confident restraint evident in the placement of the rusting crescent moon sculpture, its orange skin contrasted by the ground cover and porch rail trim. One of my new favorite plants, Crassula ‘Gollum', softens the stucco steps, combined with sensuously dark purple aeonium (Aeonium ‘Zwartkop') and ghostly gray blue chalk fingers (Senecio mandraliscae).

Though not every garden on Donze is my cuppa tea, there's something for everybody, including folks with a need for orderliness. For some gardeners, bilateral symmetry is the rule - sort of old school, but who cares? Pride of ownership is evident. Given the strict balance in the rest of the yard, I'm guessing the owner feels like they got in touch with their inner zany, hanging only one wind chime and one fish mobile from the porch beam.

Let me apologize and express my frustration at not being able to fill in some historical background for this next house. On the day I discovery Donze Avenue, I was fortunate to meet the creator of this madcap manifestation of art and whimsy. Since then, I've tried in vain to contact the owner of the house that Donze built.

No worries: I Googled "Edhat" + "Donze" and came up with this recent reader comment:

Donze Ave - takes its name from Eugene Donze who owned most of the land flanking the street. He was an engraver by trade and came to SB around 1895 but changed trades to establish a dyeing and cleaning business. In 1912 he started a new business when he built the market at the corner of Olive and Victoria streets.

As I recall from our fortuitous conversation, the current owner is a ceramic artist who created a gallery installation titled "The Wall of Great China" for an art show in Lompoc some years back. Reassembled parts of the original piece have appeared and disappeared over the years. It's a Mad Hatter tea party with a winking sense of humor, and for me, the high point on the block.

There's a playful sense of color composition, using warm tones to harmonize with house. Even the garden plants embellish the composition with golden hues.

Capping one of the columns is this lava-hot bullfighter, repeating the window trim color.

If you have more history about Mr. Donze, or can connect with the owner, please fill in the blanks in the comments section. Are there hidden garden treasures in your neighborhood? I'd love to come snoop.

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

BLATANT PLUG FOR A FRIEND: My former Garden Wise Guys TV co-host, Owen Dell, is part of a supah-dupah seminar titled Money-Saving Solutions

for Home Improvement Resolutions. Aside from his always-practical, ever- inspiring talk about money-saving landscaping ideas, he's got other experts on interior design, energy savings, and more. The event will be held Saturday, February 25. For more info, visit the event website.


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