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Summertime News and Edhat Blues
updated: May 26, 2012, 9:45 AM

By Billy Goodnick

I apologize in advance if this week's article gives you whiplash. I've got a few hundred words in which to deliver some good news and sad news, then provide a bit of useful garden advice to get you ready for summer. It might get bumpy.

The bad news, for those who look forward to reading this blog on a regular basis, is that I'll be cutting back from posting every other week to contributing only once a month. Two reasons: 1) I've written over 100 articles since Ed invited me on-board, and frankly, my muse is threatening me with a trial separation. It's not that there isn't anything going on horticulturally in this slice of paradise. But thinking up story ideas, researching and interviewing folks, then drafting, polishing, photographing, and formatting my typical 1000-word multi-image ramblings eats up time I just no longer have available.

2) That's where my good news comes in. Last Monday, I signed a book contract with St. Lynn's Press , the breakthrough I've been working toward for more than a year. I've got until the end of October to submit a manuscript for a 100-page garden design book (photos and illustrations, too). It's a humorous, comprehensive compilation of everything I've taught for twenty years, and written about since my first blog post in May 2007.

So I need to reprioritize my daily activities to carve out a big chunk of time for the book. But I don't want to pull the Edhat plug completely. This is too damn much fun!

I've got stories lined up about the free horticultural tours of the Four Seasons Biltmore's classic Mediterranean landscape, a sampler of gardens in local wine country, and a behind the scenes look at the native plant palette surrounding the Chumash Casino. Tradition will prevail in September when I announce my Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards, excoriating the bone-headed f'ugliness that sometives passes as horticulture in our community. And rest assured that someone will do something to put my thong in a twist, and I'll use this powerful platform to kvetch.

The book (still working on the title) will be available March 2013, and you KNOW I'll use this soapbox to keep you informed.

Smooth Segue

Speaking of soapboxes, summer's here! (They both start with ‘S'). I know, because on tonight's KEYT newscast, the words "75 mile-per-hour gusts" and "red flag warnings" seized my attention. Time to pack away your fleecy UGGs and bust out the SPF 300.

With weather that's the envy of the nation, Fiesta parties and Summer Solstice soirees take over our yards. We linger under night skies. Unlike some parts of the country, we needn't worry about small children carried away by maniacal marauding mosquitoes.

Wildfire Consciousness

In summer, gardening practices change, too. Safety comes first, with weed and brush clearance in high fire areas topping the list. It's anyone's guess whether summer 2012 will be as benign as 2011's fire season, or threaten residents with devastating replays of past years.

If you live in hazardous areas, please do your part right now to protect your property, the community, and help public safety personnel help you. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department's downloadable handout, Fire & Life Safety Information: "Wildland Safety" provides a comprehensive list of steps you can take now and throughout the year to increase your odds of surviving the ravages of the next blaze.

Also, read my 2008 article about Santa Barbara's Firescape Garden for an in-depth review of this critical public educational resource.

Precious Fluids

Despite the generosity of a few late-season storms, rainfall levels for 2012 are well below normal, and it's pretty unlikely we'll see more than coastal drizzle for months to come. The official rain gauge at Cachuma Lake caught 13.40 inches, 66% of normal. Carpinteria received 9.75 inches, half of what is expected for a typical rain year.

So pay attention to how you use this liquid gift. There's absolutely no excuse for knowingly wasting water. Lawns are the biggest sucker in the landscape. Unless your grass is used as a surface for recreation (sucking mower fumes doesn't qualify), M U R D E R Y O U R L A W N ! ! ! There's lots of information available to get you going, starting with Santa Barbara local author Carol Bornstein's book, Reimagining the California Lawn, reviewed in my July 2011 blog.

If you can't bring yourself to commit grassicide, for Pete's sake, learn to manage your irrigation system, figure out another way to get leaves off your walkways besides squirting them, and ask your water purveyor for a free water check-up. You might even qualify for a $1000 rebate for landscaping and irrigation improvements!

Higher summer temperatures, longer days, and drying winds increase a plant's water use and speed up evaporation from the soil's surface. Your cheapest, quickest way to decrease the evapotranspiration rate is by applying a three-inch layer of organic mulch (there are no-cost and low-cost sources courtesy of the County's Solid Waste Management Division).

If you're like me, you don't rush into procrastinating. Been waiting for the Memorial Day weekend to finally do some serious weeding around the yard? You screwed up. It's time to tug on your Doc Martin steel-toed boots, perform your yoga stretches, and commence to kicking yourself in the head. That's because once all those tall weeds transformed from supple green to tawny tan, chances are the seed heads you're preparing to decapitate will disperse throughout the yard, germinate during the next rainy season, and terrorize your garden yet again. That doesn't mean you should let them stand any longer, but please, please, please, break the cycle next year. Once the weeds sprout, mown them down right away so they don't flower, or host a herd of hungry springbok to munch them down.

Summer Garden Fun

All work and no play ain't what summer's for. Though garden experts agree that fall is the ideal time for putting new landscape plants in the ground (cooler days, still-warm soil, and the start of free rain), summer is ideal for lots of garden projects. It's not too late to start a pizza garden (tomatoes, basil, oregano, and the newly introduced Canadian bacon and pineapple bush, the result of a joint international agricultural research project between Manitoba and Hawaii).

Blindingly brilliant bougainvillea love hot weather and get off to a great start during long, warm days. That said, make sure you understand that some bougies are monsters capable of sprawling over one or more time zones. You've been Mirandized.

Another plant, one that casts a dreamy spell over the nighttime summer garden, is Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia species). Originating in the moist, humid regions of South America, they're not exactly drought tolerant desert plants. But giving them shelter from afternoon sun and a monthly deep soaking rewards you with gigasmic, sweetly fragrant, bell-like nocturnal flowers. Colors range from pure white to peach, yellow, coral pink, and some with luscious red lips.

I warned you I was going to jump around with this blog post. If you're feeling a little woozy, grab a cool drink, drift out to the garden, and grok the moment. Then feel the pangs of guilt wash over you as you imagine me in my windowless, converted garage of an office, typing mallets in hand, pounding out my magnum garden opus. It's the saintly sacrifice I'm making for the good of mankind.


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