Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Part 2- GWA Santa Barbara Tour~2 Rancho La Huerta~ The Old Mission Santa Barbara Garden

"It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It's the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can't be packaged, and it can't be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement."

~ Eugene H. Peterson 

To experience a historic garden, to learn how people engaged land and life in the context of time longer than what a generation walks, a garden is more compelling  than a walled up study hall.

The beauty of Santa Barbara is far more complex than what we learned from our 4th grade text books when when we arrive at the chapter on California missions. Santa Barbara is the central belly button of in the string of missions run up the coast. Its location was set by need, its scenic beauty shaped by disaster as well as by man. 

Photo from 
In 1769, the Spanish Crown authorized 21 missions to be built from San Diego northward. Each was a day's ride by donkey. The missions were not only an exercise in spreading Catholicism: the national interest included the political motive to forestall Russian colonization of coveted territory. 

Huerta (pronounced Where-tah) is Spanish for a kitchen garden.  Even in hostile territory, man cannot live by bullets alone. Every settlement required a fertile space, with access to water and reasonable protection from marauders be dedicated to food crops.   Seeds from the new and old worlds were tended with prayerful reverence. 

While the actual Mission Era was bracketed within 65 years- its effects are the foundation of modern California commerce and culture.
Distinguished educator Jerry Sortomme channels reams of knowledge to GWA group
Fast forward a couple centuries

As dawn was breaking on June 29, 1925, a 6.8 earthquake violently shook beneath the Santa Barbara Channel. The nearby earthen Sheffield dam; the ground beneath it liquefied. The dam collapsed; a knee-high wave of water shoved cattle and all which lay in its path to the sea. Downtown Santa Barbara's buildings trembled until most of what remained was rubble. The mission was slightly spared, its facade significantly damaged, the collection of statues- destroyed.  

Three men were singled out as civic heroes for turning off the city gas and electricity on that day, preventing full-scale destruction and carnage. The civic fathers and citizens used the opportunity to re-brand the city's architecture from mostly Moorish to Spanish Colonial.  


The land near the mission was not a priority.  For some decades, where The Huerta now flourishes, it would have fairly been described as a dumping ground. However, you can't keep a good garden down. As a family's culture is expressed in the meals we serve, California's civic history is most authentically expressed in horticulture.  

When the time was ripe,rubble was reclaimed from the neighborhood, re-purposed into walks and walls. The terrain tamed into usable terraces. In 2003, the La Huerta Historic Gardens project officially kicked off.  Jerry Sortomme,  Professor Emeritus of Environmental Horticulture at Santa Barbara City College was named La Huerta Manager.

Bananas and Citrus 
Citrus were grow from seed
Artichoke allowed to set seed shows its thistle ethnicity

Not all produce was consumed.  A portion must be saved to parent future crops. 

 Dr. Ein Sheimer in Israel

 Apples are not a crop associated with low-chill California coastal communities, but the Anna Apple, developed by Dr. Ein Sheimer in Israel, thrives at La Huerta.

The use of spare Spanish roof tiles to mark plant names is a practical take-away  from the garden.

Not just for plants which are showing,

But for dormant plants. Or to hold a spot in the garden. Here, the common name of seasonal aster marks the spot of what will follow is written in English

On the tile reverse, the Latin designation is neatly printed.

*Note -  When turning tiles over, be careful of what might be hiding underneath. Spiders like dark spaces.

Image of Erigon 'Sea Breeze' by San Marcos Growers

( l-r) Betsy Green compares notes with Nan Sterman  
We were honored to have Betsy J Green, a well-regarded local  history and garden writer who volunteers at La Huerta. She joined Jerry to assure the dozen and a half gardener communicators that our bushels of questions would be addressed as quick as we could think of them- or e-mail later. 

Archaeological sites are treated far differently than back when I was a child. In the 1960's, it was no big deal to take souvenir gleanings. At that time,  a construction worker at Santa Barbara City College took part of this assemblage home. It moved with him to another state. And back. Realizing, a couple decades later, that the fashioned rock was best kept in public hands, he returned the item to the professor. 

The rock was stored at the Environmental Horticulture Department for years. 
OMSB Director Tina Foss determined the rock was  Chumash era- or earlier- it
was approved for viewing at Old Mission Santa Barbara. It became part of a history-scape presentation. Which is like old school dioramas- only way cooler. These displays are life-sized, contain authentic material and you can walk right up.

Likely, the rock was used to grind acorns and native grains- corn came to this part of the world after a pestle ground the rock's concave indentation. What was the stump used for is not known, but certainly sparks conjecture. The state of our sense of wonder was now reborn. 

When the Professor asked the premier begonia expert of the time, Rudy Ziezenhenne if any American indigenous begonias were used in Alta California missions, he was presented with the species 'Blood of Christ' or in Spanish 'Sangre de Cristo'.

The common name denotes the resemblance of unopened red flowers to drops of blood. The symbolism of stems gathered in church vases needs not explanation. 

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.

La Huerta is located in a restricted zone. Tours are limited and by advance registration only. Please link to the contact page.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Part 1- GWA Santa Barbara Garden Tour~ San Marcos Growers

Garden tours are to shelter publications what theater is to the television. Each has its place and purpose. Television and magazines will never go out of style for they are the scouts and advisers we can turn to 24/7.  

However, how much richer it is to participate. To go outside; to celebrate creation with actual creators: to be present for unscripted, unedited moments. This is where the threshold is crossed from fleeting appreciation  to memorable joy.  

To experience a garden or growing ground with all sorts of lovers of gardens, there is simply a vitality from the live garden tour which can only be silhouetted when communicated in two dimensions.  

My work and pleasure as an active member of the community of garden communicators- authors, bloggers, editors, photographers, neighbors chatting over fences- is to encourage observers to take that next step. To actually engage in the wonders found through partnership with the  three dimensional, ever-changing world  God created for our pleasure.  

Ever-smiling, local garden designer and national garden writer, Joan Bolton chats with San Marcos Growers GM Randy Baldwin
With broad strokes, God created the world in 7 days. Then he left the detail, maintenance and improvements to us. 

After brief introductions, 17 garden lovers followed Randy to meet the 1800 plants species San Marcos Growers is raising in everything from 1 gallon pots through 36 inch boxes.

 What we saw...

The plant paparazzi  recorded. 

Aloe 'Erik the Red' 

Each specimen's most compelling angle immortalized, even when it meant contorting our own into unflattering positions.  

Art in the garden grants reason to pause. To focus on what otherwise might be passed by.

This giant drill bit rises as a twisted exclamation point.   If the planting over-takes this visual punctuation, it will be easy to replant the vertical element. 

These rusted fish silhouettes leaping through waves of grasses  reminded me of a recent conversation with Garberville woodworker  Charlie Mott. Long after we met in first grade, before his love of surfing and desire to live in forested lands put our lives on separate trajectories, my cherished childhood friend and I recently discovered that we each went on to develop deep love and respect for the natural world.

In Southern California where I live, Joe and Jill citizen are just now becoming aware of how serious this current drought may be. Where my friend settled, up north in Humboldt County,  people see where their water comes from. Where the Salmon can't dive deeply beneath the water's surface - the fish can't leap out of the way of otters. 

That visual holds more dramatic impact than the color chart on our water bill.  

Art imitating life 
Sculpture in the garden offers added interest both before plantings mature and in the off seasons. As both gardener and sculptress, Berkeley-based artist Marcia Donahue hybridized her two loves into this delightful stand of 'Bambutus baldwinii' . Taking elements of the garden where the sculpture marries elements into a vignette- the artist grafted ceramic lengths of bamboo with renditions of arbutus (strawberry tree) fruit. Note the whimsical touch of life given the sculpture where it appears little bamboo shoots  are trying to run away  from the mother sculpture. 

General Manager Randy Baldwin shares the garden space which inspired Donahue's sculpture with an attentive Sharon Lovejoy.

Feather Logo

Santa Barbara author, landscape designer and plant personality Billy Goodnick, the local coordinator for the day's itinerary, wrote a wonderful piece outlining Marcia Donahue's unique interpretation of vertical gardening for Fine Gardening in 2011 which you can link to here.

The vintage vibe and imperfection collaborate to lower urbane elevated blood pressure down to country comfortable. 

This magic place, deep in a forest of bamboo, was not what I expected from a nursery whose General Manager, Randy Baldwin explains "Drought is our best salesman." 

Writer, author, designer, horticulturist and PBS personality Nan Sterman takes a plant's portrait

National Director of  GWA Region VI, Nan Sterman, exults the virtues of San Marcos Growers. "They have a fantastic collection of plants, always something new and always plants that are interesting... the quality is unsurpassed, and they really “get” the concept of plants suited to the Mediterranean environment. They also have one of the best websites around in terms of providing the information you need to make decisions or know how to use a plant in a design." Her hard-won compliment continued "I always get incredible customer service from them- often above and beyond." 

Randy did the talking. Under the gathering of pewter tinted skies, he shared the grower's connection to the $6,000 plant sold at auction at Lotusland's first rare plant. The story is found on their website at Calicarnea.  

But Juli ( pronounced Yuli) stole the show. And quite a few hearts.  A Hungarian Vizsla, Randy's daughter located her through a Temecula breeder of the cyclonic short haired hunting dog. Juli will be 4 this tax day, when she will undoubtedly celebrate by clearing away rabbits, gophers and all those pesky critters other growers suffer through. To fall in love with Juli, see some downright swoon-alicious photography of San Marcos Growing grounds, hop over to Nikkipolani's review of the day here.

San Marcos is a quality wholesale nursery. While its plants have the distinction of having some of their own selected for the New York Rockefeller Center and Disney World in Orlando, it is primarily a high quality regional provider of water-wise wonderful plants. Click here to locate a retailer in their primary delivery areas.

For my own garden- these are two contenders to bring my gardens water needs down while keeping the romance factor up

Peer across the fine knitted foliage- look closely and you can see the lady bug nearly sinking into easy chair provided by the green stubble covering the bonsai-sized shrub crassula sarcocaulis 'Ken Aslet'.

I will share soon what Randy shared about how to propagate Aloes.

 For now I leave you with an image of a perennial foxglove which stood out like a starlet amongst thorny characters. Can't you see its potential to hide Easter eggs under?

Digitalis 'illumination flame' is yin to the neighboring plant's spiky sword's yang.  A spring bloomer, this charmer swept away the competition on the garden show circuit, winning Best New Plant at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2012, the Greenhouse Grower's Award of Excellence in 2013 and the People's Choice Award at the New Varieties Showcase  at the 2013 Farwest Trade Show in Portland Oregon. 

Until we meet again, Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.

Lydia E Plunk 

PS- GWA stands for Garden Writers Association

Monday, February 3, 2014

Santa Barbara ~ Arroyo Burro Beach Park

It sounds counter-intuitive. But to get ahead, sometimes a person must stop. Get completely away. Let creativity seep back in with deep breaths of fresh air.

There is no fresher air than up the coast in Santa Barbara.

 Friday had been a late start up the coast . Work ran over. Traffic stopped  as often as it moved between the Los Angeles Civic Center and the Ventura County line. Luckily, there was still a day without structure ahead of the garden tour I collaborated on.  

We woke up to a flag-blowing- straight-out Saturday morning in Santa Barbara. As the event was unintentionally  scheduled in conflict with the only national/ religious event not on the calender- the Super Bowl- my honey earned extra bonus points for traveling with me. At home were 2 perfectly good big screen TVs with only 2 little Chihuahuas and our house-sitting son to watch the season football finale. 

Our day of unscheduled bliss began with Gerry heading the car straight to where we imagined the beach would be.  Thanks to a handicapped license plate (the revenge of bodies subjected to the demands of wanna be athletes does provide this handy benefit)  we were awarded the last parking spot at this magic cove.  That morning, the fresh water nearly kissed the saline sea.  The sign called this place Arroyo Burro Beach.  The locals know it as Hendry's beach. We will remember it as paradise. 

A few palm trees. Some bougainvillea. A bit of ice plant. When the natural beauty is this spectacular- there is no need to fussy-up the landscape. 

With the challenging conditions of salt- bearing winds and sandy soil, the plantings were colorful: sturdy succulents and sturdy standard fillers ( like geraniums and freeway daisies)  commonly found at big box stores. These are plants not needing much attention, but if they failed, are just pennies to replace. 

Gerry found this rock. It dedicated the cove to a Marilyn S Garcia, who died in 1993.  There is only one thing I know of this woman. It is that she was very loved to have her memorial placed here. 

Heralded by some as one of California's best dog beaches, the sign proclaims dogs must be kept on leash. 

Most understood this mean the person holds the leash. 

But some dogs had other ideas. 

That Tsunami zone sign- in case of an earthquake- the path up the hill behind this sandstone rubble wall- I suppose that is where we would climb up with what might be our last drink in hand. If all went badly- the scenery for that last kiss would be incomparable. 

Look. In the distance. Is that what I expect it is? 

Yes. A plane-less pilot. A man tethered to a fabric wing. A human kite.

A para-glider, Quite a good one. 

With company beyond inquisitive sea birds . 

For an hour, we watched the men slide without apparent effort across invisible currents of a clear blue sky. 

Most things are learned through trial and error.  A plant dies- it is compost. Fall from the sky- this is one sport I am pleased to stay a simple spectator. 

More info on the beach here.

There is much more to share from this trip. Until the next post- 

Thank YOU for all YOU do to make the world more beautiful.