Debra Prinzing

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Garden party

November 13th, 2007

four on the balloon

Southern California Garden Writers members convene – 150-feet in the air above Orange County’s Great Park; from left: horticulturist Heike Franzen, me, author and houseplant expert Julie Bawden-Davis, and freelance writer Katie Bloome.

Gather together 30 gardening communicators for a day of networking and idea-sharing and you are guaranteed to have fun, inspiration and even a little controversy as opinions and ideas are swapped. The date: Sunday, November 11th. The venue: Roger’s Gardens, one of the country’s preeminent independent retail nurseries located in the coastal town of Corona del Mar.

Before we settled down to hear from three fascinating speakers, the group of writers, television and radio personalities, photographers, tom larsonplant experts and horticultural vendors convened at Orange County’s Great Park in nearby Irvine. According to horticultural consultant Tom Larson, who is an advisor to this mammoth, 20-to-30 year endeavor, the Great Park is large enough to encompass Central Park, Balboa Park and Golden Gate Park in its acreage.

orange balloon

The 72-foot diameter balloon took us several hundred feet in the air and provided visibility of 20 miles.

Yes, it is a decommissioned military base, but once we boarded the bright orange hot-air balloon and ascended several hundred feet above the barren scene, we started to “get” the vision of the Irvine city fathers, environmental pioneers and community activists determined to create something very special in the midst of overdeveloped Southern California.

This ambitious endeavor will include a mind-boggling array of horticulture, sustainable agriculture and native habitat in a several hundred acre “park.” Where Marine jets once took off and landed (the base was built in 1942 on the site of what once served as growing fields for popular California crops) will soon be a living, “green” community hub. 

New York-based landscape architect Ken Smith’smaster plan includes a 2.5-mile tree-lined “canyon,” a lake and botanical garden, picnic lawns, amphitheatre, sports parks and wildlife corridor for migratory terrestrial and aviary animals. A conservatory “bridge” will span the lake; 150,000 native trees are being grown for planting; conservation and sustainable design practices are in place. Eighty percent of the demolished building material (steel, aluminum, wire, sheet-rock, concrete from the military base) will be recycled. Whew.


Nan Sterman, San Diego-based gardening personality, author and designer, and national GWA Director-extraordinaire planned this amazing day for all of us.

Planners are bringing together plants and people, providing urban land for small-scale organic farmers, growing landscaping plants that support wildlife and nurture people, and recycling water for irrigation. It is truly amazing that voters several years ago rejected a proposal for yet another international airport in favor of reclaiming this land for community use. If you come to Orange County, you need to make time to visit – and return (as this will be one of those multi-decade endeavors). The investment is for future generations and I find that exciting and inspiring.

In the interim, while development is underway, the Great Park planners are turning over several acres of land to two food bank operations, Community Action Partnership and Second Harvest, with the goal of growing nutritious, wholesome produce for the community’s homeless population and others facing hunger.

Back at Roger’s we settled in for “News You Can Use: Industry & Environmental Trends for Garden Writers – All About Plants, Gardens and Garden Communications.” Three Southern California experts shared their insights:

nicholas staddonNews from the Wholesale/Grower World: Plant trends with Nicholas Staddon (director of New Plant Introductions, Monrovia Growers)

Nicholas highlighted the following trends:

Plant “Branding”

Native plants (with a region-by-region focus)

Awareness of Invasives (see Carl Bell, below)

Waterwise plant choices

Tropicals-and-arid plants together

Minimalist gardening (doing more with less)

carl bellNews for the Environment: Invasive Plants in Southern California with Carl Bell (UC Cooperative Extension)

Claiming, “there are no good weeds; there are no bad plants,” Carl highlighted the forthcoming “PlantRight”initiative that will be rolled out statewide in February 2008. The program will encourage consumers and retail nurseries to “Keep Invasive Plants In Check,” and voluntarily stop the sale and planting of known invasives.

One of the smartest features of the program is to suggest to home gardeners non-invasive plant alternatives to the garden thugs. Carl offered these definitions to guide the discussion of “what is an invasive plant?”


to a gardener, it means “foreign, tropical, interesting, cool”

to an environmentalist, it means a “bad, foreign, invasive pest”

to a regulatory agency, it means “a foreign organism that is likely a pest (although other governmental buzzwords include “alien” and “noxious,” a legal term that requires eradication, containment or control.


“Evolved in that location, present without any influence of humans (in California environmental organizations like the California Native Plant Society, Audubon, Sierra Club, “native” is regarded as specific to a region or area of the state)


“Introduced by humans, either accidentally or intentionally”


A non-native plant that has established a stable, reproducing population in an area after introduction. Naturalized plants do not necessarily invade other areas. This term is used essentially the same way for gardens or natural habitats.


A naturalized plant that is spreading out from the location where it was introduced. Rapid or slow, its spread can be aided by disturbance or not, and it can have mild to drastic impacts on the native flora/fauna.

Any plant that is objectionable or interferes with the activities or welfare of humans; invasive plants are a special category of weeds.

Other resources:

The St. Louis Declaration on invasive plant species

Cal-HIP (California Horticultural Invasives Program)

succulent cornucopia

An awesome centerpiece of “Retro Succulents” from EuroAmerican Propagators — illustrates one HOT plant trend

News from the Retail Nursery World: What’s Hot and What’s Not in Home Gardening with Ron Vanderhoff (Nursery manager, Roger’s Gardens):

Ron is a veteran nurseryman and garden writer whose popular weekly column “The Coastal Gardener” appears in Orange County’s Daily Pilot newspaper. Here is his inside-scoop on the ins-and-outs of gardening trends:

NOT: “Gardening”  vs. HOT: “Gardens”

According to Ron, yesterday’s definition of a garden was a place where one would “grow” and “care for” plants; a place of enjoyment and work (emphasis on “work” as a verb)

While today’s definition of a garden is a “living space” that’s also a place of enjoyment and relaxation (emphasis on “relaxation” as an experience)

Other HOT trends:

Inside-Out: The walls of our homes have come down; homeowners are now “exterior design” experts; plants only account for one-third of spending on outdoor living

6 Responses to “Garden party”

  1. MA Says:

    Once again, I am wildly jealous you were hangin with plant geeks and I was at a football game. What’s with that? More like, what’s with ME?

    And can you please explain plant ‘branding’ to me?

    You know that guy I am married to? He used to fly military planes where you were bobbing around in a hot air balloon!

    The best part of this, however, is the vision of those who understand “adaptive re-use” of land and resources. Here’s an “atta boy!” for a job well done.

  2. admin Says:

    Hi MA, I thought of you All Day Long because I knew you’d have been in hog heaven if you were with us. YES, D. needs to come see how a concrete landing strip will now be an enormous green space! Yeah.
    “Branding” is of course that code word for patented plants that somehow deserve a price premium (think about how we all raced around to buy Brunnera “Jack Frost” for twice what other brunneras cost). It can also mean branded plant collections of the ilk we often find at GWA meetings. Flower Carpet roses or Steppables groundcovers. One of the things we found interesting is that entire categories of plants are no longer referred to by their Latin name (think Million Bells versus Callibrachoa). Like everything else in life, the plant world wants its designer labels. Give me an ordinary species any day of the week! (except for those amazing succulents). You’ll be with us next time girlfriend.

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  5. Bulletin News Says:

    Phenomenal view talking about Garden party. Always love your view!

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