Debra Prinzing

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Archive for the ‘Shed Glossary’ Category

Revisiting our Stylish Sheds

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

Published in 2008, Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways is more relevant than ever!

In 2008, after a year of scouting the country for “stylish sheds” with my wonderful collaborator, Seattle photographer Bill Wright, and after months of interviewing shed owners, designers and builders, then writing 50k words or some ridiculous amount of text, Clarkson Potter (Random House) published Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways.

We loved that book so much. We loved how beautiful Bill’s photography was, capturing the personalities and stories of each shed owner, not to mention unique geographical and architectural characteristics of each shed. We loved storytelling through my interviews, conversations that dug deep into the psyche of hideaways, retreats and shelters.

Bill and I were truly ahead of our time. We saw around the corner and we believe that Stylish Sheds captured a shift in how people viewed their gardens and the once-neglected huts or sheds that stood there.

Our book documented that lovely shift toward viewing sanctuary not as somewhere you have to travel to, but somewhere that exists just steps away from your backdoor.

Stylish ShedsWell, 2008 was a financial disaster and the bottom fell out of the real estate market. Our timing could not have been predicted. Ten years later, a number of copycat books emerged on the marketplace. And Bill and I just sat their and thought: Wow, we were visionaries! The promotional machine we needed in the lifestyle media marketplace was in its own crisis when Stylish Sheds was published. That was the era when magazines like House & Garden, Cottage Living, Domino and others suddenly folded.

Eventually, nearly 20k copies of Stylish Sheds were shipped to booksellers, more than any other book I ever wrote. But then, it went out of print a few years later. You can still find this special title on your library shelf and through online sellers of used books.

We were quite suprised recently when Lyda Kay Ferree, a lifestyle writer for a group of magazines in the South, contacted us to see if she could excerpt a few of Bill’s photos and interview me for an April 2020 Home & Garden feature for VIP Jackson Magazine and one of its sister publications.

Lyda Kay definitely “gets” this book. When she contacted me to set up the phone interview, she wrote: “I am fortunate to live in an historic district in a 100-year-old home, complete with the original potting shed with brick walls. (It has electricity but no running water.) I had saved an article about your book as I am getting ideas for my potting shed.”

Well, we had a lovely conversation about Stylish Sheds, and Lyda Kay’s article appears here, with photography graciously provided by Bill. Seeing those beautiful and diminutive structures we documented brings back a flood of memories of that year — between summer of 2006 and summer of 2007 — when Bill and I produced 35 photo shoots in 52 weeks.

Itinerant seekers of inspiration, we felt like we were on a treasure hunt, gathering the best tiny architecture and design ideas to share in our book’s pages.

Lyda Kay has shared the PDF of her article and you can download or read it here. We’re so pleased that she reached out and helped to remind us of this special book and the memories of creating it. Thank you, Lyda Kay!

Chocolate flowers for your garden

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010


BH&G's August issue features my "Debra's Garden" column about "hot chocolate" plants

Chocolate flower and plant update:

Better Homes & Gardens readers who see this month’s “Debra’s Garden” piece on cocoa-colored and chocolate-scented plants might be interested in reading my post from last July. You can find it below.
Just last summer, I visited the famed Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley, Wash., on Whidbey Island – and wrote about my tour of the charming and inspiring nursery with owner Marie Lincoln.
Several readers have already contacted me to mention Chocolate Flower Farm as a great source for dark-colored and sweet-fragranced plants, including the chocolate cosmos, featured above right.
In fact, if you turn to the Resource section in the August issue, you’ll discover that we did indeed feature this great resource for all things chocolatey. The web site is:
As with the edible kind of chocolate, one can never have too many yummy, delicious chocolate plants. Enjoy – and please let me know how you are using this sultry color in your own garden.

Dark chocolate brushes the tips of this multi-petaled dahlia called 'Karma Choc'

Dark chocolate brushes the tips of this multi-petaled dahlia called 'Karma Choc'

chocolategardenThe flowers that Marie Lincoln and Bill Schlicht cultivate at their Whidbey Island nursery specialty nursery are good enough to eat. That’s because Chocolate Flower Farm’s mocha, bittersweet chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa and espresso-hued blooms and foliage plants are as satisfying to the senses as a Fran’s caramel-filled chocolate sprinkled with grey sea salt (well, almost).

My friend Stacie Crooks, of Seattle-based Crooks Garden Design, was my escort to Whidbey last Tuesday. We’d only slightly recovered from our late night festivities in her superb, often-photographed drought-tolerant  garden, where a gaggle of garden gals gathered (isn’t that alliterative?) for a lovely sunset soiree.  I spent the night at Stacie’s and we set off the next morning for the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island.

The ferry crossing was short – 20 minutes – but beautiful in its grey-blueness with sunlight pushing through the morning haze. I breathed Seattle’s maritime air and that made me happy.

I had a lovely visit to Marie Lincoln of Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island outside Seattle

I had a lovely visit to Marie Lincoln of Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island outside Seattle

After visiting one of Stacie’s inspiring and impressive design projects, the subject of which I hope will soon appear in one or two of my articles, we drove to Chocolate Flower Farm to meet Marie. I first met this dark-plant purveyor by telephone when I called her last December to request an interview. I wanted to include her “sweet” plant passion in my February “In the Garden” column for 805 Living.

Like most of my writing efforts, there’s a back story on the piece, entitled “Brown is Beautiful: Sweet Tips for Growing a Chocolate Garden.”  Last fall, my editor Lynne Andujar made an off-the-cuff comment to me: “Oh, our February issue is going to be the CHOCOLATE issue, but I’m not really sure if there’s a fit for the gardening column,” she said.

“You bet there’s an angle,” I replied. “We’re going to feature chocolate-scented and chocolate colored plants!”

A little shed houses the nursery sales area

A little shed houses the nursery sales area

Marie Lincoln shows off her plants to garden designer Stacie Crooks

Marie Lincoln shows off her plants to garden designer Stacie Crooks

Marie and Bill started the Chocolate Flower Farm in 2005 to grow and promote dark-colored plants. 

The display beds and nursery area have expanded around their 1923 farmhouse and outbuildings (sheds!) to the former horse pasture.

As the “hot chocolate” trend grew, the couple searched for even more plants on the dark end of the spectrum, selecting unusual sports to propagate and sell as exclusive named cultivars. Marie jokes that her nursery reflects “a collision of two passions,” as it introduces new and veteran gardeners to the beauty of chocolatey colors in the landscape (not to mention a few very special chocolate-scented plants that invoke memories of grandmother’s Nestle Toll House cookies coming out of the oven).


Shed-of-the-Year . . . you can enter!

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Uncle Wilco, as he is depicted on his web site, We *Heart* Sheds (well, this was a holiday version from 2007)

Uncle Wilco, as he is depicted on his web site, We *Heart* Sheds (well, this was a holiday version from 2007)

Here’s some background about SHED OF THE YEAR and its creator Uncle Wilco, a cyber friend who lives in the UK in South Wales, and is the creator of We (Heart) Sheds and several other projects.  I was thrilled to discover that I was not alone on this quest for finding and documenting awesome backyard structures, that many kindred spirits existed on this globe to share my journey. Here is the original story I wrote about Uncle Wilco nearly two years ago. A memorable quote about his Shed of the Year contest:

. . . the British have a love affair with the shed, so really it’s just snowballed. I was lucky to do a few radio interviews. I got the impression they thought I was a nutter . . . ! But at least people realise that I have a passion for sheds, so that’s all that matters.

Imagine my surprise when Wilco asked me to join his illustrious team of judges to represent as the International Judge for the 2010 Shed of the Year competition! The event culminates with an announcement in early July, during National Shed Week, and I’m eager to participate. I’m hoping to get over to the UK to join the others, but at the very least, I will do my part on this end. I encourage any of my readers to submit photos and enter. That is all it takes!

Thought I’d kick things off by telling you a little more about the competition. In the words of Mr. Wilco himself:

Q. You started Shed of the Year in 2007, right? So you’ve had 3 winners!
What has surprised you most about the scope and diversity of sheds
around the globe?

Tony's Roman Temple took honors in the 2007 Shed of the Year contest

Tony's Roman Temple took honors in the 2007 Shed of the Year contest

A. I have run readersheds since 2001  and thought it was time I should celebrate all these great sheds. So I started Shed of the Year. The last three winners have been very different: 1) A Roman Temple,  2) A Pub Shed, and 3) a Cabin. I look forward to shed of the year 2010 — it could be a workshop or studio or even a hut. That’s the thing — we don’t know until the public have voted and the judges have made their decisions for Shed Week 2010.

Q. Who does Sheds better, the UK shed aficionados or the North American ones?

A. Well, I am biased. UK sheds Rock- or should I say UK Sheddies rock. But you US sheddies have a different view on sheds. The UK history with sheds as mainly a man thing is very long and it’s the sheddies that make

Q. Can you please describe “wossname” and how I can explain it to US readers?

A. I am not great with words , so I tend to fill in things I can’t think about with “wossname.” So it’s a term in the UK, like a thing or a “wotsit,” when you can’t think of the real word!

Here's where Uncle Wilco hangs out and enjoys his home brew

Here's where Uncle Wilco hangs out and enjoys his home brew

Q. If you had to spend your final days inside your own shed, what three essential items would you need to bring with you?

A. That’s very difficult. I would say family and friends and  my dog, but as for items it would have to be some home brew (beer).

Q. What kind of swag can I expect for being a Shed of the Year judge?

A. What, the glory of being a judge in the World’s most favourite Shed competition is not enough?

Q. How many entries have you had from North American shed owners (in past years)?

A. Well, it’s not just North American sheds. It’s International, too. We love sheddies from the Americas, Canada, Europe and Australia and New Zealand. You can view all the international sheds entries (199 of them to join the 1200 UK ones) here.

Q. What else do you want my readers to know?

A. That we are welcoming entries to Shed of the Year 2010 now and would love to have some more  Stylish Sheds added. All I ask is that the sheddies add a few good images — including external/internal shots. The more images the better, so the public can get a  good look.

Thanks so much Uncle Wilco – I will do my best to pump up the entries from the International contingent. See you soon.

A Gazebo in the Garden

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Kathy Fries, framed by her new gazebo

Kathy Fries, framed by her new gazebo

Most gazebos are a little twee for my liking. If you think of a traditional white latticework structure, the kind that looks as if a gust of wind or a swiftly-kicked soccer ball might knock it over, you probably don’t love gazebos either.

Ever since I started scouting great garden architecture for Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways several years ago, I have changed my tune.

Case in point: When I was in Seattle earlier this summer, my friend Kathy Fries invited me to see her new copper-roofed gazebo. Situated in the heart of Kathy’s prolific vegetable garden, the structure was built by John Akers. I’ve written about Kathy and John’s collaboration before, both in this blog and in the pages of Stylish Sheds. He is a salvage-artist-carpenter who knows how to take Kathy’s grand ideas and construct them into fanciful garden buildings.

It's a lovely addition that enhances the vegetable garden

It's a lovely addition that enhances the vegetable garden

What I love about Kathy’s new gazebo is that it is both beautiful and functional (not to mention sturdy!). In it, you can gain shelter from rain or sunshine; you can pause while picking raspberries and sit on one of two facing interior benches. You can “gaze out” over the garden, looking through openings on either end or the side walls.

The gazebo’s charming rooftop joins several other turrets, cupolas and domes that populate the skyline of Kathy’s garden. Plus, it gives the vegetable garden a new point of view. When John erected the gazebo, it allowed Kathy to realign some of her paths and planting beds on a main axis. It’s beautiful and I know everyone who sees it will start dreaming about a new sort of garden gazebo.

And did you know that Gazebo is believed to come from the Latin for “Gaze About”? I’ve added definitions from several sources to my Shed Glossary, here.

If you have a Gazebo you want to share, please send me the photo and I’ll post it in the future. Here are a few more photos from Kathy’s garden:

Seattle Gardens extraordinaire

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Seattle in June.

Blue skies, expansive views of water and mountains, blooming gardens, great friends.

Here are some photographs of two days in Seattle: Saturday and Sunday, June 27th and 28th:

The view from Ivar's on Lake Union: Seattle's skyline and the iconic Seattle Space Needle

The view from Ivar's on Lake Union: Seattle's skyline and the iconic Seattle Space Needle

My dear friend Lorene Edwards-Forkner was my dining companion, along with fellow Pacific Horticultural Foundation board members

My dear friend Lorene Edwards-Forkner was my dining companion, along with fellow Pacific Horticultural Foundation board members


Garden touring in the Seattle garden of Mrs. Alison Andrews

Garden touring in the Seattle garden of Mrs. Alison Andrews

Here's that garden without people

Here's that garden without people


My friend garden designer and writer Robyn Cannon joined me at the Andrews garden

My friend garden designer and writer Robyn Cannon joined me at the Andrews garden

Robyn's delicious salad with asparagus and a yummy fig wrapped in prosciutto - unforgettable!

Robyn's delicious salad with asparagus and a yummy fig wrapped in prosciutto - unforgettable!


Robyn and Don Cannon's oft-photographed Seattle hillside garden - inspiring and lavish

Robyn and Don Cannon's oft-photographed Seattle hillside garden - inspiring and lavish

Elegant and cool, a splashing fountain in the heart of Robyn's garden

Elegant and cool, a splashing fountain in the heart of Robyn's garden

Stopped by my friend and garden muse Jean Zaputil's for a view of her beautiful herb garden

Stopped by my friend and garden muse Jean Zaputil's for a view of her beautiful herb garden

How to dress up your patio

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

A custom tent with side draperies and scalloped details creates a secluded, breezy patio retreat

A custom tent with side draperies and scalloped details creates a secluded, breezy patio retreat

Interior designer Deborah Campbell knows how to turn an ordinary patio into a place you’ll want to visit often — and perhaps never leave. Use her design ingredients to create a private respite where you can rejuvenate and collect your thoughts.

The Santa Barbara-based principal of Deborah Campbell Interior Design transformed two private patio spaces into outdoor rooms at Casa Robles, the design showcase that benefits CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation, a Santa Barbara nonprofit organization whose mission is to end child abuse).

On location: Gary Moss, photographer (kneeling), as he perfects his shot in the family room. His assistant Pam is to his left; 805 Living editor Lynne Andujar is at right

On location: Gary Moss, photographer (kneeling), as he perfects his shot in the family room. His assistant Pam is to his left; 805 Living editor Lynne Andujar is at right

As part of the 805 Living Magazine team that created the CALM Showcase program, I wanted to see the finished project in person before the public tours close this coming Sunday, June 28th (see details below). 805 Living is the presenting sponsor of the event, and editor Lynne Andujar asked me to write a feature story about the home and interiors for our November 2009 issue. This morning I drove to Santa Barbara to see and tour the project. Lynne was there with photographer Gary Moss, shooting the interior and exterior spaces for my story. They captured some gorgeous, evocative shots! Can’t wait to see them in print.

I also met several of the designers involved in creating the new house, including Annette Flower (who created the family room off of the kitchen), Gillian Amery of The Kitchen Company, and Deborah Campbell. The other key persons on the creative team include Christy Martin of Studio Encanto, the primary interior designer; Harrison Design Associates, the architecture firm; Lindsay Adams Construction, the contractor; and Katie O’Reilly Rogers, ASLA, landscape architect (who created the patio’s proportions and selected the beautiful Ashlar-laid stone).  

Create an outdoor room with a Sunbrella fabric tent lined with sheer panels and Morrocan print fabric on ceiling

Create an outdoor room with a Sunbrella fabric tent lined with sheer panels and Morrocan print fabric on ceiling

Deborah Campbell’s design for the living room patio is completely enchanting. In studying and photographing it, I realized that her design, which she calls “Soft Summer Breezes,” offers a perfect recipe for decorating any patio.

Of course, it would be tres bien to turn your own patio into an open-air Kasbah with a custom-made canvas tent lined with sheer fabric and Moroccan toile draped across the ceiling.

But if you can’t do that, try creating an overhead fabric ceiling from yardage, sheets or tablecloths that suit your fancy.

Remember when you were a kid and you clipped two sheets to a clothesline and then pulled them out at the bottom to anchor as the “sides” of your makeshift tent? Ingenuity like that is priceless – we all need to remember our childhood shelter-making ideas and re-purpose them as adults.

Here’s a quote from Deborah:

“I am inspired by the Mediterranean architecture and Santa Barbara’s mild, year-round climate. I wanted to create outdoor rooms to capture that casual lifestyle. My personal style is always loose, relaxed, and eclectic. Nothing is perfectly arranged . . . because I wanted to give a sense of our California casualness.”


Try these patio design elements to decorate your outdoor room, straight from Deborah’s drafting table:

Rugs:  A vintage Moroccan area rug is layered over a jute outdoor rug. The rug is protected from sunlight and rain. If you don’t have a covered area, look for one of the new, cool weatherproof rugs, such as Pier 1 imports’ selections. The Moroccan rug is from Upstairs at Pierre LaFond, Santa Barbara. Also shown here is the rattan “Poof” floor cushion, from Porch in Carpinteria. It echoes texture from the wicker chairs and invites you to perch, curl up your legs, and rest your drink on the coffee table.

seating-textilesSeating: Deborah selected wicker occasional chairs and piled them high with eclectic textile pillows and basic driftwood-colored linen cushions. The chairs evoke life at the beach, from Porch in Carpinteria.

more-textilesTextiles: Pillows galore lend one-of-a-kind interest and beautiful textures. They tell a narrative of an owner who has traveled widely and who loves to pair old with new; worn with polished; rustic with refined. Pillows from Upstairs at Pierre LaFond and Rooms & Gardens, both in Santa Barbara.

coffeetableTables: Weathered and worn, the plank-topped coffee table is large enough to do double-duty as an al fresco dining table. It is by Brick Maker, available at Porch.


The “Scroll” console table is perfect for displaying objects or setting up a picnic buffet on a cool summer evening.

wine-stave-chandelierLantern: Okay, the over-sized lantern is a gorgeous thing to behold. I love, love, love that Deborah went BIG in scale in selecting this element of her design. It is called a “Wine Stave” chandelier, made from old wine barrels. You can kind of see the influence in the wood rings. I wish I could have photographed it while lit, but if you squint, you’ll get the idea. This lamp-chandelier makes the design sing! It’s from Porch.



Objects: Decorative orbs (right) are made from burl root and lend another distressed texture to the space. Spanish hand-blown glass bottles look like beach glass (left). All of these items are from Porch.

killer-agavePlants: Drama is key. Each plant needs to have presence in the space, almost as sculpture. The mature Agave, potted in a cast concrete urn, is one example. (Above): The cast-concrete bowl, planted with Euphorbia ‘Sticks of Fire’ is another.


Casa Robles is an exquisite, historic property originally designed by Chester Carjola in 1948. The modest California ranch, situated on a oak-studded hillside with views of the famed Santa Barbara Mission, has been completely transformed and reimagined to capture the essence of a California Spanish Colonial estate. Most of the rooms open onto an interior courtyard, outdoor patios and second floor terraces. Enlarged to 4,500-square-feet, the home is situated on a two-acre garden.

In addition to the generous homeowners, volunteer architects, interior designers, landscape architects, contractors, craftspersons and artists have come together to create, furnish and landscape a beautiful showcase home. It is open to the public through June 28th to benefit CALM. Tickets are $30. Click here for more information.

Deborah Campbell Interior Design: 805-969-9657.

More Stylish Sheds: Old House Interiors story + review

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

STYLISH SHEDS AND ELEGANT HIDEAWAYS: “A charming, happy, very pretty book full of ideas for building, furnishing, and enjoying your backyard shed or writing den.” — Old House Interiors review, July 2009.

ohijuly09001My Stylish Shed partner, the very talented Bill Wright, is a frequent contributor to Old House Interiors magazine. His photographs of luscious historic interiors and architecture are always a treat for the eyes. So when we learned recently that editor Patricia Poore planned to feature Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways in the magazine’s July 2009 issue, Bill and I were thrilled.

Patty decided to excerpt a chapter from Stylish Sheds, one about Michelle and Rob Wyles’s dreamy garden shed in Eastern Washington.

We called our chapter “Sun Catcher,” which aptly describes the shed’s design that utilizes ample antique windows to draw sunlight into the 20-by-20 foot cedar-shingle-clad structure. OHI titled the chapter “Garden Hideaway” and I’ve included the edited story here, along with Bill’s images:


GARDEN HIDEAWAY: In Washington, friends meet in this sun-catching sanctuary of glass and cedar, where tended plants thrive amidst old furniture and favorite collections.

By Debra Prinzing | Photographs by William Wright

More summer cottage than glass house, this hideaway in Washington State is the centerpiece of what Michelle Wyles calls her “farmer’s wife’s vegetable garden.” It functions not only as a greenhouse, but also a place for collectibles and friendly gatherings.

Two Gothic windows, which Michelle and her husband Rob hauled home from Hayden, Idaho, are bracketed by fifteen-light French doors installed as windows. Besides being a master gardener, Michelle is an antiques dealer who’d stockpiled architectural fragments. More Gothic millwork appears above a doorway, and vintage stained glass is mounted at the peaks of two of the building’s four gables.

ohijuly09003Her design process was anything but logical, Michelle admits. “You can be unrealistic and impractical when you’re making a garden building,” she says.

“The beauty of this one is the juxtaposition of its fanciness with its humility. It’s not supposed to be la-di-da . . . it’s a manifestation of things that make me happy.”

In the summer, doors and windows are flung open to infuse the garden house with the fragrance of roses and lavender.

Rob and Michelle host parties here, and benefits for charities such as the Yakima Area Arboretum, their local public garden.

When the stars are shining above, the music is playing, and revelers are gathered at the large round table, Rob says it’s magical: “people and plants in their glory!”

Mission: Hideaway

ohijuly09004Challenge: To build a sun-filled garden sanctuary that emulates a greenhouse – lots of light, air, circulation, and humidity control – without mimicking its structure.

Program [Must-haves]: Big windows, running water, floors of native Cascade mountain rock, display shelves for pottery – and “room for a party.”

Inspiration: A plain, Nantucket-style cottage of weathered shingles with lavender trim.

Design features: Four symmetrically placed gables and four window-filled walls. Salvaged Gothic-style windows and French doors. Hinged panels for air flow, and a ceiling fan for circulation.

The story ends with this sidebar, featuring three other of our favorite Stylish Sheds:

“A room of one’s own” doesn’t have to be in the house. Backyard structures sometimes bear no resemblance to the cobwebby garden sheds of suburbs past; today people are using them as studios, writing rooms, playhouses, dining pavilions – hideaways of all sorts. Look for lace curtains and window boxes, and cedar shingles instead of corrugated walls. Even toolsheds, of course, can be artistic.

In my own backyard: California’s Channel Islands

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

A view down the rocky coast of Santa Cruz Island

A view down the rocky coast of Santa Cruz Island

This won’t be a long post because it has been a long day. But I have some images to share from today’s field trip to Santa Cruz Island, which is part of a string of eight small islands forming the Channel Islands off the California coast (between Santa Barbara and Long Beach). Perhaps the most famous is the glamorous Catalina Island. But since I wanted to see nature and take a break from the freeways and noise, the remoteness of Santa Cruz was appealing.

My companion Paula Panich has ventured to Santa Cruz twice before by herself. She suggested a day trip over the holiday weekend and we both arranged to be away from our families for a good part of the day. It started by booking our passage through a commercial boating company called Island Packers. We each spent $48 for the round-trip journey. The boat left the Oxnard Harbor at 9 a.m. We boarded and sat up on the top deck, along with other pleasure-seekers, cameras and small video recorders around their necks. No one was disappointed by the 90-minute crossing, thanks to a playful performance from dolphins, including several that seemed to want to “surf” in the boat’s wake.

With my friend Paula, on the trail

With my friend Paula, on the trail

Paula had prepped me for this trip, helping dictate a list of what I should bring: 2 bottles of water; 2 bottles of Gatorade; a fanny pack and a backpack; nuts and dried fruit; a hat and sunscreen; polar fleece and a rain jacket; hiking shoes. I added my fav hiking food – hard cheddar cheese and salami, along with crackers.

The thing is, Santa Cruz is one of four northern islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park. The only amenities on this rocky, isolated destination are a few port-a-potties and potable water. You can plan ahead to camp or kayak here but everything you bring in . . . you must pack out.

We got off the boat at 10:30 a.m. and checked our watches: Four Hours. Before hiking, we wandered through the historic displays that covered Santa Cruz’s background dating to the first indication of human life there 2,000 years ago. Those humans were probably the ancestors of our local Chumash Indian tribe. European settlers had their moment in time here, too, unfortunately. This island was home to sheep, cattle and pig ranching over the years. Paula and I kept asking ourselves: Who would transport livestock to this island to “farm” when there was still a ton of good, undeveloped property on the mainland a century ago? Ridiculous.

The restored black smith shed

The restored black smith shed

A relic of undetermined provenance

A relic of undetermined provenance

But, of course, we were tickled to see the remains of a few “sheds.”

There you go. Sheds are everywhere.

The natural beauty of Santa Cruz, though, made everything man made look uninspired. The terrain blew our minds. I kept saying: “It’s otherworldly.” Finally, Paula said it reminded her of Iceland, an otherworldly place she visited last October. When we hiked up to a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean to the southwest and the Santa Barbara Channel to the northeast, I was struck by how varied the geography is here.

This blooming pinkish succulent carpeted the earth

This blooming pinkish succulent carpeted the earth

On land, it’s desolate, dry and hilly (the livestock ate most of the native vegetation, but there are efforts to reintroduce native plant species). On the perimeter, it’s rugged, weather beaten and dramatic, where the sheer face of the island exposes itself to the sea.

Here’s a paragraph from the National Parks brochure we picked up:

Santa Cruz Island: Here are pristine beaches, rugged mountains, lonely canyons, grass-covered hills, and some animals and plants that you have never seen before. This paradise is Santa Cruz Island, a miniature of what southern California looked like more than 100 years ago. The largest island in the national park, with 61,972 acres, Santa Cruz is 22 miles long and from two to six miles wide. A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island fault, with volcanic rock on the north and older sedimentary rock on the south. Today, the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service preserve and protect the island.

Rocky outcroppings, perhaps formed in an earlier millenia

Rocky outcroppings, perhaps formed in an earlier millennia

We spent most of our time just staring at the rock formations and speculating about what force of nature had shaped them in which millennium. The trails were narrow, single-file style, and perilously close to the edge of cliffs and bluffs. But we felt more exhilarated than frightened.

Our clock wound down to 2:30 p.m. and we had to make our way back to the pier to re-board the return boat. This morning, I worried about what on earth we would do to fill 4 hours on an island, one with no tree cover, few places to sit but on the ground, and lonely views of water and rock all around us. But breathtaking scenery, good conversation with a close friend, a zip-lock bag filled with nuts and dried fruit, a few cheese-and-salami bites and – wow – time flies.

I can’t wait to schedule a return visit. Just think, only 30 minutes away from home is the boat that will bring me back to the wild place called Santa Cruz.

Another amazing reason I’m starting to groove on Southern California

Monday, May 18th, 2009


For those of you who have known me for a l-o-n-g time, or even for ones who only occasionally stumble upon, it may be evident that I am torn between desperately missing Seattle, my home for most of the past 30 years, and embracing life in Southern California, where I’ve been living nearly 3 years now.

I’m learning that there is incredible beauty here in SoCal, especially if one gets off of the freeways and out into the raw, rugged nature. The same attributes that make me love the Pacific Northwest – the mountains, the ocean, the amazing plant life – are some of the ones that have made me begin to appreciate, value and (possibly) love my new home.

Yesterday was no exception. I slogged through 70 miles of freeway traffic on a mid-Sunday (which took 1 hour and 45 minutes, thank goodness for Prairie Home Companion or it would have been a lot worse!) to a place high above the ocean called Rancho Palos Verdes. When it comes to offering endless views of the Pacific shoreline, coastal beaches and blue ocean, it’s as breathtakingly gorgeous of a place as the more popular Malibu. Except, it seemed to me yesterday, with way less traffic and commercial development.

I met up with architect Ron Radziner of Marmol-Radziner, a Venice, Calif.-based architectural firm (which also has landscape architecture, interior design, furniture design and prefabricated design in its portfolio) to tour one of his projects. The property is called Altamira Ranch and the American Society of Landscape Architects recognized it with a residential design honor award in 2008.  My interview with Ron about the project will appear in a future issue of Landscape Architecture magazine. Suffice it to say that the approximately three sweeping acres of California native plants, surrounding a contemporary residence (also designed by Marmol-Radziner) is a study in excellent design. It is lesson that Bud Merrill, my former garden design instructor, would have so loved. He preached the gospel of “environmentally responsive design” – and I tell you, this project – home and landscape – makes huge strides in that practice of only “lightly touching” the earth.  Stay tuned for the full story.

The alluring labyrinth patterns are visible from high above the beach

The alluring labyrinth patterns are visible from high above the beach

The stone design, made by unknown hands

The stone design, made by unknown hands

After Ron and I finished the interview, Julie, the owners’ personal assistant, offered to walk the property with me.

She is a wealth of knowledge about native plants and how they perform in a residential setting – especially this tricky coastal site that is exposed to high winds, intense sun, frequent blankets of fog, and saltwater.

We paused at the edge of the bluff and looked down at the beach, which was probably 200 feet below us.

Julie pointed out the stone labyrinths that beachcombers have placed on the shore and she told me where to park so I could walk down to see them (she also suggested where I could grab some lunch; ironically, it was at the grill where golfers eat when they’re finished playing the greens at the Trump International Golf Club).

I hiked down to the beach and made my way across the uneven, rocky surface. It isn’t one of those “take off your shoes and stroll barefoot” kind of beaches. My shoes kept filling up with pebbles, but I couldn’t imagine going bare. The wind was brisk, which you’ll notice in the poor sound of the two short movies I shot. How else do you show the experience of a labyrinth without a moving picture?

At the Beach with Deb:


Walking the Heart-shaped Labyrinth:


Here’s my takeaway from yesterday’s unexpected hour on the beach: I was given yet another gift of California’s natural beauty. It was a vivid reminder that I am here for a reason. I am still discovering the reason(s), but isn’t having a chance to drink in this beach, collect a few of these stones and witness the creative way artistic humans have responded to them reason enough?

Country Gardens: A Lavender Life

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Look inside for Debra's feature about Oregon lavender farmer Sarah Bader

Look inside for Debra's feature about Oregon lavender farmer Sarah Bader

I’m sending a huge *virtual* bouquet of aromatic lavender to the lovely and wise Oregon grower Sarah Bader. Sarah is the subject of a story I wrote for the Summer 2009 issue of COUNTRY GARDENS magazine — out on newsstands now.

Another big bouquet goes to James Baggett, the awesome editor at Country Gardens who asked me to interview Sarah and write the piece. He has an uncanny knack for finding just the right story subjects for moi. And Sarah was a perfectly wonderful plantswoman to profile.

She is the purveyor of Lavender at Stonegate in West Linn, a village about 20 minutes outside Portland. As you’re planning summertime excursions, think about a thoroughly enjoyable detour to Stonegate. Sarah, her children, small staff, neighbors and friends – not to mention lavender enthusiasts from around the country – celebrate the season with several fun events, plant sales and u-pick opportunities. Just think, an aromatic escape that feeds your eyes, fills your head, and and nurtures your spirit. One step onto this farm and you’ll be cramming your hatchback full of dozens of lavender varieties. [UPDATE: Lavender at Stonegate’s “opening day” for the summer season is May 22nd. The Summer Lavender Festival weekend is set for July 11-12. You can check the web site for other events and open hours.]

Just to give you a whiff of Sarah’s lavender life, I want to share the opening lines of my story, “Purple Haze.” Laurie Black photographed the story. I’ve had the chance to collaborate with Laurie on a past article and I do love her work! Here it is:

countrygardenslavender002She lives and breathes all things lavender. When gentlewoman-farmer Sarah Bader isn’t working side by side with a few employees to propagate lavender cuttings and harvest armloads of the aromatic herb, she’s walking along hazy purple rows to evaluate her best-performing lavender cultivars. She gardens with lavender, cooks with lavender, perfumes her home with lavender, and is even writing a book about lavender.

Sarah calls her West Linn, Oregon, farm Lavender at Stonegate. About 20 minutes from Portland, the venture takes its name from a hand-carved stone pillar near the entry of her 5-acre parcel. Sarah began growing lavender as a hobby – a way to make her agricultural property productive after its original hazelnut orchard suffered from blight. Inspired by a visit in 2002 to the Sequim (Washington) Lavender Festival, Sarah started with 380 Lavandula sp. plants. She laughs at her beginner’s ambition: “I wanted to try growing 10 to 15 kinds of lavender. I jokingly called that first effort ‘my learning curve field’ because I couldn’t plant in straight rows.”

countrygardenslavender005I called Sarah this morning to see how she thought the final story and photography turned out. She was so pleased.

Pleased, too, that Country Gardens readers from all around the country, coast to coast, have already begun to contact Lavender at Stonegate with inquiries about special events this summer, about buying and growing lavender – and to tell Sarah what an inspiration she is to them.

That’s exactly how I feel every time I talk with Sarah. She is an inspiration.

The final lines of my story capture this woman’s strength, passion and engaging spirit:

Sarah’s philosophy is summed up by a hand-lettered sign that hangs in her greenhouse: “We have the honor of assisting the creator in making little miracles every day.”