Debra Prinzing

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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).


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.

Spring Garden Books for Mother’s Day gift-giving

Monday, May 4th, 2009

805-may-09001My “In the Garden” column for 805 Living’s May issue is all about great gardening books to give Mom (or keep for your own shelves).

Grow your garden library: Just like plants, you can never have too many books that inspire and intrigue

By Debra Prinzing

I was on the East Coast recently to lecture at the Philadelphia Flower Show. While sharing gossip and a glass of chardonnay with my NYC-based literary agent, Sarah Jane Freymann, conversation turned to the sorry state of book publishing.

“When I give a gift,” she proclaimed in her always-alluring British accent, “I only buy books.” Her singular gesture of thoughtfully choosing, buying and giving a book (rather than an impersonal gift card) might be an important element of the reading person’s economic stimulus package.

In early March, I visited Philadelphia and met up with book-lover and awesome agent, Sarah Jane Freymann

In early March, I visited Philadelphia and met up with book-lover and awesome agent, Sarah Jane Freymann

Books, especially when they are hand-picked for the reader, convey as much about the giver as the recipient.

For my birthday, my writing mentor, Paula Panich, recently gave me American Writers at Home, by J.D. McClatchy, a fitting tome for a journalist who covers architecture, interiors and the garden – all aspects of the home. When Britt Olson, my best friend from high school, recently wed, she spent hours at the book store, choosing just the right hard-bound volume for each of her attendants. For me, she selected Barbara Kingsolver’s lovely memoir of a year growing her own food, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which fed my spirit and mind alike.

If you’re like me, you can “read” a person by observing the titles that fill her bookcase. So here’s a peek at what’s on my bedside table (a new crop of gardening books). Whether for Mother’s Day, a friend’s birthday, or just for your own pleasure, give the gift of a book. As the author of five books, I thank you.

A Rose by Any Name

By Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello [Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009, 320 pp., $19.95]

805-may-09002I met Stephen Scanniello, president of the Heritage Rose Foundation, in a Chicago radio studio several years ago. We enjoyed our banter with the host of a garden show, but the conversation continued well after the gig was over. His favorite subject? Roses. Scanniello lives, breathes, and designs gardens with roses. Not those scentless, thornless pageant variety roses, but ones with  storied pasts and interesting pedigrees. He teamed up with co-author Douglas Brenner, a former Martha Stewart Living garden editor, to document the origins, history, and lore of more than 1,200 rose names.

Their enchanting narrative follows the trials and tribulations of this beloved flower through the centuries to modern time. The rose has been entangled in love, war, politics, show business, fashion, sports and even automobiles (yes, the ruby-red ‘Chrysler Imperial’ rose was bred in the 1950s, right here in California).

A Rose by Any Name features all sorts of facts and anecdotes about the world’s most popular flower. There is even a chapter devoted to celebrity-named roses, including ‘Barbra Streisand’, a glamorous purple-blushed lavender rose that the star selected from a field of potential candidates. Even we nobodies can have a personalized flower. “As with vanity license plates, anybody can have his or her name officially conferred upon a rose,” the authors write. “All it takes is a phone call and a big check.”

Designer Plant Combinations

By Scott Calhoun [Storey Publishing, 2008, 240 pp., $18.95]

805-may-09003I’m a sucker for artful color combos,and I can often be found playing with paint-chip samples at the hardware store or mixing and matching blooming plants at the nursery. But here’s a guide that color-dreams for me. Designer Plant Combinations features inspiring techniques the pros use to pair color, texture, scale and form in the garden.

Tucson-based garden designer and book author Scott Calhoun is easy to envy for his writing and photography talents. Except that since he’s so likeable and engaging, I end up hungrily waiting for the next installment of his thoughts and images that appear in book form. And this vibrant guide doesn’t disappoint. Calhoun crisscrossed the country visiting the best residential and public landscapes to study and photograph stunning plant vignettes. Each of the 105 design schemes include six plants or less, which will inspire both designers and non-designers in their garden-making efforts. Detailed plant lists and photographs show you how to replicate the ideas in your own garden.

The book’s oh-so-alluring imagery is more than just eye candy, though. Calhoun explains why these perennials, ornamental grasses, annuals, ground covers, woody plants and dramatic accent plants are hardworking ingredients of successful garden design (look for useful designer tips, such as “when using one color, use different textures”).

A consummate plantsman, Calhoun is convinced that non-plant elements are crowding his beloved specimens out of the landscape. He writes, ” . . . good plant combinations are a little like the stanzas of a poem. That is, like the stanza, they are not trying to be a whole garden but a self-contained little part of one.” Whether bold or subdued, the groupings you’ll find here will give your garden personality and elevate it to something more than ordinary.

The New Terrarium

By Tovah Martin (photography by Kindra Clineff) [Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2009, 176 pp., $25.00]

newterrariumcover001Devoted subscribers of the original Victoria magazine know the work of garden writer Tovah Martin. In her stories, Tovah brings a sense of wonderment to each of her subjects, be they gardens, gardeners or the plants they love.

Likewise, her latest project, The New Terrarium, is a magical tome filled with small, planted scenes, diminutive landscapes, twee still-lifes and dwarf collections – all under glass. This dreamy book is captured on film by photographer Kindra Clineff.

The New Terrarium pays homage to the conservatory gardens of the Victorian era, as they were the first to perfect the art of gardening under glass. According to Martin, in today’s go-go, hard-to-find-time to garden world, the terrarium may be the best way to bring something from nature into your life. “A terrarium is any transparent confine that allows you to nurture the elements of the green world,” Martin writes. “[It] is truly a small world . . . a mini-environment that provides an atmosphere of elevated humidity for all the botanical contents it embraces.”

This idea is appealing – and relatively simple to do yourself. Martin presents an array of cool glass containers suitable for planting: Traditional cloches, “Wardian” cases (miniature glass greenhouses), hurricane lamps, recycled aquariums, vases and repurposed glass domes typically used to cover cakes or cheese platters. What to grow under these unique vessels? Martin provides a comprehensive plant encyclopedia, including orchids, ferns, heucheras, begonias, mosses, African violets, bromeliads, ivies, ornamental grasses, and more.

This writer’s enthusiasm for gardening under glass inspired me to buy a small potted fern and contain it under a cloche (also called a bell jar). Living in its charming covered world, the fern, I think, will be happy. And I know I will be, too.

Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love

By Julie Moir Messervy [The Taunton Press, 2009, 240 pp., $30]

805-may-09005Julie Moir Messervy is an amazing landscape designer, author and teacher who teamed up with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma to create the Toronto Music Garden, and with architect Sarah Susanka to co-write Outside the Not So Big House.

In her new book, Messervy asks, “Why do we spend the bulk of our resources on the inside of our house, while settling for so little on the outside?” In response, she walks readers through the process of turning any property into the “home outside” they’ve always dreamed of. If, like her, you believe that the nurturing nest, the place called home, begins at the edge of your property and encompasses everything within its boundaries (the porch, the patio, the lawn where your children play – even the pathways, edges and corners), then Messervy’s book is the ideal reference to inform and inspire your design decisions. If you haven’t thought of the landscape in this way, her design approach is the perfect starting point. It will equip you with both basics and intricacies necessary to create a personal outdoor space that feeds the eyes and the spirit.

Bursting with instructive illustrations and before-and-after photographs of do-it-yourself gardens, Home Outside helps you see a property the way a landscape designer views it. Messervy breaks down the design process into manageable pieces. Take her “Designer’s Personality Test” and learn more about your style of garden-making. After completing the quiz, I discovered that I’m more expressive (versus reserved) and more relaxed (instead of orderly).

Our Life in Gardens

By Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd [Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009, 322 pp., $30]

805-may-09004My aforementioned agent, Sarah Jane, has a saying about what makes a good cookbook. “It must transcend the recipes,” she posits. In other words, we can now find recipes anywhere – in magazines, on the web, in grandmother’s dog-eared “Joy of Cooking.” But what makes a great cookbook resonate is the way it touches our universal relationship with food.

Similarly, Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, Vermont-based garden designers and authors, transcend the typical gardening book in Our Life in Gardens. Their collection of nearly 50 essays (arranged logically from Agapanthus to Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata) is so engaging, so gratifying to read, that you truly forget it came from the section of a bookstore otherwise filled with “how-to” titles. There is a lot to learn from these celebrated designers, but I think the lesson is more about observing and cherishing everyday life in the garden than about how to grow delicious peas.

For example, in “Pea Season,” a chapter illustrated with one of Bobbi Angell’s charming plant drawings, Eck and Winterrowd philosophize on the rewards a gardener receives outside of the vegetable plot. The chapter opens with these lines: “No one can say that a gardening life is rich in leisured holidays, but a gardener’s rewards are festivals, big and small, though we make little distinction there, for they are all wonderful. There are other activities in which effort and labor are so certainly followed by achievement and celebration, and anyone who takes an active hand in shaping life must know equal causes for joy. We know only our life, which is largely one of gardening.”

Written with passion and honesty, this book is a keeper. Buy two copies. One to delight in yourself and the other to share with someone who needs to be lured outdoors.

Santa Barbara Style – indoors and outdoors

Sunday, April 26th, 2009
A tapestry of showy succulents, designed by Botanik

A tapestry of showy succulents, designed by Botanik

Erin (Keosian) Taylor’s  cool plant and design emporium called Botanik was one of my very first garden discoveries when I moved to Southern California in late summer of 2006.

I have Gillian Mathews, another awesome garden retailer who created Ravenna Gardens in Seattle, to thank for the introduction.

In September 2006, Gillian and Theresa Malmanger created and led the “Los Angeles-Santa Barbara Garden Tour” for the Northwest Horticultural Society. So I piggybacked on that trip and joined all my Seattle pals only 3 weeks after I moved here. I was in for a treat!

It turns out that I needed Gillian and Theresa to be my “guides” to begin to understand my new backyard.

It was the best gift they could have shared. The three-day garden extravaganza gave me a front seat tour to some amazing private gardens, public gardens and retail outlets. It fed my spirit and soul as I got to pal around with several very special, dear friends.It made me begin to realize that I was going to be “okay” living here because I started viewing SoCal’s horticultural and garden design world through the eyes of these savvy Seattle folks. That began my long education as to just how cool my new environs are.

One of our stops was the coastal village of Summerland, where Botanik occupies two cute cottages. Created by Erin Taylor, a fresh, young talent who has an amazing eye for design and a solid footing in horticulture, Botanik captured my imagination for gardening with succulents in a whole new way.

Since then, over the past few years, I’ve visited Summerland whenever I could (it’s only a few miles south of Santa Barbara off of Hwy. 101). Erin is inspiring, creative, and refreshingly casual in her design approach. She and staff designer, Molly Hutto create succulent displays like I’ve never before seen. Their creations are oft-copied but never surpassed in composition – with delicious succulent textures, colors, forms and patterns.

Botanik's entry porch converted into a potted plant display

Botanik's entry porch converted into a potted plant display

botanik7In 2007, Kate Karam and I produced a story about Botanik’s luscious succulent designs for a future Cottage Living story. We had such a great time working with Erin and Molly that day. The designs they came up with were to die for! Sadly, as you all know, Cottage Living ceased publication after the December 2008 issue and we all miss it (we miss garden editor Kate, too!) Who knows where that film will surface or whether it will at all (I’m hoping Sunset picks it up, since it’s a sister magazine).

Not one to sit around and wait, I was recently fortunate to interest another editor in Botanik. Well, that’s not fair to say because I haven’t met an editor or publication yet NOT isn’t interested in Erin and Botanik!

But, earlier this spring, Erin graciously agreed to let 805 Living create a story around her natural design philosophy for interior and exterior spaces.

My story appears in the April issue of 805 Living, with photographs by Gary Moss. Here it is for you to read and enjoy. And for those of you planning a Garden Pilgrimage to Santa Barbara (Lotusland, Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, etc.) don’t leave town without stopping in Summerland to visit Botanik.


California lilacs (Syringa, not ceanothus)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
My lovely bouquet of California-grown lilacs from Kilcoyne Lilac Farm

My lovely bouquet of California-grown lilacs from Kilcoyne Lilac Farm

A few weeks ago, I interviewed a hot Santa Barbara floral designer for a story that will run in the May issue of 805 Living, our local shelter glossy.

While telling me about the fresh-from-the-garden arrangement he created, the designer mentioned that the lilacs came from a farm in Antelope Valley.

I know of Antelope Valley because it is the famous home of the California Poppy Reserve (which I am kicking myself for NOT getting to see last month when the ubiquitous yellow-orange flowers were in bloom). That flower fact is filed away for future reference . . . but suddenly, the idea of LOCAL lilacs is tickling my fancy in a big way. Some of my best childhood moments were experienced with my face buried in wild, unkempt but intoxicatingly fragrant lilac shrubs: first in the backyard of a Connecticut rental house in the mid-1960s and later in a historic Massachusetts town square where lilacs grew with abandon in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1990s, we planted a Syringa ‘Sensation’ in our Seattle garden. My dear friend and former college roommate (and longtime garden muse) Karen Page selected the plant for us while helping with several landscaping projects. It grew tall and robust and blessed me and my garden alike each June, producing voluptuous trusses of darkest-purple florets edged in pure white. Too beautiful! It now lives in my memories.

So today, while racing through the Thousand Oaks Farmers Market near closing time (to pick up a half-dozen hand-made tamales for dinner), I stopped dead in my tracks at this little scene: a row of white plastic 5-gallon buckets FILLED with pale and deep lavender clusters of lilacs. Two women were working out of the back of a pickup truck, clipping and bundling lilacs: gorgeous, fresh-cut, real lilacs. I overheard one of them telling a customer that she grows the lilacs in Antelope Valley.

The connection was made! I introduced myself to Elizabeth Kilcoyne of Kilcoyne Lilac Farm and her neighbor-assistant Marie. I asked: “Do you sell lilacs to S. R. Hogue in Santa Barbara?” Her face broke into a lovely, warm smile: “Yes.”

I told Elizabeth and Marie about the 805 Living article and they already knew about it – my editor Lynne Andujar and her photographer Gary Moss had shot scenes of Thousand Oaks Farmers Market flower vendors a few weeks ago – for our upcoming flower story.

Without thinking, I switched into Debra-as-Reporter and started quizzing the women about these awesome, California-grown lilacs. Wait!!! I raced to my car and grabbed my little Flip video camera and returned to see whether Elizabeth would let me tape a short interview with her. She agreed and here is the interview:


I came home with a lovely bunch of Elizabeth’s lilacs and have promised myself that come next spring, I will visit her farm and display gardens filled with 150 lilacs. Plus, I need to find an outlet to produce a magazine story about Kilcoyne Lilac Farm.

The varieties seen here are: ‘Charles Jolie’ (or ‘Charles Joly’) and ‘Ludwig Spaeth’ – two dark reddish-purple lilacs (‘Charles’ has a tiny white spot – Elizabeth calls it a ‘B’ – in the center of the floret); and ‘Michael Buchner’, the pale lavender French hybrid. Before I filled a jug with the blooms, I made sure to clip the bottom of each woody stem and then slice the stem in half, with a 1-inch cut. This technique helps the stems drink more water and stay fresh.

My fresh lilacs, home from the market

My fresh lilacs, home from the market

making a "slice" in the stem base

making a "slice" in the stem base

Art in the garden

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Here’s my January 2009 “In the Garden” column for 805 Living magazine, featuring artist and designer Jennifer Gilbert Asher and her beautiful sculpture.


GARDENS AS GALLERIES: Choose and place ornamentation with a thoughtful eye toward your garden’s overall design.

Why do artful objects – such as sculpture, salvaged architectural fragments or even a birdbath – make such an impression in the garden?

Like adding jewelry to a little black dress, or a few bright pillows to a tired sofa, artwork, sculpture and ornamentation can take any garden from ordinary to extraordinary. Well-placed art adds to, rather than detracts from, the overall composition. In the winter, when the garden is quieter, artwork often takes center stage.

“Even though sculpture is a four-season element in the landscape, it becomes the star of the show when everything else is going dormant,” says Jennifer Gilbert Asher, principal of Woodland Hills-based Chilmark Gardens. [see Jennifer, right, with “Curvas,” placed in her own garden.]

Precious objects, displayed side-by-side with foliage and flower – or partially hidden among the stems and branches of a favorite plant – give a garden its personality. They also communicate volumes about its owner’s taste and style.

“I place sculpture not just to complement the garden, but to transform it,” Asher says. “A captivating sculpture can spike curiosity and provoke thought. It can be playful or energetic; meditative or even sensual.”

Asher was inspired to design a collection of bold, modern pieces after she had trouble finding affordable artwork for her client’s landscapes. “I was shocked at the lack of accessible fine art for the garden. I heard the same thing from other designers, all over the country. You shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to transform your landscape into an outdoor art gallery,” she says.

She teamed up with Los Angeles entrepreneur Karen Neill Tarnowski last fall to launch TerraSculpture, an online art gallery and sculpture studio. Asher design and create abstract, graphic forms in stainless, weathered and powder-coated steel.  TerraSculpture uses durable, outdoor-friendly material such as 11-gauge steel; finishes vary from brushed stainless to eye-popping primary colors. [at left: “Leap”]

With names like “Embrace” and “Closer,” many of the pieces evoke human emotions. And unlike the type of sculpture you’d see in public parks or museums, which is far too large for the domestic landscape, TerraSculpture’s designs range from 4-1/2-feet-tall to 6-1/2-feet-tall. (For customers whose homeowner-association covenants restrict anything that appears above backyard fences or walls, these dimensions offer added benefits.)


Gifts for Gardeners: Hoe, HOE, Hoe

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Garden writers often dread the perennial assignment that happens around August or early September when an editor summons us to say: “It’s time to do that round-up story on holiday gifts for gardeners.” 

For as many of these puff-pieces that I’ve written over the years, I guess people really do read them. I’ve witnessed first-hand how such stories influence the behavior of desperate gift-givers with the calendar racing toward December 25th.

One year, when I was “The Weedy Reader” newsletter editor at Emery’s Garden nursery in Lynnwood, Washington, we sent around gift ideas to local columnists. We had this rather funny non-gardening item ~ a paper-mache pig with wings. It was about the size of a piggy bank. We had them hanging from the ceiling of the cashier-checkout area and someone (probably Amy Tullis, our genius marketing manager), put up a sign that read: When Pigs Fly.

The famous and widely-followed Ann Lovejoy picked up on the pun and mentioned Emery’s pig-figures in her column for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. We couldn’t keep those pigs in stock. They really did fly — straight out the door! There were piles of fine hand tools, lovely leather gloves, and beautiful plant books. But everyone wanted a pig. Who knew?

This year, a few really good ideas just plopped in my lap from the gift gods. I’m sending up thanks to them this very moment (I should actually call this unseen, heavenly entity “The Patron Saint of Deadlines,” because he/she has so often appeared just when I so desperately need an idea while on deadline!).

I met a few people at the Garden Writers Association annual symposium who suggested ideas; I received some other tips unsolicited by mail. Editors and their market scouts even did some of the legwork for me. Yay! Oh, I did find one great gift all by myself – an ExOfficio hat that I purchased at SeaTac Airport. It’s probably designed for people who go fly-fishing, but I think it’s an excellent gardening hat.

I wrote two December stories – one for Seattle Homes & Lifestyles and one for 805 Living Magazine. Isn’t that funny? The former periodical is published in my prior environs – Seattle; the latter is circulated here in Southern Cal’s Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, where I now reside. Is it possible to be contributing garden editor for both? I really do have two lives!

Before I run Debra’s list of great gifts for gardeners, I want to tell you what I’m giving my gardening pals this year. The idea is part of the Alternative Christmas Market that my parish is hosting this Sunday. I’ve already perused the fine catalog of gifts with meaning for worthy causes in Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and our own country.

One program in the catalog really stood out to me. It’s run by FLORESTA, a non-profit Christian agency that “plants hope” in communities through environmental restoration, community development, micro lending and more. 

Floresta’s programs enable farmers to make the best possible use of the resources available to them. Programs teach agroforestry, reforestation, soil conservation, and a host of other sustainable techniques. One way to support Floresta includes funding the planting of trees to restore deforested areas ($10 pays for an orchard of 10 trees; $100 pays for a forest of 100 trees). You can also finance a small farm loan ($25 pays for a vegetable garden; $100 pays for an agroforestry loan). I like the idea of giving a gift on behalf of one of my gardening friends to truly help a person in need change their life for the better. Imagine: giving up lattes for a week could transform the lives of a family in need? Gardening is truly a powerful source for change around the world



Gifts from the Gardener

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The month of November seems to generate an abundance of magazine articles about being “thankful.” For many of us, the notion of giving thanks is top of mind this season. Not only am I hugely grateful for my family, friends, home, garden and writing career, I’m so often reminded how rare these gifts truly are.

When it was time to write my “In the Garden” column for the November issue of my local magazine, 805 Living, my editor Lynne Andujar mentioned choosing Volunteerism as the month’s theme. You can see how nicely this idea is communicated on the cover, which reads: “Give Thanks, Give Back.”

The assignment made me think of Master Gardeners, some of the most volunteer-minded souls in the gardening world. I first learned about the MG program in the early 1990s, when my friend Jean Zaputil trained as a Master Gardener in King County, the local Seattle area program. I was always so impressed that Jean did this, especially when she managed the herb department for the local MG plant sales. That experience, combined with her BFA in Interior Design, soon led Jean to start her successful landscape design business.

Wanting to expand my own horticultural knowledge about the time I was trying to switch from business writing to home and garden feature writing, I applied to enroll in the 1998 Master Gardener class (also in King County). I spent many enjoyable years actively involved with the organization, including three years as PR chair for our annual plant sale.

When I moved to Southern California, I thought I’d re-apply and get in on the excellent training that comes directly from local horticultural experts. That’s when I discovered the Ventura County MGs require trainees to volunteer (“give back”) 80 hours of community service in their first year. The math just didn’t add up for me, at least at this time in my life. But the application and interview process introduced me to my local MG group, and piqued my interest in learning more.

What better way to get to know the Master Gardeners in my own back yard than by writing about them? (I always say that “I write in order to learn,” so it makes sense!).


Ornamental pumpkins, squashes and gourds:

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Here it is, already October 3rd and Halloween is upon us. Thanksgiving will soon follow.

I’m the type of mom who has always been grateful (relieved?) when the college-aged nanny offered to take my boys costume-shopping. That’s because I subscribe to the “use what’s available; look for stuff in the garage, sewing room, or attic,” school of Halloween costume-making. None of this molded rubber mask or fire-hazard printed-on-acetate superman kind of stuff. But my boys, on the other hand think a brand-new costume is de rigeur.

The organic, agricultural Halloween appeals to me. You know, the old-fashioned fall celebration that gets its thrills from a full moon rather than a mountain of Mars bars. Oh, for those cellophane-wrapped caramel apples of our youth (remember the ones we were warned might have razor blades in them, back in the 1970s?). Yup, those very ones.

In search of awesome produce for the fall holidays, I drove over the hill this afternoon into Simi Valley to visit Underwood Family Farms. An organic, U-pick farm, Underwood is a refreshing haven just a mile beyond fast-food row (What can I say? We do live in the suburbs).

I wanted to scout out cool, fashionable vegetables, worthy of centerpieces and front porches, for an upcoming November story called “Thanksgiving, A to Z.”