Debra Prinzing

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New Garden Products for 2011 – Part Two

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Preserve the Harvest with Burgon & Ball's charming jam, marmalade, pickles and chutney jars.

Trend-spotters are reading the horticultural tea leaves these days.

It’s an annual practice that I remember so well from my newsroom career when, without fail, we reporters were asked to compile the obligatory “forecast” story. I covered retail, and you could imagine how loathe Seattle’s major retail CEOs were to tell me anything about the coming year when it was just days after Christmas and they hadn’t tallied up the current year’s performance.

But, alas, we all want a glimpse into the future. And that’s what going to industry trade shows can help reveal. A peek into the products, plants, tools and design items you may be seeing in 2011’s backyards.

This post continues with even more interesting offerings. Or the ones that caught my interest anyway. I welcome your reaction. Are these items you can see yourself purchasing for your garden? Do you even NEED more products? (That’s a long conversation, isn’t it?).

Here is the "sun" bracket from M Brace - simply brilliant!

I really enjoyed meeting Jill Plumb, a school teacher who came up with a brilliantly simple method of building raised beds.

Her product is called M Brace. It is a decorative steel corner bracket that holds lumber at a 45-degree angle WITHOUT HARDWARE (note: this is a big selling point for anyone who has dragged the electric drill and 100-foot-long orange extension cord out to the backyard to try and wrestle together a box for the tomatoes).

Here's Jill demonstrating the nifty packaging for a pair of brackets.

Jill told me that she got this “big idea” one day while re-loading paper napkins into a “slot” style napkin holder.

Something clicked and she saw in her mind’s eye how easy it would be to have a bracket that emulated that napkin holder. Just larger, more durable and also pretty. Several prototypes later, including the support of her students who she involved in the design process, packaging development and marketing, Jill’s M Brace is looking very professional and has already hit garden center shelves in some markets.

Made from recycled steel (natural or powder-coated), with decorative cut-outs including a squiggle, sun, carrot or bamboo fronds, the set of 4 brackets has a $165/set recommended retail price. Jill continues to offer new product ideas such as “edging” made from the leftover swirl pieces or plant stakes from the leftover carrot cutouts. Brilliant!

The Feeney 3-in-1 trellis, shown in a fan pattern

I spotted another clever system to corral plants – especially in this case, vines – in the Feeney Architectural Products booth.

A detail of the Somerset II Trellis

We see so much over-designed crap in the marketplace, which is one reason why I appreciated Feeney’s simple use of stainless steel cables to create a trellis for climbing plants. Feeney’s 3-in-1 Trellisis an easy-to-assemble wall-mount trellis kit with 1/8-inch diameter rods and special mounting components that can be configured into a Fan, Grid or Diamond design. This is a lightweight solution that does require measuring and drilling skills to install, but can turn a blah wall or fence into something quite beautiful. Just add a vine of your choice and voila! Something quite pretty. Suggested retail: $199.

Feeney also uses stainless steel cables in its inexpensive “It’s a Cinch” plant hanger and in a freestanding trellis panel kit. The Greenway Trellis has a frame of aluminum tubing and a square-grid pattern for the vines. The frame legs can be set in compacted gravel or concrete footings, or they can be base-mounted on a deck or patio. That square-grid pattern also shows up in the Somerset II Trellis, which has top and bottom powder-coated aluminum brackets. It is also a wall-mount system but a little larger than the 3-in-1.


These green walls will blow your mind

Thursday, January 28th, 2010
A Woolly Pocket wall of succulents adorns the retail shop at Descanso Gardens near Pasadena

A Woolly Pocket wall of succulents adorns the retail shop at Descanso Gardens near Pasadena

Designed in Los Angeles, fabricated in Kansas, and soon to hang on a wall near you, the Woolly Pocket is a soft-sided planting envelope that makes it possible to have a lush wall of vegetation without having to hire a structural engineer.

Vertical gardening is all the rage, so here’s a way to bring plants into your home (indoors or out) with a breathable fabric container that is easy to hang and maintain.

Fill the 15 x 24 inch pocket with a little potting soil, plant it with lush greenery and allow the vines or foliage to spill over the top edge. Combine multiple pockets to create a living wall as is shown in these photographs.


Miguel shows off a 5-pocket Woolly planter

Miguel shows off a 5-pocket Woolly planter

I met designer Miguel Nelson at his studio in Culver City earlier this week and took a tour of Smog Shoppe, his event space where the Woolly Pocket was created.

Miguel was trained as a sculptor, but he obviously thinks about sculpture in a completely different way than artists whose work stands on a pedestal in the garden or in the foyer of a home.

The type of sculpture Miguel conjures is an entire building and outdoor courtyard that contains green events. He and Sherry Walsh, his wife, retrofitted an unsightly garage used to do emissions tests on cars (thus, the clever Smog Shoppe name).

The analagous blue-green plant palette nearly covers the exterior of Nelson's Smog Shoppe event space in Los Angeles

The analagous blue-green plant palette nearly covers the exterior of Nelson's Smog Shoppe event space in Los Angeles

Used for private and corporate events, the warehouse-y space needed to be softened up. And so Miguel and his brother Rodney created huge wall-hangings with pockets and stuffed them with succulents, tropicals and other plants that cascade and drape. The hangings look like those large shoe-organizer pocket panels, but are oh-so-much more elegant.

Over two year’s time, the plants have thrived, nearly obscuring the concrete block walls and the black wool pockets. Once partygoers started asking if they could buy the planting system for their own homes and gardens, Woolly Pockets was born.

A detail shot reveals how happy these plants look

A detail shot reveals how happy these plants look

Instead of wool felt like the original system, Miguel and Rodney now use an industrial-strength USA-made felt from recycled plastic bottles (it is available in chocolate brown, black and cream – with a promise for more colors in the future). The pockets have a built-in moisture barrier that allows the plants to breathe while keeping moisture off your walls or floors.

The blogosphere and a few design magazines have discovered Woolly Pockets, which are priced at $49 for a single. Multiples range from $125 (3-pocket, 68 inches) to $188 (5-pocket, 112 inches).

Miguel’s eco-publicist, Corey Scholibo, is convinced that this green gardening solution will capture the imaginations of non-gardeners. It is a cool interior design application that is at the same time retro (think indoor plants of the 1970s) and futuristic (plants will save the planet!).

“You can now garden any time, anywhere, with little or no skill,” Corey says.

Interior walls of the courtyard are planted top-to-bottom

Interior walls of the courtyard are planted top-to-bottom

The team is inventing all sorts of new iterations of the Woolly Pocket. There is a Vagabond, which I wrote about last month for LA At Home (think “Garden Container meets Handbag”) and at this weekend’s Accent on Design in New York, Miguel will introduce a 5-sided wee-woolly tabletop planter and a gorgeous, free-standing 6-, 8- or 10-sided planter that has zippered sides so you can unzip sections to accommodate sculptural tree branches poking out. Those items appear to be ideal for the interior space and are a lot more attractive than some of the plastic, clay or faux planters I see hanging around garden centers.

You can mostly find Woolly Pockets online, but Miguel expects to sell through several retail channels by later this year.

“I see all these amazing living wall installations in public spaces,” he points out. “But you never read about a vertical garden you could have yourself. Now, even with just one Woolly Pocket, you can grow plants on your wall.”
With a cluster of them, arranged like a giant patchwork quilt, pretty soon you can have your own living, green wall.

I have four dark-brown Woolly Pockets to try out and I’ll report back soon on how they are doing. I’m going to hang them outside to try and mask some of that ho-hum tan stucco we’re so lucky to have here in SoCal.

Everyone wants a “green” planted wall

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
Carina Langstraat's delicious planted wall

Carina Langstraat's delicious planted wall

Green walls are the hot, new, must-have landscape design element. The Europeans were the first to figure out how to engineer large-scale planted walls, inspiring some innovative American designers to follow with their own twist. From my research, most are here on the West Coast, natch.

My friend Flora Grubb in San Francisco has received quite a bit of press for her avant-garde planted wall tapestries that incorporate everything from succulents to air plants (Tillandsias). 

And recently, the Los Angeles Times featured green wall designs using edibles (by Go Green Gardeners’ Anne Phillips) and California native plants + succulents embedded with LED lighting (by L.A. artist Michel Horvat).


Garden writers have been describing “vertical elements” in the landscape for years. Traditionally, this idea involved arbors, trellises, fences and other structures upon which vines and climbing plants are trained. An explosion of interest in “green” planted roofs – including here in Los Angeles – followed. Pamela Berstler and Marliee Kuhlmann, two cool LA designers, create planted succulent “sky-scapes” for their clients’ garden roofs. I’ve seen, touched, and admired their work – and I can tell you, a lush, foliage-strewn roof is a lot more snazzy (and eco-smart) than tile, composite or tar!

But privately, some designers have confided to me their concern about liability issues involved in engineering green roofs. Even when I wrote on this topic for the Los Angeles Times in 2007, the experts I quoted cautioned that roof structures should be designed with load-bearing supports to manage soil/planting medium, handling moisture, and just the sheer weight of plants.

So, it’s only natural that the planted wall is the next installment of “plants-as-architecture” – a trend that seems more achievable than a green roof. I love seeing how designers are “going vertical” with a planted foliage palette.


One of my favorite designers, Seattle-based Carina Langstraat (who runs Langstraat-Wood Landscape Architecture & Design with her landscape architect partner Erik Wood), has recently engineered a 4-foot by 5-foot green wall prototype at her Ballard studio. She shared with me photos and tips on how she created the system. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities, whether you’re willing to play around with this concept on your own or if you want to hire a professional.