Debra Prinzing

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Eight Days: From Santa Barbara to San Diego . . . and points in between

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately. I traveled to Southern California all of last week  – from Saturday, April 13th through Saturday, April 20th.  I experienced many great highlights; too many to mention. Here are some of them:

Miles of mums at Ocean Breeze

Tours focused on the entire process – from planting and growing to harvesting and grading. Mums, also known as pom poms, are one of the last commercially grown flowers still grown in soil.

My name badge

Fun to wear the VIP badge!

Chalkboard welcome

Chalkboard welcome at Padaro Floral in Carpinteria, California

DAY One: Carpinteria Greenhouse & Nursery Tour, sponsored by the California Cut Flower Commission. I was hosted by Harry and Michele Van Wingerden, the great folks at Myriad Roses and Padaro Floral Design for a day of book-signings and eco-floral demonstrations. A special thanks to the Van Wingerden family, CCFC CEO/Ambassador Kasey Cronquist and Event Planner Anna Kalins for making it a successful and enjoyable day!

botanik owner Erin Taylor

Erin Taylor, designer of flowers, interiors, landscapes and more~ The talented owner of botanik in Summerland, California hosted my lovely book event.

DAY Two: Book signing and flower demos at botanik in Summerland. Loved spending time with very talented owner Erin Taylor and her team. After several hours at botanik, I met up with Cristi Walden and we headed to Sea Crest Nursery, her father Jack Stevenson’s palm and cycad collection. It was so exciting to return to this beautiful place and hear how my talented friend is learning the business of growing and selling amazing landscaping plants (oh, and propagating, too!).


A charming necklace and a gesture of friendship

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

The back story

The cake says it all. Good-bye again.

My nearly four years in Los Angeles have been quite amazing. We arrived here in late August, 2006, not really excited about leaving our beloved Seattle, but trying hard to embrace our “new” life here in SoCal. 

The mood around our household has changed dramatically in 2010. The boy who was entering high school when we moved here has just graduated and is college-bound. The child who came here as a 4th grader is now a teenager, ready for 8th grade. The husband who came here for a pretty great job lost it during the financial meltdown. But in the interim, he earned an MBA from UCLA and joined an amazing new company NOT in financial services – one that uses his combination of legal and business talents for a compelling new business strategy.  

Happy in LA

 As for me, well, this four-year California chapter has been quite an adventure. I have grown professionally, honed my design sensibilities and in many ways gained more confidence (guess that comes with turn 50 anyway, right?). I have met and interviewed incredible people – designers of homes and gardens, artists, actors, directors, producers, animators – famous people and unusual characters alike, all of whom embody this beautiful spot on the planet. Writing about the homes and gardens they possess has been a privilege. Seeing those stories appear in some of the most well-respected publications has been quite satisfying. 

So now, we are moving again. And while I have alluded for months to our plans to relocate to Pittsburgh, the surprise ending of our California chapter is that we are actually returning to Seattle

Bruce’s company – at what feels like the eleventh hour – has shifted strategy and is moving its corporate HQ to Seattle. Manna from heaven, I say. A small part of me thought the Pittsburgh thing would be a fun adventure (actually, after what we’ve been through on the unemployment front, I would have willingly moved to Siberia). I have a few acquaintances in Pittsburgh – through Garden Writers Association – and I was interested in spending more time there getting to know them better. That optimism was combined with anxiety about having to garden in Zone 4 or 5; whatever low temperatures Pittsburgh experiences in the winter, at the very least I know it has snow – lots of it.  

So here we are, on the threshold of yet another move. But one that brings us full-circle back to the city where Bruce and I first met, lived as were newlyweds, gave birth to and raised two wonderful sons, became first-time homeowners, and even built our dream house, living a life surrounded by so many cherished family and friends.  


I think I lost an entire month!

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Celebrating my birthday with Paula Panich at Girasole in Los Angeles, a sweet French bistro

Dear friends, 

Where did February go? And for that matter, where did the first half of March disappear to?  

I’m so sorry! I’ve been racing around like a crazy woman. Like my fellow *Gamma-Sisters everywhere, the world is asking more of us at every turn. Eternally curious, we’re inspired by exciting, interesting and compelling people, places, projects and opportunities. As one of my friends pointed out, I am easily drawn to “bright, shiny objects.” It’s irresistible. There are literally not enough hours in a day to “do it all.” 

One of my excuses is that I have been traveling more than usual. Another is that my little family is currently in its bicoastal phase, with Mom and sons in Southern California and Dad (for the most part) in Pittsburgh. His occasional trips home are a highlight for us and exhausting for him. In between, I’m solo-parenting, burning the candle at both ends and juggling everything (while also letting some important things slack off, such as keeping in touch with friends, answering 500 emails in my in-box, and blogging!). I had to put the pause on the blog for a while. No promises, but as of this weekend, I sincerely hope my “blogger’s block” has been broken – and that I can return to regular correspondence. 

By July, we will be reunited as a family, but I am well aware that July is still several months away. In the meantime, we have to ready this 1980 Spanish-style ranch house for sale; get packed and relocated; get our oldest son ready for his freshman year in college and move me, younger son and our family pet to Pittsburgh. Oh, and find a place to live! Crazy, life is just crazy. 

I don’t want to leave Southern California, especially with its glorious natural beauty, amazing gardening and garden design community, and (for me) wonderful opportunities to gather and tell stories. So, I guess I’m going to try and become a working writer with two home bases: Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t want to lose these ties I’ve been so fortunate to develop since moving here in 2006. Imagine: I didn’t want to come to L.A. and now I don’t want to leave! 

Just to bring you up to date, dear readers, here are a few highlights of the past month. If we’re connected on Facebook, you may already have seen some of these items. If not, then click on my Facebook icon (see right) and join in.


Beautiful botanical art

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009


Linda Ann Vorobik, Lopez Island-based botanical artist

Linda Ann Vorobik, Lopez Island-based botanical artist

Sometimes, if you’re open to the experience, you meet the most amazing people in the unlikeliest of places. Earlier this month, artist Linda Ann Vorobik was my surprise encounter.

This is Part 2 of my Lopez Island story. We went camping on July 4th weekend on a lovely little island called Lopez, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

My friend Jennifer Cargal, who organized the camping trip, mentioned that the Farmer’s Market on Lopez was a real treat. Imagine, getting to poke around booths, sample jams and nuts, talk with artisans – all while ostensibly on a camping trip (I must add that Jennifer made the most of our visit to Lopez because we also managed to have a “mom-only” tasting at the Lopez Winery, while her husband kept an eye on all four boys – what a champ).

Turns out that the Lopez Farmer’s Market was a 2-day affair over the holiday weekend, so we went Friday and Saturday. Amid the vendors of artwork, yarn spun and died from local sheep and alpaca, jewelry, pottery and photography, I spied Linda’s display of botanical artwork.

A botanical art gallery at the Lopez Island Farmer's Market

A botanical art gallery at the Lopez Island Farmer's Market

Linda is an incredibly gifted scientist and illustrator whose work has documented highly regarded field guides and botanical reference manuals. She considers all three west coast states “home,” but has returned to her family property on Lopez to live and draw and work on myriad research projects. As we spoke, I realized how broad and deep are her talents. She pretty much has the entire west coast flora population covered in her knowledge.

With a PhD from the University of Oregon, Linda conducts field research and teaches in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. She also visits Berkeley on a regular basis, where she is a research associate at the University Herbarium at UC-Berkeley.

Linda is the principal illustrator of The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California (an expanded, updated version of which will be issued next year) and The Flora of Santa Cruz Island. She has contributed many illustrations to scientific, botanical and horticultural publications.

We started talking about Santa Cruz Island, which is the tiny, remote island I visited in California’s Channel Islands this past May with my friend Paula Panich. Linda’s illustrations of native California species that grow on Santa Cruz are just spectacular. I think we’d have to go earlier in springtime to see some of them growing in situ. But the next best thing are her watercolors. I had to purchase a set of note cards to send Paula as a reminder of the day there.

The set included Dicentra formosa (Western bleeding heart); Dicentra spectabilis (Garden bleeding heart); Calochortus catalinae (Catalina Island mariposa lily); and Calochortus splendens (Lilac mariposa lily). Check out Linda’s web site to see the incredible detail of each plant and its parts. All four of these flowers are available as cards, prints – and even a few of the original paintings are available for purchase at what seems like a pretty affordable price for original botanical art.

Okay, so the Channel Island note cards were in my basket. What next ? Oh, I couldn’t resist two cards for my new friend Marie Lincoln, owner of the Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island. Having just met Marie a few days earlier, I was thinking about her when I saw two beautiful cards with patterned fritillaria, which Linda rendered in sultry, luscious “chocolatey” hues ranging from soft green to deepest plum. Fritillaria affinis (Chocolate lily) appears in several coastal Pacific Northwest locations. As Linda writes on her web site: “If you are lucky enough to encounter them, take a peek into their enchanting nodding bells to see six bright yellow stamens with a background of green and brown checker-painted petal color.”

Spring Wildflowers of Lopez Island

Spring Wildflowers of Lopez Island

Finally, all this gift-giving for my garden friends made me yearn for something of Linda’s to bring home to my Southern California walls. The perfect print was there in her little open-air gallery. It symbolized the happiness I experienced on Lopez, as I enjoyed nature, good companionship, the laughter and boisterous activities of children, eating food around the fire, and pure summer.

Linda’s print: “Spring Wildflowers of Lopez Island,” features several of her botanical watercolors together: Zygadenus venenosus (Death camas – prettier than its name suggests); Dodecatheon pulchellum (Shooting star), Camassia leichtlinii (Camas) and the two gorgeous chocolate lilies. Just looking at this print today makes me smile.

If you have any inclination to learn more about botanical art, you’ll be pleased to know that Linda teaches workshops all around the west, including classes scheduled for the Berkeley area this September. Read about them here.

It’s these small souvenirs that become touchstones for so many of our memories. That’s why I brought home a pocketful of smooth pebbles, gathered from the shore of Lopez Island. They are piled on my nightstand where I can be sure to see them – at least twice a day.

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.

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.

Los Angeles Garden Show Highlights

Friday, May 1st, 2009
Garden celebrity Shirley Bovshow and I posed on a bench in Nick Williams's garden

Garden celebrity Shirley Bovshow and I posed on a bench in Nick Williams's garden

The theme of this year’s LA Garden Show, “A Festival of Flavors,” is timely and delectable. The show is produced by the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia (just east of Pasadena), a 127-acre destination with a diverse plant collection, inspiring display gardens and natural habitat-inspired landscapes. The three-day flower show runs through Sunday, May 3rd. The event’s honorary chairs are Clara and Jacob Maarse of the famous Pasadena rose nursery and florist, and Rosalind Creasy, garden writer and pioneer in edible landscaping.

Edible gardening expert Rosalind Creasy

Edible gardening expert Rosalind Creasy

Most of the flower shows I’ve participated in have been indoor shows, so when I arrived last night to attend the preview gala, I was reminded of how alluring an open-air flower show can be. There’s nothing like the sky overhead, the sounds of screeching peacocks that wander the Arboretum grounds, the fragrances and textures of plants from every continent — and the conviviality of friendships — to put me in a perfect festive mood.

Upon entering the Arboretum, we first stopped off at the “marketplace” of plant vendors, garden artists and purveyors of cool stuff, which occupies the lower lawn adjacent to Baldwin Lake. The collection of white tents, topped with jaunty flags, put a smile on my face. I felt as if I was in Europe rather than Los Angeles. The two hours allotted to previewing the sales area was barely enough – but no worry, because I’ll be back there on Sunday to do some more damage to the checkbook (That’s after my 11 a.m. “Garden Chat” ).

Plant vendors, garden artists and more

Plant vendors, garden artists and more

As I strolled along the grassy pathways between each tent, poked my head inside several to check out the offerings, and chatted with fellow party-goers, I said to myself: These are my people!

I was surrounded by kindred spirits who love gardens, plants, ornamentation, vintage finds, and more.

Vintage gals, Libby and Nancie

Vintage gals, Libby and Nancie

A couple of highlights included visiting with Libby Simon of Libby’s Vintage Home & Garden and her friend Nancie Piser, fellow collectors of salvage, old linens, elderly gardening books, retro dishes and glassware, anything tin, rusted or galvanized, and more!

Oh, and Libby also specializes in unusual cactuses – I came home with a nifty specimen (Euphorbia handiensis) that I quickly re-potted in a turquoise-glazed pot for my garden.

My friend Paula Panich and I had a few acquisitive moments, inspired by all the unique finds these two women featured in their tent. I came home with an old garden spray-nozzle and some awesome vintage books, including an almost-mint 1932 edition of The Fragrant Path: A book about sweet scented flowers and leaves, By Louise Beebe Wilder (perfect for a friend’s upcoming birthday). Here’s what Miss Beebe Wilder writes in her opening lines:

A garden full of sweet odours is a garden full of charm, a most precious kind of charm not to be implanted by mere skill in horticulture or power of purse, and which is beyond explaining. It is born of sensitive and very personal preferences yet its appeal is almost universal.

Here is a map of The Arboretum and the Garden Show features:


Leslie Codina's art: A joyful explosion of color and form

Leslie Codina's art: A joyful explosion of color and form

Playful, fanciful, nature-inspired sculpture

Playful, fanciful, nature-inspired sculpture

Inspired, my eyes drifted over to the next tent over, which was filled with lively ceramic spires pleasing to the visual senses. Leslie Codina, a local Los Angeles area artist, creates whimsical stacked towers of color, pattern and form. The 5- to 7-foot-tall sculptural creations are formed first in Leslie’s imagination as she “interprets the shapes and colors of nature into her garden sculpture.”

Leslie renders individual elements in clay, then shapes, curves, twists, carves and rolls the medium into fantastical armitures, balls, finials and wing-like shapes.

Firing and glazing steps follow, featuring a mix-and-match palette of lime, plum, apricot, red, orange, blue, aqua and lavender.

Artist and sculptor Leslie Codina, with peacock strolling by

Artist and sculptor Leslie Codina, with peacock strolling by

I first learned of Leslie from photographer pal Gene Sasse, who has done much of the photography that appears on her web site. He urged me to seek Leslie out – and boy am I glad I finally did.

Leslie has just donated a grouping of four 8- to 12-foot tall sculptures as a permanent installation at the Arboretum. The collection appears in the “Garden for All Seasons” display, which represents each phase of the year.

After shopping and browsing, several of us moved to the “Designer Lawn” area of the Arboretum, where the cocktail reception was underway.

The displays, created by talented area landscape firms and individuals, brings together the idea of “edible” and “ornamental” worlds co-existing in the garden. Here are a few of the innovative ideas showcased:

“Punctuation in the Garden: A Gallery of Edible Container Gardens,” created by the local members of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD):

I’ve admired and been privileged to write about the design work of several APLD members, both in the Washington State chapter and now in the California chapter. The group of a dozen folks who created eye-catching edible focal points has come up with some pretty fun interpretations of an “edible container.”


Another great garden shed – with a new slant

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Literary agent Charlotte Gusay has a delicious secret. She recently shared it with me and gave me permission to write about it here.

Charlotte contacted me after reading about my shed expertise (also known as an “obsession”) in Dwell magazine:

“[I] saw the recent issue of Dwell (Feb. 09) with your article on ‘backyard’ sheds. So disappointed we did not find each other before this article and/or your book . . . .

“I have a swell little ‘postmodern shed’ that my husband Bobby Milder and I built about 5 years ago. . . .”

She sent along a few photographs to tempt me. What else would a nosy reporter such as me do next? I called Charlotte and invited myself over for a visit. Paula Panich, my writing mentor and friend, came along last week when we drove over to Charlotte’s after lunch.

Her house sits quietly on a tree-lined city street, just a block or so away from a major thoroughfare. It is nice to know these inviting residential pockets exist here in LA, right in the city. I love it!

This irresistible 10-by-14 foot haven is tucked comfortably into a far corner of Charlotte’s urban lot, hidden from everyone’s view but hers. Because of the way it has been sited, the shelter is first seen “in profile,” its longer side and angled shed roof-line emphasized. When glimpsed by newcomers (such as Paula and me) the shed reveals its see-through quality, thanks to a wraparound glass “corner” that connects two outer walls. The white-painted framework around the windows and door outlines and emphasizes vertical and horizontal lines of the design (almost Mondrianesque in its geometry).

I like how Charlotte described the shed to me in her first email note: “It floats elegantly in the backyard, just beyond our 1944 mid-century house in West Los Angeles.”


Here’s what I’m reading – a blogging “meme” (or is it a “tag”?)

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I’m the kind of person who may be vaguely aware of a trend but I don’t have a clue what it’s actually called.

Case in point: the hip blogging term “MEME.” I kept hearing about this word, but didn’t know its meaning. I thought perhaps it was an acronym (as in multi-electronic-marketing-expression – huh?).

When I moderated the “Blogging Success Stories” panel at the Garden Writers Association annual symposium in September, Dee Nash of Red Dirt Ramblings made a comment about “meme” this and “meme” that. I just smiled and nodded, as if to say: Oh, I am in the know. I really get what you’re talking about.

Except I didn’t. That’s how non-technical I am.

Then last week, my friend Lorene Edwards Forkner sent me a “tag” challenge, one that she received from another Internet girlfriend, “Flowergardengirl” (aka Anna). I received Lorene’s nudge, but I’ve been so swamped that my follow-through has been belated for seven days.

I looked up the word MEME, which I thought might apply to Lorene’s “what are you reading right now?” tag, and discovered the following:

Meme: (Noun) A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.

Okay, tonight is the night. I’m down to one kid (the other kid is performing in a play and has informed me he is going to the midnight opening of teen-vampire flick “Twilight” after his show – who cares about first period choir tomorrow anyway? And husband Bruce is conveniently away at a 2-day graduate school commitment), so I can finally sit down and “play” with Lorene. She understands the delay and distractions. I know she does!

The challenge is as follows: Grab the nearest book at hand (no fair looking for something intellectual, just what’s within arm’s reach of your keyboard). Turn to page 56, go to the 5th sentence and post your results – include the 2-3 sentences that follow to provide some sort of context. Then turn around and “tag” 5 or more blogging friends to do the same.


California Garden and Landscape History Society

Friday, October 10th, 2008

A late September afternoon along Independence Creek, with the Sierras in the distance, at the Mary DeDecker Native Plant Garden, Eastern California Museum, Independence, California

I’m paraphrasing here, but that saying about how we understand the future if we learn from the past came to mind when I attended part of the California Garden and Landscape History Society’s annual meeting.

The conference was held in Lone Pine, California (about 250 miles north of my home on Ventura Co. – toward the high desert, the Eastern Sierras, and the west entrance to Death Valley). Its theme: “Spirit of Landscape: California’s Lower Owens River Valley.”

The event attracted me because dear friend and writing mentor Paula Panich was on the program to give a lecture about the writer and pioneer woman Mary Austin. She titled her talk: “Beauty and Madness and Death and God: Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain.”

Why do we pursue such impetuous, insensible decisions as to drive 250 miles on a Saturday morning in order to get to a friend’s 1-hour lecture? It’s actually easy to explain, because the fabric of my life is woven with such spontaneous decisions. If I didn’t make these sudden journeys (to fly to Seattle for Braiden’s book-launch; to take the bus to the end of the line and visit Skip and Charles in Orient, NY; to drive to the mountains for Paula’s birthday celebration) what else would I be doing anyway? Shopping for groceries, paying bills, folding laundry?

A fellow conference participant, Liz Ames, pauses to observe the not-so-distant Sierra Nevada range

We often remember the glimmering highlights that punctuate the rough textures of everyday life; they are the peaks that even out the valleys, comforting us. Don’t get me wrong. Usually, I love my life and the choices I’ve made. I float through it observing all the blessings I have with my marriage, my children, my home, my safe existence. But sometimes . . . different seasonings need to be tasted. Gardens, friends, excursions…provide the unexpected flavors to our regular diet of normalcy.