Debra Prinzing

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New scenes of my lawn-free backyard

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
My killer backlit shot of the central path

My killer backlit shot of the central path

We now have a backyard that is grass-free. The space has undergone a huge transformation since earlier this summer when a crew removed the last patches of dying turf. With irrigation repaired and new planting beds+borders outlined and populated, we received a delivery of California Gold crushed gravel to carpet the walking areas. I’ve since decided on the very best way to describe this color of gravel. To me, it will forever be called “Golden Lab.” When our dog Zanny lays on the gravel in the warm Cali sunshine, we notice that her fur blends beautifully – practically the same color.

Our 25th anniversary was last week, and Bruce surprised me with a brand new digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G10. This is a “big girl” camera. No point-and-shoot idiot stuff for me anymore. OK, basically, I have no idea how to do anything BUT point and shoot, but I hope to learn.

The partner-in-crime in this Canon choice is none other than Bill Wright. Bill and I have worked together for years and together created Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways. He knows his stuff. I’m sure he rolled his eyes (privately) about my wimpy camera shenanigans while we were on location together. Lucky for me, Bill advised Bruce on this camera purchase. Oh, and one sweet note. Bruce gave me a 35mm manual camera for a wedding gift on August 24, 1984. It was a beautiful Pentax. I used it for years, but eventually, it broke (OK, it “was dropped,” which is my passive way of saying I broke it) and couldn’t be repaired. That he remembered the wedding gift 25 years ago and wanted to do a reprise was both thoughtful and romantic.  I’m going to get major mileage out of this Canon. That is, when I learn all of its bells and whistles.

Until then, here is my maiden voyage. Photos of the “new” backyard:

Now That We’ve Ripped Out The Grass . . .

Saturday, June 6th, 2009
We turned off the irrigation and tried to "choke" out the grass. This technique is fairly effective...until winter rains arrive!

We turned off the irrigation and tried to "choke" out the grass. This technique is fairly effective...until winter rains arrive!

The traditional lawn-centric backyard is changing – for the better.

After a brutal buffalo grass removal process (that stuff refuses to die!), we’ve begun the transition to create my “dream” garden.

Gone are a dozen pygmy date palms and two gangly buddleia shrubs that never looked happy, even when they were blooming. Gone is 800 square feet of grass. Now we’re ready to install a low-water, Mediterranean and California native landscape in several border areas, planting beds and center “islands.”

In place of the turf, we’re spreading California Gold gravel. The material is about 3/8ths inch in size and has a mid-tone sandy gold color.

In the Pacific Northwest, if you were going to do a gravel garden, you’d use “quarter-minus crushed gravel,” but it would be from basalt; thus, it would be grey. Grey works under grey skies. Gold works under sunny skies.

Here’s how it arrived, yesterday:


The thing I like about the California Gold (or any crushed rock medium) is that rain and moisture percolate through to the ground rather than running off into the storm water system. Plus, you can plant right into it, thereby softening the hard look of too much stone. It’s compact-able; thus, it’s not uncomfortable to walk on. I’m not sure how my dog, Zanny, is going to enjoy it, but luckily, we’ve left a few places around the side of the house for her to do her business.

I’ll keep posting more photos as we continue the journey!

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?

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.


A hydrangea grows in Zone 10

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Today, all I have to share are these photographs of my sole hydrangea plant. This pinky charmer lives on our covered porch, surviving the heat, I guess, because of its deeply shaded existence.

It is 90 degrees outside as I write at 7:30 p.m. With adequate water, this hydrangea seems to cope with close-to-the-century-mark temperatures. But if it wasn’t protected by the overhanging roof, it would be miserable.

In contrast, hydrangeas in Seattle can handle a few days of excessive heat, here and there. But their blooms and leaves get crispy when subjected to sustained hot-and-sunny summer conditions. All the more reason why I cherish owning at least one non-crispy specimen here in Zone 10!

This hydrangea was a “housewarming” gift nearly 2 years ago, given by my husband’s boss on the occasion of our move to SoCal. To me, “Miss Hydrangea,” it seemed ironic to receive a no-name, hothouse variety in a 1-gallon pot, cloaked in that crinkly-metallic florist paper. It nearly toppled over because the few enormous mop-head blooms were wildly out of proportion to the size of the plant itself. In my former garden (seen at left and right), I was lucky to grow several cool Japanese hydrangeas that were gifted to me by friend Richie Steffen of the Miller Garden. These babies seemed to think they were still growing in their native soil because they exploded in size over the period of a few years – only to crowd out the nearby path. (Although, I must confess that the huge mophead hydrangea shown here was also a housewarming gift that arrived in a 1-gallon florist’s pot: It was given by our then-new neighbor David when we completed construction and threw ourselves a move-in party in 1998!).

Back to this pink hothouse hydrangea, which sat on my kitchen counter and seemed to be mocking me. If she could have spoken, she would have said: “You think you’re such a great gardener? Well, guess what? No one here cares that you grew a dozen stunning hydrangea shrubs, not to mention two climbing hydrangeas, in your old Seattle garden. Try keeping me alive here in Zone 10!”