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Billy's Back With Crimes Against Horticulture!
updated: Jan 12, 2013, 11:00 AM
By Billy Goodnick
Didja miss me? Okay, did you at least notice I was gone?
It's been four months since I showed my face and green thumbs around these parts. I got Ed's
permission to take time off to finish writing my book (more on that in a second), and then, wouldn'tcha
know, my 95-year-old pop decided to bust a hip. But the book, "Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space
Into the Garden of Your Dreams" (St. Lynn's Press, March 2013), is just about put to bed, my dad is
on the mend, the holidays have passed, the Mayan calendar prediction fizzled and it looks like the
statute of limitations on Y2K has expired.
So it seems like a good time to jump back in at Edhat and do my darnest to keep you informed and
entertained about the good, the bad and the f'ugly horticultural happenings here in paradise.
During my hiatus I was saddened, along with every Edhat reader, to hear about the passing of our
founder, Peter Sklar. Peter and I didn't get to spend much social time together. But I'm deeply in his
debt for having the faith in me to launch what has become a surprisingly robust writing career. Peter
gave me the freedom to teach, entertain, fume and bluster about whatever entered my pretty little,
behatted head, with nary so much as a red line of censorship. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
It's here at Edhat that I started my yearly Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful Awards, which has since
morphed into Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools (CAH). I thought it would
make a great book. Kinda like Michael Pollan meets Pee-wee Herman on ‘shrooms.
I wrote a book proposal and shopped it to a bunch of publishers who politely told me, "We love your
writing, but wouldn't touch your book idea with plastic willow branch." However, one publisher, Paul
Kelly at St. Lynn's Press, kept the conversation going, we expanded the concept into a "real" design
book and he signed me up. So come March, I'll have a full-color, 160-page hardcover book with my
name on it. I'll be traveling around the country giving design talks, doing book signings and handing
out rolls of my CAH crimes scene tape to audiences. (If you want to keep track of my events, some in
the SB area, check my GreatGardenSpeakers.com site).
I must apologize for a few grainy pics in the following collection, resorting to using my iPhone camera
for a number of them. But it did give me a chance to "snark up" the photos using Meme Design, a cool
app that overlays block text on photos in about 30 seconds. So, with no further ado…
I've long wondered where all of these misshapen spheres of shrubbery come from. I know it's not the
Oort Cloud. One theory posits that normal plants are installed by well-meaning garden owners, only to
fall prey to aesthetically challenged plant janitors who have their way with them. Turns out they just
seem to pop out of the soil along San Antonio Creek Road.
Cruising the quiet, tucked-away Hidden Valley neighborhood I was surprised to find a landscape
inspired by the Old Testament. What a surprise to see an enterprising gardener reimagining and
recoloring the parting of the Red Sea - Cecil B. DeMille, watch your back. Either that, or the tectonic
plates are acting up again.
Even Biff the Wonder Spaniel scratched his head as we strolled past the medical building across from
Cottage Hospital. I was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps these Hollywood
junipers were slated for removal when the chain saw jammed. Surely someone would return the next
day to end the humiliation. No such luck. There they remain. I'm all for wishful thinking, but what on
Earth did they think they'd end up looking like even if these plants did recover?
Two blocks from Cottage is this landscape "renovation." On the plus side, the owners sincerely
attempted to make improvements to what's likely a tired 30-year old landscape. And it's clear they were
on a budget; who isn't these days? But rather than admit that a bunch of ancient ground cover junipers
had seen better days and send them to that big mulch pile in the sky, someone decided to give them a
second chance. Problem is, the likelihood of these bushes generating new buds from the old stems is
the same as me sprouting wings and flying past this hot mess. Wait…there's more!
Holy Birds in Bondage, Batman! Same project. I'm guessing someone had a bunch of old bird of paradise
(Strelitzia reginae) growing in another yard and moved them here. Although it's a
common practice to bundle the top growth of a real palm tree to protect the tip growth while it gets
adjusted to a new home, there's no logical reason to use that technique on birds. Better to cut the entire
plant to ground level. Then, once the roots are settled in, new, clean, healthy sprouts will emerge. But
months after transplanting, they're still tied up and flaccid.
What can I say? Maybe in the context of a topiary garden filled with abstract forms, this upside-down magic mushroom
might earn a C-minus. Here's a swell idea: Hook it up to a chocolate
syrup pump and make one of those fountains for dipping strawberries!
Back in March 2012, I used this space to bitch about members of a particular plant genus, in Dear Ficus: Go Fig Yourself, of particular note
was my warning about how creeping fig (Ficus repens) can swallow a building in the time it
takes to say "Clytostoma callistegioides." Here's proof - a gardener climbing onto the roof
behind the downtown Peet's Coffee, shearing the top few feet. Meanwhile, two of his compatriots were
mounting an assault from ladders that couldn't reach the ramparts. Waste of manpower, I say. Get the
guy up top a bungee cord.
Think about this… Someone made a conscious decision to plant this stuff. I wonder if they informed the
owner of the life-long commitment needed to tame this green monster.
Imagine living across the street from this bottlebrush tree (Callistemon species) and trying to
keep your breakfast down. My guess is someone took a single, expedient cut at the top and all these
new sprouts appeared. Not only is it comically Seussian, but if the new branches are allowed to fill out
(not likely after looking at what these control freaks do to the rest of the garden) they'll be weak and in
danger of falling on parked cars and hapless cyclists.
I'm disturbed, but relieved to report that as of this week, these poor decapitated yew pines
(Podocarpus gracilior) that were butchered by the Elephant Bar's hired guns, have been put out
of their misery. Cut to the ground, hopefully to be replaced with something lovely. They've been
standing in this condition for months. Somebody must have thought it was okay to do this. It's not.
Here's one I can't do a damn thing about. You know how the Vatican is a separate state surrounded by
the city of Rome? Well, Earl Warren Showgrounds is state of California property in the middle of Santa
Barbara. My fair city has worked hard to earn its "Tree City USA" designation for high standards and
exemplary care of our urban forest. And yet the jokers who run Earl Warren get away with this crap (yes,
that's a light attached to the eucalyptus branch) and there's not a f*%@ing thing anyone can do, unless
you want to fly up to Sacramento and try to find the right office. Burns me UP! While we're at it, how
about that tasteless multi-color LED billboard that makes me wince every time I drive by? Where do they
think they are? (Insert name of perceived backwater burg…I'm not going there. No way I'd suggest
Bakersfield or Modesto or Hemet or…).
It's not often you witness a the birth of a conspiracy to commit a crime against horticulture. What you're
looking it is a ticking time bomb that was just installed last week. I'll give it until fall to become a bona
fide CAH. By then each of these lantana will start mounting their neighbors, like hyenas in heat. Why?
Each lantana is a variety that's capable of achieving a spread of four to five feet. There are three rows in
a five-foot parkway, some planted within six inches of the sidewalk. You do the math.
So by September, at the latest, the gardener will start shearing the tips that protrude into the sidewalk
and over the curb, while the remaining growth with rise, tangle and mix it up like Medusa's ‘do. If you
want to observe this slow-mo train wreck, cruise up Chapala and keep your eyes peeled to the right as
you reach West Arrellaga.
Got time for two more?
Not only did someone shape this plant into a meatball, they had the nerve to cover it in corduroy!
Flagrantly flaunting their flailing, flaming hedge trimmers, a crew of commercial gardeners in Camarillo
regularly take it upon themselves to create what might be the largest collection of phalluses, lollipops
and meatballs I've yet to see. An office park just off Flynn Road is where you'll find this gallery of glop.
Multiply this vignette times 50 and you'll comprehend the magnitude of this injustice - the parking lot is
over an acre. Then try to figure out the monthly pruning bill and disposal fees.
:: :: :: :: :: ::
That's it for my comeback. Thanks for indulging me while I purged this stuff from my system. In the
following months I promise I'll write about some worthy projects around town, wonderful plant peeps,
and useful gardening ideas. Now, I need a beer and a big hit of ether to calm myself.
To learn more
about Billy's upcoming book, find out where he'll be speaking or to receive his
quarterly Billy's Buzz newsletter, chock full of cool plants, design ideas, Crimes Against Horticulture,
educational opportunities and general silliness, visit www.billygoodnick.com
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