Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feliz Navidad and the Economy

I just read a sad and sobering article on the news site about how a young 35 year old woman went from earning
80 thousand dollars a year to eviction.
She lost her job like so many of us have in this downward spiraling economy.

I'm a landscape designer in Northern California and have been self employed for about 25 years.
During all these past years and previous recessions I have always faired extremely well.
I have never lacked work.

But my story has drastically changed.

For the first time in my life I don't have enough work to keep myself or my business associates busy.

But I am a survivor and fortunately have some other skills besides landscape design. I am also a seasoned

A couple of months ago when I started to really feel the pinch I sent out a dozen or so cards to former and
existing clients offering my services as a gardener.

As luck would have it I landed a couple of nice gardening jobs and I appreciate these jobs very very much.

A week after Christmas I was working in one of my clients gardens.
I had just pruned some olive trees and was hauling the clippings out in a burlap tarp .
As I threw the bundled up tarp of branches into the back of my pick up truck a young boy passed by.
He wished me a "Feliz Navidad".
What ?
My spanish is not that great but I recognized the phrase after a minute passed by.
This nice young polite boy greeted me in a language that he thought was befitting of my job.

I instantly felt a pit in my stomach. I felt myself professionally demoted and in a truly unwarranted and eschewed way I felt humiliated .
As the day went on and I continued to mull this thought over and over in my mind I started to see my job and life in a new light.
I told myself that gardening is a noble profession and that I should not be embarrassed by the work that I was now doing to make ends meet.
After all I went to college for this profession ( ornamental horticulture ) and quite honestly I love it and I am pretty darn good at it.

So I guess I am one of the lucky ones in this crappy economic downward period. At least I have a few good gardening jobs , one or two good landscape architectural jobs and I have my dignity.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The awakening

New beginnings

Flush with new growth
The soft winter rains
bring new beginnings

From January 2009 garden

From January 2009 garden

From January 2009 garden

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Change is Good.

As more information about the dangers of wood smoke reaches the public, the public is taking note and making changes.

Before the big outdoor fireplace trend was in full gear I designed probably about one fireplace a year ( thank goodness )
During that time all the fireplaces that I designed and installed were wood fired and most were Rumford based designed.
With a good public education program now in place by Burning and the Bay Area Air Quality Board we are now offering conversions to our clients to change over their polluting wood fireplaces to natural gas.

Here is one of my earliest outdoor fireplace designs. It was for a very cool old historical Spanish colonial house in Northern California that at one time was a brothel and a secret mobster gambling house.
As you might be able to tell from the photography, this photo was taken years before digital technology. .. I guess that will clue you in to how long I've been at this .

Nice to know it's up for an environmental upgrade.

From Outdoor Kitchens and Dining areas

Friday, January 23, 2009

Roberto Burle Marx

19 years ago I participated at The San Francisco Garden Show at Fort Mason Center.
I created a garden vignette inspired by the work of Roberto Burle Marx.

I recently read in The New York Times that there is a retrospective exhibition of Mr. Marx’s work showing at the Pa├žo Imperial Museum in Rio de Janeiro.
Link to the NYTime article :

I’d love to see this exhibition and hope that it may find the funding to travel to the United States.

The 1990 show garden installed at Fort Mason Center in S.F.
From ranch house

The wall piece that inspired me.
In a book that I have about Roberto Burle Marx, it say that he scavenged these cast off architectural pieces from a building that was being demolished in Rio.
He brought them to his home / studio and refashioned them into a sculptural water feature.

From ranch house

From ranch house

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No thank you , really - no thank you.

This is EXACTLY WHY I distrusted the pay for play website Landscape Leadership. Just look at the latest email gimmick that I received ( below ).

I don’t know the person who is running this company and I wish him good luck with his business venture but I sure hope I will stop receiving Faxes to my office and emails to my business account to join his $ 179.00 a year website and his attempts to get me to endorse his website.

These types of letters do just the opposite. I will never endorse a website that I know nothing about and then phishes ( if that is the correct spelling for this scam trolling term ) for other people’s email addresses.

Dear Chris Heiler, I wish you the best of luck in your business venture but please remove me from your email list.

Thank you,


Michelle :
The editor of, Chris Heiler, just sent me the link to your website at Chris thinks you’d be a perfect fit to join our Affiliate Program. Our program is a great way to earn recurring, passive income.  This is not a gimmick and there is ABSOLUTELY NO COST INVOLVED.
What is an Affiliate Program and what's in it for me?
It's very simple. Website "A" (the Affiliate – that's you) agrees to endorse our website,, by posting a link to our site, or banner ad, on your website or blog. Every time a visitor clicks on the link on your site and makes a purchase on our site, you get paid a commission. In this case, the commission is 50%!  We've outlined all the details for your review in our Affiliate Program Handbook.
What's in it for LandscapeLeadership?
Again, it's very simple. By partnering with great folks like you through an Affiliate Program, we are able to keep our marketing costs down and grow our community. This is one of those rare but REAL win-win opportunities.
What is is a membership website specifically for residential landscape designers. It was started by Chris Heiler, who is a successful landscape designer located in Zeeland, Michigan. Chris is passionate about all things design and wanted to share his knowledge and "tools of the trade" with fellow designers and landscape architects.
He created a first-class online community at Members gain access to valuable resources including articles, podcasts and video tutorials. Every resource is designed to further develop the designer's skill set, create successful business strategies and promote and market the designer’s talent. There is also a Designer's Forum where members can exchange ideas, ask questions or just vent about that "special" client.
How much money can I make when I become an Affiliate?
We believe our affiliate program is one of the best because it's a service you can be proud to promote. And, of course, there's always the recurring income - - we offer our affiliates 50% commission.
Here's how the numbers work:
We offer a $15.00 monthly subscription plan.  For every member signing up through your affiliate link, you will receive $7.50.  If you sign up 10 members in one month you will earn $77.50 that month.  As long as they remain members, you receive this income each month. That’s $930 a year for every 10 members.

What do I do next?
If you want to sign up for our affiliate program, visit our Affiliate Program page. You will also have the chance to watch an insightful video about our program. You may also Download the Affiliate Handbook. It's packed with every bit of information you need to make your decision as well as get started on your path to recurring, passive income with minimal effort.
If after watching the video and reviewing the handbook, you're still not sure, please don't hesitate to contact Chris personally. He's always ready and willing to take your call, answer any questions and discuss your future partnership with
Also, do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you,

Affiliate Manager

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A winter garden

I received a call from an old friend and client last week informing me that she has volunteered her garden for one of the upcoming spring garden tours.

I greeted this as good news and hoped that her garden will inspire others who wander through it this spring .

Over the years my friend has collected and placed some really wonderful sculptural art pieces in her garden. She and her husband both have great senses of humor and express their love for life in their home and garden.

The garden is pretty large. I’m not exactly sure of the square footage but if I were to guess I would say that they have about 1.5 acres or so.

Here are a few little snippets :

The front entry water feature sculpted by Edwin Hamilton - unfortunately the fountain was shut off and I didn’t want to take it upon my self to turn it on.

From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

Walking past the fountain there is a set of stone steps leading to the lower side yard garden.
This is one of two ‘Twirlly’ type sculptures in the garden, both are wind powered.
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

On the opposite side of the house is a storage shed and an adjoining overhead pergola.
This was designed 2 years ago to support a couple dozen solar panels.
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

The same time that I designed the solar panel pergola I also worked on a new built in BBQ area.
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

Another view of it :
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

There are two terrace levels of dining and entertaining.
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

Directly across from the cozy conversation area is a hammock .
The jasmine was just starting to bloom and was incredibly fragrant.
Wouldn’t you just love to take a nap here ?
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

There is a large horse shoe shaped pathway that leads to the other gardens.
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

In the main perennial and shrub garden is the second kinetic sculpture :
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

Off of the path is the hot tub area. It overlooks the San Francisco Bay .
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

There is a shower set into the hedge border :
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

There is also a decent size vegetable garden and a small orchard.
It is located behind a pineapple guava hedge:
From Atop of Mt. Tamalpias

Well that’s about it for now.
I hope to post a few more photos of this garden during the spring garden tour.

Happy Winter Gardening.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Pathetic Potager this January. boooo hooooo

My vegetable garden is pathetic

Where’s the Bright Lights Kale, the spinach, the sweet peas and lettuce ?

What a waste of good garden soil.

My Potager garden is pathetic this winter.

I have a few measly little lettuce plants, some good looking and producing arugula , some sage, oregano , chives and garlic chives but on the whole there could be a lot more growing out there.

I went to my favorite local nursery this past weekend for a few more starts but only came home with a six pack of cilantro.
They said that their shipment of winter veggie starts would be in next week.
Fortunately I caught them as they were placing their order so I signed up for some Bright Lights Kale, spinach, peas and lettuce.

I hope that we have good weather this coming weekend so that I can get the starts in the ground because the potager is looking rather sad and pathetic right now.

The Pathetic Potager as it looks right now :

A small patch of lettuce , flowering kale , pak choi and garlic chives
From January 2009 garden

The newly planted cilantro
From January 2009 garden

Mustard in the focused foreground with some mache and arugula in the out of focused background
From January 2009 garden

And and inside shot of my greenhouse which will soon be growing a bunch of veggie, herb and flower seeds towards the end of February.
At that time it will be out with the bromeliads and in with the seeds.
From January 2009 garden

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bloom Day , January 2009

January 14, 2009

The weather has been incredibly fickle so far this year.
In December we had over a week of below freezing nightly temperatures.
In January I have woken up to find ice coating my windshield and a white blanket of frost across my small front lawn.

But for the last two days it has been warm. And like the last two days it is reported that it will reach 70 degrees in Sonoma ( where I am working today ) .

Many of my succulents have taken a hard hit by the December and early January frosts.
My large clump of Agave attenuatta are pocked with frost marks and some of the outer leaves are so badly frost damaged that they will have to be cut off.

But there is still some good frost hardy troopers in the garden showing great color and enduring fine textures.

Here are a few photos that I snapped off this past weekend :

A bloom on an Aloe plant
From January 2009 garden

A Bromeliad that lives on my front porch
From January 2009 garden

An Echiveria
From January 2009 garden

A Cotyledon orbiculata in bloom
From January 2009 garden

A pot of succulents set out in the garden
Cotyledon, Senecio, Aeonium
From January 2009 garden

A detail shot of Euphorbia Tasmanian Tiger growing in the front yard border
From January 2009 garden

A favorite succulent, Aloe plicatilis
From January 2009 garden

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tamed for dormancy

Just one night ago I listened to a great dharma talk at my sangha.
It was about the Wild Side vs. The side of Restraint.

As I was pruning a rose garden in blissful quiet I kept on thinking back to this dharma talk.
Should I prune a bit harder ? Should I show some restraint ? Should I let a particular climbing rose go a little bit more wild ?

In the end , I hope I found The Middle Path.

Some roses really required severe renovation pruning. They had a lot of dead wood and their frameworks were in poor condition. I went wild.

Other roses were quite well taken care of and it was obvious how much pruning they would need.

Then there was the question of , " do I prune for show quality or production quality ? ".

Again I took the middle road and did not go too wild with the shears but also didn't show too much restraint either.

The thing with pruning roses though, is that I have some time to fine tune a few of the cuts if I want to within the next month or two, Then as the summer season progresses I will have another chance to go wild or show restraint with mid season pruning.

From California Gardening

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rose Pruning Time of Year.

It’s that time of year again, ‘Rose pruning time !’

I have to admit, I’m not a rose enthusiast and I don’t really enjoy dead heading or pruning roses during their active growing months.
But I enjoy doing the yearly dormant season pruning.
There is something rewarding about looking back over your shoulder after you have spent the whole day pruning a rose garden into shape for the dormant season.
It feels like a renaissance.
You’ve just spent the whole day working on something that is going to show your efforts in just a few months from now.
I feel it is a form of positive affirmative forward thinking into the future.

And right now, within this current doom and gloomy economy crisis, I could use a little positive thinking for the future.

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

From portfolioMay08.jpg

From portfolioMay08.jpg

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

From California Gardening

Thursday, January 1, 2009

And by the way, Happy New Year !

Funny how things work.

Today, December 31 2008, I was surfing the web looking for information on Eco-fuels.
I came across a web site with a link.
That web site had a link.
I was happily linking and clicking the day away when I came to a blog called Garden Bliss.

I have read this blog before but I have to admit, I’m not a regular follower, though I should be, because this blog has a TON of great educational and entertainment content and the photography is terrific !

Any ways, back to the link of a link, to a link.
On a link , I came to a photo hosting site that had photographs of the 2008 San Francisco Garden Show . The photos taken were by Angela Pratt of the blog Garden Bliss.

This past year I installed a garden at the 2008 S.F. garden show . Unfortunately I did not get a chance to take many photographs of the show or of my own exhibit. I figured I would depend on the appointed “Show Photographer” .

The professional show photographer did a fine job but I have to admit that the photographs that Angela Pratt took were really quite wonderful and struck a distinct cord with me.

So with permission I would like to post a few photographs that Angela Pratt took of my garden at the 2008 San Francisco Garden Show

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

These 2 following photos were taken by Gregory Price

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008