Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Garden Travels: Native Plants Delight at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Native plants have become increasingly popular choices for the landscape due to the fact that they not only survive, but thrive with little fuss.

On a visit to California last month, our family decided to spend a morning exploring the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

The city of Santa Barbara has always held a special place in my heart.  When I was a child, my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents lived in Santa Barbara.  We only an hour away, so we made many trips there throughout the year for family gatherings, including Christmas.

Aside from being a special place where I spent many happy times as a child, I also fell in love with Santa Barbara.  I attended a small Christian college called Westmont, which is located in the hills above Santa Barbara, where I met my husband.  So, it's not surprising that we often find our way to this picturesque city whenever we can.

We were visiting our daughter, who is stationed with the Navy a short distance away and we had come out to spend a long weekend with her.  Her service with the Navy is due to end soon so we wanted to take advantage of spending time in Santa Barbara.  The decision to go to the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was an easy one.  Surprisingly, I had never been there before and wanted to experience its beauty.

Anyone who has visited gardens with me knows that I am always lagging behind as I observe the beauty of plants close up and pause to take a lot of photos.  I just tell them to walk on ahead as I do my best to keep within visual range of them.

The first part of this garden consisted of open meadows planted with native wildflowers.  Being that it was January, most weren't flowering yet, but it was easy to imagine how beautiful they would look in just a month or two.

Looking off in the distance, you could see the ocean and the Channel Islands.

One of the things that are unique about this garden is that they only grow California native plants.

'Arroyo Cascade' Manzanita

Santa Barbara has been hit very hard by drought several times in recent years and as a result, residents are looking for drought-tolerant alternatives.

Erigeron divergens

Botanical gardens who feature native plants serve as inspiration for homeowners, landscape architects and designers to help them create landscapes with plants that thrive in the local climate with no little to no fuss.

My family waiting patiently for me to catch up.

In addition to wanting to learn more about California native plants, I was also looking forward to exploring the California landscape that I grew up in with its graceful oak trees and stately redwood trees.

The garden trails are winding and go up and down hillsides.  It often felt like we were on a camping trip while hiking through the mountains.

At first, the trail is level, but then you are faced with steep steps, called the Indian Steps.  This steep trail is thought to be the trail taken by the Indians who built the dam that is located farther in the garden. 

We had brought a stroller for my one-year-old grandson but soon learned that it wouldn't make it down the steps with him in it, so I carried him down the steps with his mom following with the stroller.

At the base of the steps, we were greeted by the sight of tall coast redwoods, shading the pathway.

As much as I love oak trees, as a California native, visiting redwood forests scattered throughout the state has always been a special treat.

The sheer size, age, and beauty of redwood trees are truly majestic, especially when you realize how small you are when you stand next to one.

As we journeyed on, I was excited to see the old dam, which was built by the Indians to funnel water down the mountain toward the historic Santa Barbara Mission.

The redwood trees weren't the only large things in the garden - the boulders were very big too.

The Mission Dam and Aqueduct were built in 1807 to help direct water toward the mission.

This old aqueduct had to be cleaned out frequently to keep debris out so that the water could flow freely.

As we continued our journey through the garden, I must tell you that it was a beautiful, sunny day in the upper 60's.

I took a moment to take a photo of my daughter and grandson in front of a fallen tree.  As you can see, my grandson is having a great time!

So were my husband and I.

Eventually, our path took us to a 'fork' in the road where we had a decision to make - walk further on and take the bridge back to the entrance or walk across the marked creek crossing.

When you are with a 13 year-old boy, there is no question about which way you will choose.

I was especially excited to see the Home Demonstration Garden section, which showcased ways to use California natives in a residential landscape.

The house was built onsite in 1926 from a Sears Roebuck kit.  It now houses the offices of the garden.

There were nicely designed garden beds filled with California natives, clearly marked.

It was easy to envision seeing oneself landscaping their house in natives that are equally as beautiful as the more flashy non-natives. 

Newly planted landscape beds.

After seeing a wonderful example of a residential garden planted solely with natives, it got me to thinking again why so many people in the desert southwest coddle gardenias, hibiscus, and even queen palms in order to get them to do well in our hot, dry climate where they struggle.

As I walked around to the back of the house, I found my husband.

I did tell you that I always lag behind whenever I visit gardens, didn't I?

My husband is always so patient and doesn't complain.  I always keep this in mind when he gets excited about looking at cars and motorcycles.

At the end of our tour through the garden, the fun was just beginning for me because they have a nursery filled with California natives grown on site.

My camera and I went on an expedition, exploring the different natives.

Like many desert natives, these California natives aren't very exciting in their containers, which can sometimes cause shoppers to skip them in favor for high-maintenance, flashy non-natives.

Erigeron cultivar 'Wayne Roderick'

But, once planted and given a little time to grow, they put on a show.

I was drawn to the different colored California poppy seedlings, ready for planting in the spring wildflower garden.  I would have bought a white and pink variety, but have some already planted in my garden.

There were a number of California native plants that are also native to Arizona including desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

If you ever find yourself in Santa Barbara, I strongly recommend that you take an hour or two to explore the garden.  It is a wonderful walk through the California countryside filled with the beauty of native plants.

I came away with three California native plants that I am unfamiliar with.  Since many aspects of our climate are similar, I am wanting to see how they perform in my garden.  The biggest test will be how they handle the summer heat.  My hope is that they will be fuss free and beautiful.  

I'll be sure to let you know how they do. 

**If you love to grow and cook fresh vegetables there is still time to enter the free giveaway for the fabulous book, Growing For Flavor.**

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Giveaway and Review: Grow For Flavor

One of the perks of being a garden blogger is that I am often given the opportunity to review newly published gardening books.

After having reviewed many wonderful books written on a variety of gardening subjects, Grow For Flavor immediately grabbed my attention by the unique way that it promised to "turn the tables on conventional gardening advice" by dispelling common garden myths such as "home-grown always tastes better" and "heirloom vegetables always taste better than hybrids". 

The publisher promises that "this book contains tips, how-to’s and recipes on how to increase the amount of flavor in home-grown food. For example, the author describes how you can make salad greens either sweet or fiery by choosing where and how you grow them, or how to use acidic soil to give strawberries better flavor. With recipes such as “Purple Sun” Carrot Cheesecake and Spiced Pumpkin, Tarragon & Marshmallow Soup, Grow for Flavor is the perfect book for a foodie-gardener."

I must admit to being intrigued at its premise and couldn't wait to discover more for myself.

Written by self-described obsessive botanist, James Wong, has based the book on over 2,000 scientific studies as well as his own taste tests has made the goal of this book to help home gardeners grow crops with maximum flavor and minimum labor.

The emphasis is growing plants for flavor rather than focusing on quantity, which can often decrease the flavor of homegrown vegetables.

One of my favorite parts is the author's description of cilantro, calling it the "The Herb of Evil".  Studies have shown that "loving or hating cilantro is genetically determined."  Either you enjoy cilantro's bright, citrusy flavor OR fail to understand why some people love a herb that tastes like soap.  It turns out that it is all in a person's genes.  One-fifth of the world's population has a gene that makes cilantro taste awful.  As one of the one-fifth, it is nice to have an explanation as to why I hate a herb that so many people love.

The predominant emphasis of Grow for Flavor is to grow fruits and vegetables for maximum flavor using simple tips.  It turns out that a plant's genes are the biggest factor in how they taste, but growing plants in full sun and taking care to NOT overwater can also help to maximize flavor.

Recommended varieties are included for many types of vegetables including my favorites - sweet corn and tomatoes including those that are best for salad and those that are ideal for cooking are also included.

Colorful photos make the book a visual treat coupled with many delicious recipes featuring fresh grown produce, wild food delicacies such as certain weeds, flower waters, vinegar, jam and syrups are also featured.

After spending a very enjoyable time reading through the book, I found the publisher's description described Grow for Flavor perfectly and I highly recommend it and it now occupies a prominent spot on my plant book shelves.


So, now for the giveaway...

You can enter to win a free copy of Grow for Flavor.

1. To enter, simply leave me a comment about what fruits and/or vegetables that you like to grow and eat.
(Be sure to leave your email address if it's not on your profile, or I won't have any way to contact you.)

2. For a bonus entry, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - (be sure to let me know in your comment).

Let your friends know about this great giveaway and I will pick a random winner on Saturday, February 13th.

You can also order your own copy of Grow for Flavor by clicking here.

**Stay tuned for future garden book giveaways!**

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Look Behind and In Front of the Television Camera

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the television camera?  

What we often see is just a small portion of what goes on behind the scenes as I have learned during my occasional appearances on television.

Today, I thought that I would let you see what goes on behind the scenes getting ready for a gardening segment on television. I documented what went on behind the scenes of my television appearance last Friday.

You may be surprised to find that appearing on camera is the easiest part.  Here is how it all happens...

- Typically a week ahead of time, I am contacted by the producer of the show I am being asked to appear on.  They give me a general gardening topic and then send me a guest sheet to fill out.  On the guest sheet, I list general questions for the host to ask and send in photos for them to use in the segment as well.

- Two days before my scheduled appearance, I visit my local nursery to get the plants and other 'props' that I will need.

- The day before, I am busy 'cleaning' up the plants - removing any dead leaves and/or flowers and wiping down the nursery containers with a wet rag to remove any dirt.  Often, I plant some of the plants in decorative pots.  Believe it or not, I have a stash of 'props' that I only use when I appear on television, which I will show you later.

The next day begins with an early arrival at the television station.  Plants are unloaded onto large plastic carts located in the television station's lobby for transporting props.

I usually bring someone with me to help me set up.  For me, it's usually a family affair with various members of my family accompanying me. This time, my nephew came along to help.  He recently graduated from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences and I thought that he would like to experience the workings of a television studio.

There is security in the lobby and only those on the list are allowed to enter.  Guests are expected to arrive 1 hour before the show airs.

After entering, you are shown to the 'green room' where you wait with others who will also appear on the program.

Most often, I bypass the green room as I am shown directly to the outdoor area in back of the studio where I will set up.  Along the way, we pass the newsroom.

In the outdoor area there is typically a rectangular table set up for me and I get to work on setting up my props.

When selecting props, color is an important element, so I always try include colorful flowers whenever possible.  

In this case, I was asked to talk about what to plant in winter, so I picked out the most colorful annuals that my local nursery had - in this case, primrose.

Earlier, I mentioned that I have a stash of 'props' that I use when I am to appear on television.  Well, I used three of them; a hand shovel, a hand rake as well as a galvanized steel container.  I don't use them in the garden so that they will always look nice and I'm not having to clean them.  A nice pair of leather garden gloves usually appear alongside my other props as well.

Setting up my props is called 'staging' and I must admit that it's not my strongest suit.  In general, tall plants go in the back with smaller ones in front.

My sisters and mother are very good at staging and have been especially helpful when they have come with me when appearing on television.

However this time, I was on my own when it came to arranging my plants and props.

This is the perspective from where I will stand when talking in front of the camera.  The small TV shows a live feed of what is currently being broadcast and is helpful when being interviewed since I can see what the viewers see - especially when the photos I sent in are shown on screen so I can speak directly about them.

About a half-hour before my segment, a producer comes out and sets up my mike, which is threaded through my clothes and clipped to my collar.

After a busy morning of getting up early, loading plants, driving to the studio, unloading plants and staging plants and getting 'miked' - it's time to sit and wait until it is time for my segment to go on.

Since my segment is being filmed on the back patio and not inside the studio, I usually spend my time in the break room waiting until the television host comes to find me to talk about the upcoming segment.

It's interesting to note that I never know before I get to the station, when I will be on.  I've been on at the beginning, middle and end of the show - I prefer to be on at the beginning instead of waiting.

Shortly before my segment, a 'teaser' is shown with close-ups of my plants being shown after which, a commercial is shown.

During the commercial, the host talks to me about what I brought and we both go over what I will talk about.

Finally, it is time for my live segment.  At this point, everything goes very fast.

My four minute garden segment feels like it only takes one minute to do.  I admit that this is the part that I like best - helping people learn how to enjoy their garden and hopefully inspiring them to try something new.  In this case, we talked about adding lettuce and other leafy green alongside colorful annuals in pots.

If being on camera makes you nervous, it helps to just talk directly to the host and try to ignore the camera.  I do that most of the time, but I do try to talk directly to the camera a few times as well.

After the segment is over, I load my things back onto the plastic cart and leave.  Sometimes, I make it home before the program is over.

Later in the day, I receive an email from the producer with a link to my garden segment.  I don't like to watch myself on TV a lot, but I do watch it once to make sure that I didn't make any mistakes.  Every time I go on, I find myself becoming a little more comfortable with the process.

And so, that is a behind the scenes look to filming a garden segment on television.  I hope that you enjoyed it.  

**If you would like to view this particular garden segment, click here.


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