By Lynn Langley.
What a beautiful evening! The sky was clear and the sun was shining as members gathered at the Garden Show at the San Diego County Fair to honor the 2017 Horticulturist of the Year, Debra Lee Baldwin. Members and guests enjoyed wandering through the creative Western-themed garden installations until Jim Bishop called the meeting to order. San Diego Horticulture Society’s Urban Homestead Garden was designed and installed by Terry Chamberlin, Mannah Gbeh, Karen Krugman, and Greg Hunter. Volunteers Pat Kroll, Georgana Winters, and Linda Canada assisted with the installation and Moosa Creek Nursery, Evergreen Nursery, and Briggs Tree Nursery donated plants. SDHS won ten awards, including the Paul Ecke Sr. Award for the best overall garden display. In addition, SDHS presented seven awards, including two given to the Palomar Cactus and Succulent Society.
Following our discussion of Fair garden awards, Susi Torre-Bueno took the stage to introduce Debra Lee Baldwin, our Horticulturist of the Year. Susi’s warm, succinct recap of Debra’s growing contributions to horticulture, and her gift for photography and the written word, are what led to today’s ceremony. Her inaugural book, Designing with Succulents, was the first to emphasize gardens where succulents were the stars. This book, along with her two subsequent books, Succulent Container Gardening and Succulents Simplified, highlight succulents in ways never before imagined. They illustrate Debra’s mantra, “flowers are fleeting, but foliage is forever.” Susi outlined five ways Debra has illustrated using succulents in novel ways—getting rid of a thirsty lawn by replacing grass with drought tolerant succulents; placing succulents in pots going up a staircase; growing Echeveria in planters and letting them cascade; planting a succulent wall; and planting succulents in a water fountain, allowing them to be seen at eye level. Debra's ability to paint with words and her talent for photography allows her to share her expertise with others in a palatable way.
Debra talked of beginning her journey as a photojournalist who told the world about great horticulturists, enjoying her career as a garden scout for different publications. Editors from two of those publications were in the audience at the meeting. She introduced Peter Jensen, of San Diego Home and Garden, for whom she wrote her first article, “A Round-Up,” almost 30 years ago. As her editor, he guided Debra as she honed her craft as a writer, showing her that she had the opportunity to make other people’s lives and communities better through words and photos. Peter said that of all the journalists he has worked with during his career, she is the only one who never missed a deadline. Mary James, who was unable to be present at the meeting, was the Homescape editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune and was another influential editor in Debra’s career. Kathy Brenzel, also at the meeting, is an editor at Sunset Magazine who previously worked with Debra as a photojournalist. It was Kathy who suggested that Debra take her turn at writing a book about succulents, claiming that if she didn’t, someone else would. Debra took her advice.
Debra’s love of birds and succulents were reflected in the gifts created for Debra’s guests and meeting volunteers by Jeanne Meadow and her crew in beautiful birdseed containers topped with succulents. To Debra, her garden is a scrapbook full of memories of the people who have given her plants or to whom she has given cuttings. It is a garden where friendship grows and blossoms, leading to offshoots in the community. On that thoughtful and inspiring note, the meeting adjourned for everyone to enjoy cake, the gardens, and a beautiful sunset.