top of page

GUEST COLUMNIST: Frank Mitzel Talks to Himself (and Lets Us Listen)

Edited by Susan Starr and Lisa Marun.

Part II: A Few of Frank’s Favorite Things…

SDHS’s new president, Frank Mitzel, began his term in September 2017. Frank was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 5, 1958. Nine years after graduating from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, he moved to San Diego in September of 1990. He now lives in a small North County community, Verrazzano, sandwiched between Fairbanks Ranch and Santaluz. A self-employed Landscape Designer for over 35 years, Frank has worked mostly in California, Michigan, and Florida.

Frank tells all in this continuation of a two-part self-interview.

What are some of the most memorable gardens you have visited?

In England, there's Hever Castle & Gardens; Kiftsgate Court Gardens; Barnsley House; Great Dixter; Hidcote Manor Garden is divine; and, of course, Sissinghurst Garden. In France, if you visit the French Riviera, I would recommend the cliffside Jardin Exotique de Monaco, with its huge collection of exotic succulents that Prince Albert I of Monaco collected. My all-time favorite in the region is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild gardens in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat overlooking the blue sea between Nice and Monaco. There's a delightful little restaurant at the Villa where you can have a light lunch and relax before experiencing one of the most exquisite and enchanting gardens on the planet.

In the northern Lake Como region of Italy, the must-see gardens are Villa Carlotta, with its massive rhododendrons and azaleas in bloom in the spring; Villa d'Este, for its dazzling water cascade; and the charming gardens in Bellagio at Villa Melzi. The baroque terraced garden at Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore is awe-inspiring with its dramatic statuary. Hotel Villa Cipressi is special not only because you can only get there by boat, but also because the landing watergate piers are flowing with undulating wisteria vines all along the cliffs. The Giardino Giusti in Verona, Villa Lante in Bagnaia, and Villa Gamberaia near Florence all hold a very sentimental place in my heart—especially Villa Gamberaia, where I once met the owner and we had a very lively and informative conversation about the history of his magnificent masterpiece garden. Gamberaia is truly the quintessential small renaissance garden, but almost impossible to find. It took three trips to Florence before I was able to find it. Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for.

That's a long list! You seem to be especially familiar with Italy.

I've visited just about every public garden in my eighteen visits to Italy. I'm going back in the spring to guide some friends on a tour of the gardens in the Lake Como region around Bellagio, Verona, and Florence. I also plan on eating myself silly.

What about gardens local to San Diego?

There's always something new to see at the San Diego Botanic Garden, the San Diego Zoo, and Balboa Park. My favorite day excursion garden from San Diego is Lotusland, created by Madame Walska after she pawned her jewels. The garden collection is extraordinarily exotic, just like she was. I've also been highly impressed with the new Sunnylands Center & Gardens in Rancho Mirage. It's amazing what they did with the drought tolerant plantings to complement the grounds of the historic estate. Speaking of the desert, I'm parched. Can we take a break? All right, let's continue.

What is your favorite cut flower?


What is your favorite bulb?


What are your favorite trees, and why?

Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree): This evergreen tree has year-round interest with glossy dark green foliage, white pendant cluster flowers, edible strawberry-like fruit, and exfoliating cinnamon-colored bark.

Tabebuia avellanedae (T. impetiginosa; Pink Trumpet Tree): Although deciduous, when the trumpet tree is in bloom, it's a real showstopper! The lavender-pink flowers with yellow throats appear in late winter and produce foot-long seedpods that I find fascinating.

What are some of your favorite shrubs and perennials that you like to incorporate in your landscape designs?

How many hours do you have?!

Callistemon citrinus 'Little John' (Dwarf Lemon Bottlebrush) is one of my favorite Australian drought tolerant shrubs. It has vivid red stubby bottlebrush flowers (see midground in photo at left) appearing in spring and bluish gray-green foliage that attracts hummingbirds.

Lavandula stoechas 'Otto Quast' (Spanish Lavender) is a dense, tight form of lavender that has short inflorescences with short purple flowers that are persistent throughout spring and summer.

Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Lenca' (Regal Mist Muhly Grass): One of my favorite ornamental grasses, Regal Mist is evergreen and compact enough to plant in masses to take advantage of the airy pin-red flowers pendulating in the wind during late summer into fall.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink' (Pink Gaura): The relaxed form and the way the showy flower stalks sway in the wind make this drought tolerant perennial a regular in my landscape plans.

Aloe 'Rooikappie' (Little Red Riding Hood Aloe): An all-around succulent in containers or in the ground. This attractive clumping aloe with orange and yellow pendent flowers (see foreground in photo above) that complement the tight clumping green foliage with spotted leaves originally came from the Huntington Gardens.

I also can't say enough about Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' (Santa Barbara Mexican Bush Sage) and, last but not least, Cercidium 'Sonoran Emerald' (Palo Verde Tree). A palo verde hybrid, ‘Sonoran Emerald’, because of its slightly denser canopy than ‘Desert Museum’, provides a little more shade for sun sensitive succulents used as an understory to the palo verde's protection. ‘Sonoran Emerald’ also has a bit more of a blue-green color to its bark and leaves than ‘Desert Museum’.

Is there anything you'd like to say about your new role as SDHS president?

I'm extremely honored to be given this opportunity to be of service to the horticultural community. I'm anxious to meet new members and enjoy all the social aspects that the Society has to offer. I'm looking forward to the next three years!

bottom of page