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MEETING REPORT: April Meeting Report

April Speaker Mike Evans

By Sabine Prather.

SDHS President Frank Mitzel opened the May meeting with an update on the next featured garden. Susan and Frank Oddo’s 3-acre garden will be open on May 19 from 10am – 2pm. More information will be emailed to members shortly.

The June 10 meeting, to be held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, honors Jim Bishop as Horticulturalist of the Year. Parking and admission are free. The fairgrounds are closed on Mondays, which will allow ample time to browse the garden exhibits.

Ceanothus from April's meeting display.

April’s featured speaker, Mike Evans, is the founder and president of Tree of Life Nursery (TOLN) in San Juan Capistrano, which has been producing and selling California native plants for over 40 years. Mike began by talking about the Piet Oudolf film “Five Seasons: the Gardens of Piet Oudolf," recently shown at the Museum of Photography in Balboa Park. Oudolf advocated bringing nature into gardens.

Evans believes that the push for water conservation in western gardens has not been well-framed. An example is the slogan "Brown is the New Green.” Brown is usually ugly. He shared examples of poorly designed fringe spaces, such as the edges of roads, peripheries of hotels, and medians in parking lots, which rely heavily on drip irrigation and are inappropriate, geometric monocultures. The plants in these spaces often die because they are neglected, pruned into unnatural shapes, or watered incorrectly.

Water conservation is not a new idea. The xeriscape movement began in the 1980s. The examples Evans showed from that time were stark, unnatural landscapes. Now we celebrate the spare, but natural, California look. California gardens can be simple and understated, with just a few plants in a small space.

Container gardens are an untapped resource. You can build a landscape in a pot, as bonsai does for individual trees. Succulent gardens are a more complex style that can be effective if presented carefully.

Evans believes that gardens need to tell a story. As we replace turf, we need to build engaging spaces. The first task is to make a garden beautiful. The second task is to make it purposeful, and the third is to make it functional. Evans suggested that the fourth task is to emulate nature. He presented several Japanese gardens in which the landscapes' subtle beauty draws people into the garden. Japanese gardens are often small but are designed to be evocative of larger landscapes.

Evans reminded us that the first priority for a garden is not a water delivery system. Gardens need to beckon – with shade, places to sit, and easy access. They should have surprises for the senses. Gardens calm and heal us. They welcome us. Native gardens also welcome butterflies, lizards, and other native species. They tell the story of the real California.

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