Mar 31, 2008

My Favorite New Gadget

I'm on the road visiting job sites a lot, which can make keeping a schedule challenging and keeping track of my notes downright maddening. But I've recently begun using a terrific service called, which lets me phone in and leave voice messages for myself or anyone in my Jott network — messages that then are transcribed and emailed, or posted here on my blog or another service like Twitter, or sent as a text message to my phone.

It's great for quick notes (such as a plant combination I want to remember), or timed reminders (for instance, when I set up a client meeting) to be sent at a specific date and time. What makes the service so remarkable, though, is its accuracy. Click on this image to see a transcript Jott emailed me: with absolutely no "training" to my voice patterns or cadence, Jott got this note exactly right — right down to the bullet points and question mark:

And while it isn't always perfect — remember, a lot of my job involves weird, Latin-based plant names — I've gotta give Jott props for trying. Here's another emailed transcript:

First, I'm amazed it got — and capitalized — "Hydrangea." And really: can I expect Jott to know Carpenteria, chartreuse, and variegated? Its attempts are actually kind of sweet. And at least it has the decency to tell me, "Dude, I'm just not sure on this one."

The only other thing I'm wishing for right now is the ability to integrate my camera-phone with Jott messages; perfect for when I'm at the nursery, say, and see a specimen that I want to both take a picture of and add my idea for using it. But that's OK... I can wait a little longer for that utopia.

Mar 29, 2008

Native Plant Sales Next Month

Mark your calendar… it's time to start loading up on California native plants from the folks who know 'em and grow 'em.

I keep a current schedule of sales on our main site. If you need a nudge to understand why growing natives makes sense in any garden, start with the California Native Plant Society. There's also the Going Native Garden Tour, on April 20. And of course, these books are always worth reading… or re-reading:

Complete Garden Guide to Native Shrubs of California (1990) by Glenn Keator

Complete Garden Guide to the Native Perennials of California (1990) by Glenn Keator

Growing Native, a collection of guide books by Louise Lacey, P.O. Box 489, Berkeley, CA 94701,, (510) 232-9865.

Mar 11, 2008

Next Stop, Spring

Winter reveals the garden's bones.With only a forecast of showers next weekend standing between us and Spring, now's your last best chance to take care of those winter to-do items and get your garden ready for peak season.

First, cut back grasses to about 6" above ground level, to make room for the coming flush of growth. If perennials such Mexican sage are beginning to regrow from their base, cut those back as well. Woody shrubs such as Salvia greggii, hydrangeas, viburnums and dogwoods may also be showing new growth along their old branches; I trim these back to just above a new growth node about 1/2 or even 2/3 back from the ends.

Second, clear out anything that's obviously dead. Give serious thought to also removing any specimens that struggled last year: it wasn't a particularly brutal year, so anything that didn't thrive probably is in the wrong location (or receiving the wrong care) and won't do much better this year. With this riffraff gone, step back and evaluate the "bones," or basic structure, of your garden. Are there gaping holes? Overly (or underly) vigorous specimens? Poorly shaped trees or large shrubs that are blocking light, views or paths? "Dead end" views with no payoff? Make a list; I use a map of the garden with numbered items in place.

Third, revisit your garden wish list. Is there anything you wish for more of: color, fragrance, movement, wildlife? Anything you've seen in your travels -- whether plants or pots, furniture, lighting, or other ornaments -- that you'd like to try replicating at home? Again, make a list, collect pictures, and start (or update) an idea file. If possible, also identify a budget and prioritize your list into "must have," "nice to have," and "if I win the lottery" levels of importance.

Fourth, give your "tools of the trade" a checkup. Run your irrigation systems and check coverage and pressure; test hoses for leaks; check lighting systems for burned out bulbs or broken fixtures; and sharpen your shovel, spade, hoe, pruning shears, loppers, and lawnmower blades (many local hardware stores offer sharpening services). Also make sure your gloves, knee pads, hat and other gear are in good shape.

Finally, make sure your team of garden experts is at the ready. This might include a landscape designer, landscape contractor, fine gardener, arborist, irrigation specialist, and/or nursery. And if you'll be doing the work yourself, schedule a massage (or chiropractor visit) for the next day. After all, there's no reason all this work can't have its rewards.

Mar 6, 2008

It's About Time

Right on time with the arrival of some warmer, sunnier weather, it's time to "spring forward" and set your clocks ahead one hour at 2:00 a.m. this Sunday, March 9. (Effectively making 2 a.m. into 3 a.m., and depriving you of an hour of precious sleep.)

Daylight saving time (DST, or "summer time") has a twofold purpose: the first, as realized by good old Ben Franklin, is to save energy. According to, "Studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that Daylight Saving Time trims the entire country's electricity usage by… about one percent each day, because less electricity is used for lighting and appliances. Similarly, in New Zealand, power companies have found that power usage decreases 3.5 percent when daylight saving starts. In the first week, peak evening consumption commonly drops around five percent."

But DST's other purpose has become even more valuable: that extra hour of daylight, just as the days are lengthening anyhow, gives us all more time to play outside in the evenings. You could say, it's what makes summer summer: more time for those backyard barbeques, leisurely games of Beamo with the family, or just enough time to actually relax in a hammock. And to me, there's no better way to catch up on that lost hour of sleep.

Mar 3, 2008

The State of the Green

From eco-friendly building resources to political positioning and even sustainable hors d'oeuvres, GreenWest promises to define the state of "green." So let's all hop in our cars and drive to L.A. for the conference!

Seriously, I'm encouraged to see these issues reaching a critical mass, and if it were a little closer to home I probably would go. Now that the weather is sunny and warming it's easy to imagine photovoltaic panels on the roof, a solar water heater alongside, and low-flow irrigation throughout the landscape. Of course, our mulch is recycled cocoa shells, and we're watering our blueberries and fruit trees with harvested rainwater. Just don't forget your organic sunscreen when you're hand-weeding with your Hula Ho.

Mar 1, 2008

What Should We Eat?

Michael Pollan is speaking at Stanford Monday night. If you want to know how the traditional American diet is making you — and our environment — sick, you owe it to yourself to hear his wisdom first-hand.Michael Pollan at Stanford, March 3