As the Huntington Botanical Gardens’ principal designer, Seth Baker oversees a world-renowned institution with 16 themed gardens occupying about 120 acres in San Marino, Calif., just east of Los Angeles.
Having worked at the Huntington for the past 14 years, Mr. Baker was an obvious choice to recommend tools and accessories for the aspiring gardener — even one worried about having a black thumb.
“I do this professionally and I kill all sorts of things,” Mr. Baker said. “It’s just the nature of a garden. Planting something is an act of hope.” The following interview has been edited and condensed.
What tools does a gardening newcomer need to get started?
One of my favorite things is a Japanese forged steel hand mattock; you can use it as a hand hoe but also for digging in annuals or grass plugs. It’s invaluable for weeding and whatnot. Along those same lines is a hori hori knife. I love ones that have measurements on them that indicate inches or centimeters, so you can use them for digging, loosening soil or cutting away a root-bound plant. Before putting it into the ground, you cut into the roots and loosen things up. Ones with measurement are great for bulbs or annuals.
Pruners are the one thing I always have on me when I’m going through the gardens. Two I use are from Felco — straight pruners and, for people into roses, they make great clippers with an addition that will hold what you cut on the clipper until you release it. If you have a cut-flower garden, they’re a great way to hold on to something if you have to make a reach. Also, Saboten hoof trimmers — I’m not sure what kinds of hooves they’re made to trim but they make amazing fine pruners and they keep a sharp edge. I’ve only had one pair; they’re essentially carefree.
Any other tools you’d recommend?
For bigger, broader areas, diamond hoes are something I discovered when I started working here. They’re really invaluable. They’re diamond-shaped and sharp on all four sides so you’re cutting when you’re pushing or pulling, which makes things more efficient. They’re quite thin so they scuffle through the top of the soil easier than some others and since they have fine points, you can be rather precise with what you’re getting at.
Another thing I always have on me is a set of gloves. I adore Atlas gloves; they have a more heavy-duty variety but the ones I use most often are nylon with rubberized coating on the front. Unlike with most gloves, you can actually feel a great amount of detail on them. You can feel when your hands are around a weed; they’re also incredibly durable. My hands get abused regardless — Aveda hand relief has always been my best friend.
What about supplements and other products to get a garden going?
Soil is the foundation of any garden: light, loose, organic soil that has some good aeration. For most gardens, you want some well-mixed compost and all those things that go into good soils. If you have a garden patch where nothing has been growing for a long time, mycorrhiza is a type of fungus that helps a new garden establish more quickly. And Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a place I turn to often for my seed needs.
How much do tools cost?
You can do a lot of gardening with really basic stuff. The most essential is a mattock, a hoe, a shovel, pruners, gloves and a rake. Hori hori knives are generally $10. A nice Japanese mattock is $35. Nice Felco pruners are $60 — they’re not cheap, but they do the job well and last forever.
Generally, you can get really decent tools for no more than $30. If you’re buying shovels, forged steel has always, in my estimation, been more durable, rather than things that are cast. And obviously durability plays a part in being green.
Where do you recommend shopping?
If we’re talking internet, Terrain sells really nice, high-end gardening supplies. And the Garden Tool Company is a great source for high quality and handsome garden tools. Locally, lawn mower shops are often a place to get a good deal because they’re selling tools that people want and professionals are using. And then you’re in a place where you’re rubbing elbows with people who do this professionally.
Annie’s Annuals and Perennials has really wondrous plants available for mail order. She has selected and grows some of the best hybrids around. There are a number of filters like sun exposure, water needs, color, climate and so on to help you find just the right thing. The information on her site is pretty exhaustive and very reliable. It’s a rabbit hole I love to fall into.
What’s your favorite book for gardeners?
For gardening in this region, the basic is still the “Sunset Western Garden Book.” It’s been an authority for decades.
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I recently saw a sign that said: “You can’t plant flowers if you haven’t botany.”
Buying is easy. Just hop in the car, head to the nursery and buy a plant that makes you happy. Celebrate at any ice cream store.
Perhaps I oversimplified that a little bit. There are well over 31 flavors of ice cream. It’s an overwhelming decision.
Consider plants that thrive in full sun, partial shade, or full shade according to your yard’s amount of sunshine.
Pay attention to the plant’s size at maturity and know how much available space you have. It might become a burden if it grows too big and you have to prune it back often. Some plants need more maintenance than others, so think about how much time you’re willing to spend taking care of them.
Ask a nursery employee about which plants would adapt best in your yard. We are fortunate to have the greatest local nursery minds in the history of plants. They’re the best. (Some people might call this “sucking up.” I call it networking and making connections, with a little kissing up for good measure.)
Consider easy outdoor plants like basil, coral bells, daylilies, geraniums, hostas, marigolds, mint, pansies, petunias, sedums, succulents and sunflowers.
A few easy vegetables to grow include potatoes, radishes, spinach and tomatoes.
Some great indoor plants are bromeliads, golden pothos, jade plant, peperomias, peace lilies, philodendrons, snake plants, spider plants and ZZ plants.
Annuals, like morning glories, violas and zinnias, live for one growing season and then cash in their chips. However, after they flower they set seed for the following year.
Perennials, such as coneflowers, lavenders and phlox, die back to the ground in winter and sprout again the next spring.
Maybe you’d prefer shrubs like bottlebrush, butterfly bush and arroyo lupine. Or vines such as bougainvillea, star jasmine and trumpet vine.
Trees come potted or bare root.
Big box stores are good places to buy annuals and perennials. These stores receive frequent deliveries and fresh stock cycles in and out quickly.
If possible, select plants that have labels showing how-to-grow information and expected size. Seeing the flowers in bloom makes it easier to decide whether a plant fits your color scheme.
If it’s important to get a specific flower color, wait to buy until you can see the blooms for yourself. The picture on the plant’s label may not be true to the real color.
Watch for insects such as aphids, mites, scales and other bad guys. Limp or distorted leaves, holes in the foliage, and slimy, sticky leaves are likely signs of insect or disease damage. You don’t want to take them home to infest the rest of your yard.
Many garden centers offer clearances. It’s much easier to take a chance on a plant when it’s 50 percent off or more. Inspect them carefully.
Crowded pots can be an especially good deal. Divide a pot into two or three parts when you get it home. You could end up with multiple plants for the price of one.
I avoid plants that look like they have been trampled by a mile-long stampede of bison. But, it’s your call.
When I have a choice between a plant in full bloom or one that’s just beginning to bud, I pick the latter. I want it to bloom at home, not at the store.
You can also order plants online through Amazon, Burpee and Home Depot. Online ordering is convenient, but seeing a plant in person beats those colorful pictures, which often don’t look like what you’ll be receiving.
Don’t forget to check the online seller’s return policy.
If you see something online or in a catalog you want, see if a nursery can obtain one through their local sources.
If you need help identifying your plant’s problem(s), visit Kenyon College’s troubleshooting guide at greenhouse.kenyon.edu/troubleshooting.htm.
Visit ucanr.edu for a list of plants that are toxic. Visit aspca.org for a list of plants toxic to pets.
You shouldn’t have to worry about repotting or fertilizing right away. Plants will tell you when they need a little help. All of my plants are bilingual.
If the plant dies soon after you take it home, take it back to the garden center. Most of them will accept returns or exchanges.
Join Facebook and search for plant groups such as San Diego Succulent Swap or San Diego Houseplant Swap. You can share garden related items such as plants, cuttings, pots, grandpa, books, seeds and tools…for free!
It’s like a party… maybe meet the love of your life … and enjoy ice cream.
Schmidt is a Poway resident with more than 40 years of gardening experience.
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Holiday Greetings! It’s Keisha, visiting from Cupcake Wishes & Birthday Dreams! I’m over the moon excited to take part in another Christmas Wonderful here on Design Dazzle! Today, I’m sharing how to make a fabric & fringe holiday wreath.
A festive wreath is such a warm welcome during any time of the year but, I believe it is a MUST-HAVE decorative piece to greet Christmas holiday well-wishers. After seeing a ribbon and trim ribbon in a holiday gift catalog I was inspired to a fabric & fringe wreath. I love how ribbons of different sizes were used on my inspiration wreath, but I wanted to do something different.
While my wreath also uses various sizes/textures of ribbon, I added chunky yarn, burlap, and fabric strips to a wire wreath form to create a more versatile look. If you don’t have these items in your own craft stash, you can either purchase the same items at your craft store OR find old pieces of clothing like sweaters, blankets or button down shirts and use the steps below to make your own fabrice & fringe wreath.
You can complete this project within within two hours, easy. Simply gather your supplies (Fabric, yarn, ribbon, burlap, string, scissors, wreath form – an embroidery loop or wire hanger shaped into a circle will also work as a base).
Then, cut your fabric, yarn and ribbon into about 3″ – 4″ strips and tie each piece around the wreath form. You can vary the sizes of each piece to create more depth and dimension.
Once you have attached your pieces to the wreath form, simply trim, fluff and trim again if needed.
The last and final step is to hang your wreath to display for the season. You can hang from a door, mirror, or frame!
Take your wreath up a notch and add a fun ornament or some florals for an extra touch of Christmas delight!
I hope your Christmas is as joyful and merry as this fun & festive wreath!
Thank you Toni, for once again letting me share a fun holiday project with your and your readers!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
For more holiday party ideas, crafts, tips and recipes, come visit me at cwbdparties.com.
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