Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 26, 2013

Right plant, right place

Garden expert talks about planning like a pro

by Audra Sorman

Landscape architect Billy Goodnick doesn't want people to suffer from "Saturday Morning Syndrome," a name he gives to the ailment that manifests itself in latte-fueled, weekend impulse plant purchases.

According to Goodnick, symptoms include the "trance-like state" of the overly ambitious who take an unplanned trip to the local plant nursery and purchase the first plant that catches their eye.

Goodnick, who will be coming to the Bay Area from Southern California to teach a one-day, sold-out class titled "Designer in a Day — A Crash Course in Garden Design" at Filoli on Saturday, said that upon returning home with their new plant, people may utter the "five most dangerous words in landscape design" — Where do I put this?

"'Where do I put this?' is not a design process. You want a garden that's beautiful, functional and sustainable," Goodnick said.

A self-described "entertaining educator," Goodnick spent 22 years as the city landscape architect for Santa Barbara and is currently a contributor to garden-design blogs and websites as well as magazines including 805 Living. A graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he has spoken about landscape design all over the country.

When Goodnick is not traveling, he teaches a residential design course at Santa Barbara City College, is a residential landscape architecture coach and drummer for the band, King Bee. In March he published his first book, "Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams."

Goodnick said that "purchasing with purpose" when buying plants, begins with asking: "What can this plant do for me?"

Flora can offer much more than just aesthetics, as the properly chosen and placed plant may invite birds into a yard, provide fruits or vegetables, create a privacy screen from neighbors or cast ample shade on sunny days.

"It's the old adage that form follows function. Because if you have a hot patio, it doesn't matter whether the plant has pink flowers or blue flowers," he said.

According to Goodnick, in addition to function, sustainability is an important aspect of plant choice. Plants that are not well-suited for Northern California's climate, which he described as Mediterranean because of its wet, mild winters and dry, warm-to-hot summers, require chemical pesticides or fertilizers that can be harmful to the environment. When it rains, the resulting chemical-containing runoff enters and pollutes the sewer system.

Sustainability is also crucial for people who want a garden but might not have the time to devote to its upkeep. Goodnick estimated that the maintenance for a sustainable garden is about 20 percent of the upkeep required for a poorly designed garden.

"You have more time to be in your garden and support your lifestyle than going out every weekend doing chores and getting nothing back for it," he said.

Another side of sustainability is choosing the right plant based on yard size. "The usual phrase we use in our industry is 'right plant, right place.' If you give a plant enough space to grow you reduce maintenance, and from an aesthetic point of view, it allows the plant to achieve its natural beauty," he said.

Goodnick said that many people plant the tipu tree, which is native to South America, because they are drawn to the tree's beautiful, golden-colored flowers. However, the tree's roots are aggressive, growing along the ground's surface and wreaking havoc on nearby sidewalks and driveways.

A better choice for a typical Bay Area yard, he said, is the Arbutus 'Marina' because it does not require much water, its roots are not as invasive as the tipu's and its mahogany bark, porcelain white flowers and dark green leaves still make it an aesthetically pleasing pick.

Goodnick also believes that garden planners do not have to sacrifice beauty when they are planting for function and sustainability.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing a garden, Goodnick said. For example, many of Palo Alto's neighborhoods have an eclectic array of house styles, so people should make sure they choose the right type of garden that complements their home.

"If you have an English Tudor-style house, and you have a collection of cacti from the Sonoran desert, you're welcome to put those cacti in front of the house, but you're not going to win any style awards," he said.

"The first thing I ask a client is, 'What do you want to be able to do when you go outside?' with a big emphasis on the word 'do,'" he said. Goodnick, who has designed landscapes for skate parks to playgrounds to botanical gardens, said a well-designed yard can allow people to entertain friends, enjoy nature and spend more time outside.

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For more Home and Real Estate news, visit www.paloaltoonline.com/real_estate.

Editorial Intern Audra Sorman can be emailed at asorman@embarcaderopublishing.com.

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