Garden tips for September | September 10, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - September 10, 2010

Garden tips for September

Lessons learned from the Lanes at Sunset

by Jack McKinnon

The time I spent as an estate gardener at Sunset Magazine was, for me and many of my peers, the peak of my profession. Sunset quite literally wrote the book on western gardening. Remembering Bill Lane gives me great pride to have been a part of that publishing company while he was still there.

I was told that if I lasted 90 days that I would likely last 30 years. It was like family there and the buildings were called the "Adobe Womb." In the winter, I would start a big fire in the fireplace of the "North Building" so Mel would see it when he came in.

When I told Bill that I was starting a landscape consulting business he enthusiastically encouraged me and said, "There is a great demand for that service." Both Bill and Mel Lane left a legacy that we all can benefit from. This month's tips will be on some of the examples they left.

1. Lead from the front. If you want something done then be the first to get going on this. The Lanes were some of the first publishers to voice warnings about harmful pesticide over use. This meant that they lost advertisers but their example made all of us safer.

2. Take care of those around you. Both of the Lanes and their families were and are active in many organizations that preserve parks, open spaces, natural resources and the use of public land for all. We have much to be grateful for. Caring for our public lands by volunteering and donating to worthy causes is a good way to express that gratitude.

3. Get others involved. Both Bill and Mel Lane would make donations to worthy causes and then get on the phone and get others to join in the cause. Another lead from the front example but this time with their own money. A lot of money.

4. Work hard, play fair and stick to it until the job or game is done. Both of the Lanes expected high-quality work from the people who worked for them. When the work was finished though, they would throw a party that everybody was invited to. We gardeners knew because we had to make the place look really good before every party. And there were a lot of them. This is a good example for your garden too. Do that extra detail work before the holidays or special occasions and the festivities will be all the more special.

5. Practice all the big Western traditions in style and with enthusiasm. Good food, a stylish and fresh-looking place to live, travel far and wide and growing a beautiful garden makes for a rich life. Remember that size does not matter but doing all of these makes for a great life.

6. Help out someone that is coming up. Give someone an opportunity who might not otherwise have one. I saw the Lanes do this many times and they were rewarded with loyalty and continuation of that generosity to others.

7. Don't be afraid to make a statement when it is called for. When Bill Lane called for the fire fall from the 3,000-foot cliffs of Yosemite, they could hear him all the way up on top. If Bill was asked to give a speech, he gave a speech and a good one.

8. Honor those who have retired. The retirement parties at Sunset kept people in contact with each other. Stories would be told, friendships refreshed and comfort, support and encouragement shared.

9. Use your garden as you use your home. When the weather is good, go outside and enjoy it. Invite friends over and eat on the patio or the porch. Sit on your deck and watch the sunset, get up and sprinkle your flowers in the morning. If you have a gardener, say hello when you see them. Have a little chat, just for the sake of being human.

10. Stick together, join a walking group, or a lunch set or a posse. Garden clubs are a great way to stay in touch and possibly learn a new plant or two. Try sharing meals and comparing techniques. Talk about your travels, share your adventures.

Good Gardening.

Jack McKinnon worked in the Sunset Magazine gardens for 12 years and is now a garden coach. He can be reached at 650-879-3261, 650-455-0687 (cell) or by e-mail at


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