Like gardens themselves, the practice of gardening is forever changing, never the same from one day top the next.

Ron Vanderhoff

2008 has been a blend of environmental adjustments, practical modifications and social debate.

The gardening world, both in Orange County and beyond, continued to be powerfully influenced by current environmental forces.

Above all else, water, the most important component of most gardens, caused us to adjust our habits in 2008. The medley of plants now in our gardens has moved noticeably toward water efficiency. Fortunately, the interpretation of what a water efficient garden should look like have remained broad; from compositions rich in succulent plants, to eclectic Mediterranean combinations and even the emergence of a new “arid tropical” expression.


But, as pressures on our water supply mounted, some unexpected tensions emerged, complete with political squabbling and homeowner feuds. 2008 may be remembered as the year of the turf wars. In a water saving effort, some residents began ripping out their natural grass and replacing it with synthetic turf. But, angry neighbors and even angrier city councils and homeowners associations protested loudly. In Garden Grove, Cookie Smith and Marlim Mason were front page news as they battled to keep their new “illegal” lawns. In Newport Beach, the front lawns of Dave Elwes, Connie Hollstein and Al Presnell were hotspots as they fought to convince their associations and neighbors of the virtues of synthetic turf. The turf wars were on.

In 2008 the addition of California’s native and endemic plants into our gardens finally emerged from the shadows. For a decade or more local media and public agencies have invested heavily in the promotion of our native flora with microscopically small results. Finally, that appears to be changing.

Native plants also played a role in the 2008 turf wars and almost boiled over at a front yard in Orange. Where once a grass lawn grew, Joel Robinson installed a native sage scrub plant community. Shortly thereafter, with his neighbors in disapproval, the assistant city attorney threatened him with six months in jail if he didn’t return to a more traditional garden. He pled his case, with the assistance of his own attorney, and just this last week the city dropped the case. Joel’s native plants remain.

Other developments owe a debt of gratitude to environmental and natural resource pressures. Green roofs and living walls are showing up. The Adventure 16 store on Bristol has a green roof and a new apartment complex, also in Costa Mesa, was recently green-lighted to install green roofs throughout the complex. Not far away, in San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences debuted their 200,000 square foot living roof, the largest in the state.

On another front, a noticeable shift in gardens both locally and nationally is the growing popularity of edible plants. Vegetables are being tending at record levels. Citrus and fruit trees are replacing their purely decorative cousins. Grape vines, artichokes, herbs and blueberries are sprouting everywhere. Trumpet Vines are being exchanged for grape vines, ficus for bay laurel. Locally, gardeners are discovering the dual function of pomegranate trees, passion fruits, rosemary and even an olive tree that fruits.

The news in public gardens and landscapes was mixed in 2008. The Huntington Library’s long-awaited Chinese Garden opened in February. OC Coastkeeper’s 2.5 acre water conservation demonstration garden in Orange broke ground in August, with a public opening planned for 2009. Internationally, Kew Gardens, just outside of London, cut the ribbon on their innovative treetop walkway, set almost 60 feet in the air.

A hodgepodge of other garden news was relevant to local dirt diggers: Laguna Hills Nursery moved to a new location, then closed for two months, and just last week re-opened in their original location in Lake Forest. But Silvercreek Nursery in Irvine closed for good and rumors are in the air about the demise of The Garden Gallery in old town Orange and The Urban Gardener in Newport Coast. Commercial plant grower Hines Nurseries, headquartered in Irvine and once the largest grower in the country, filed for bankruptcy, listing debt of $500 million and assets of less than $50,000. But in a positive development, progressive lifestyle retailer Urban Outfitters stepped into the gardening marketplace with a breathtaking store called “Terrain” outside of Philadelphia.Fifty stores across the country are in the plans.

In March, Corona del Mar’s famous dolphin topiaries were vandalized, but all survived. Summer saw an explosion of shiny black ground beetles, while a new bug called a psyllid plagued olives throughout coastal OC and another bug called a citrus leaf minor seemed to infest every last citrus in the county, finding the few trees that they missed in 2007.

Plants sprout and grow, only to eventually fade and make way for new plants. So to do great gardeners. Michel Martenay, the creator and caretaker of a famous Laguna Beach garden dedicated to aids victims, is now himself a target of the same disease. He is now no longer able to visit his “garden of peace and love” that he nurtured for the past 20 years.

Finally, on July 28th the gardening world lost Hortense Miller, just a month shy of her 100th birthday. Gardeners are giving people, and Hortense was no exception. Donating her land, her home and her famous garden to the city of Laguna Beach, her legacy and her plants live on.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar.

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