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Connie Beck

Sub-Region: Southern California Coastal, Inland
State: California
Business: Steward Host National Wildlife Federation

Biographical Information

I've lived in the San Diego area since the early 70's after growing up in the midwest. Time spent as a docent for Audubon and a Canyoneer have taught me to love our wild lands and our native plants. I've been teaching organic gardening and water conservation gardening for the past twenty years and now spend additional time as a volunteer for National Wildlife Federation and California Native Plant Society.

Please tell us briefly about your favorite cause/business/product in which you are involved that you would like to share with the general public and why.
Habitat gardening turns anyone's garden into an oasis of natural serenity. When you give up toxic products and invite wildlife into your garden by growing plants for birds and butterflies and beneficial insects you find yourself more in tune with nature. Instead of noticing weeds or chores you find yourself watching the creatures with which you share your garden. It's a lot more fun!

Where can members get more of your advice?
I teach weekly classes at the La Mesa enrichment center (Organic Gardening) and design classes at the Santana  adult school. I also teach water conservation classes for Padre Water District and at least one class a week for the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College on such subjects as hillside planting, water smart gardening, and subjects related to organic gardening. 

Background Information

Briefly describe the climate where you garden now (climate zone, state, area) and any other areas where you have gardened in the past.
I used to live in an oak woodland where the deer and raccoons ate every vegetable I tried to grow -- my first inadvertent introduction to habitat gardening. But I learned to garden there by blending my plant choices into the surrounding chaparral. Now I live in Rancho San Diego on a canyon where I have not had a frost in ten years and can grow any topical I wish.

How long have you been gardening?
I grew up on a farm in the midwest and everyone in my family was a gardener. My mother was planting mixed borders before anyone ever labeled them as such. My father had an acre of vegetable garden which I avoided because it was a hot dusty place where there could be snakes. But less than a year after university I found myself buying seed packs and digging up the ground next to my duplex in Berkeley. It's in the genes.

What triggered your interest?
The desire to eat fresh gourmet greens and enjoy the fragrance of flowers I could grow myself.

What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
I like to help people learn to garden organically and naturally, with nature as an ally instead of an enemy. Gardens I have designed have won the Otay Water District Conservation Award three times.

Connie's Book Recommendations

Pat Welsh's Southern California Organic Gardening

52 Weeks in the California Garden

Abiotic Disorders of Landscape Plants
Invaluable for identifying all the various disorders and malfunctions of plants that my students bring me, as well as helping me convince them that not all bugs are bad bugs!

Natural Enemies Handbook
Invaluable for identifying all the various disorders and malfunctions of plants that my students bring me, as well as helping me convince them that not all bugs are bad bugs!

Connie's  's Favorite Websites

Dave's Garden
Invariably pops up when I am googling some plant. Good basic photos of almost everything!

Las Pilitas Nursery
Excellent reference with good photos of California native plants.

Tree of Life Nursery
Beautiful website with good information and great photos.

What formal education do you have?
B.A. Stanford University, Anthropology.

What formal horticultural training do you have?
Several years of classes in Ornamental Horticulture at Cuyamaca College.

What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
Basically that would be "Gardening for Lazy People!" Organic, habitat, and water conservation gardening with an emphasis on low maintenance by choosing well adapted plants and gardening with nature as an ally instead of an enemy.

What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
People who reach for a pesticide without trying to outwit the bug! Also people who, for lack of imagination, plant a huge lawn that no one will use.

How much time per week do you spend gardening?
Every day at least a few minutes up to a few hours.

How much time per week do you spend working at the business of gardening, such as consulting, reading, writing or talking about your gardening subject?
I do one or two 90 minute consultations a week in which I can usually rough out a quick re-design of a residential landscape with a plant list and general recommendations. I only do these by referral. I also teach two regularly scheduled classes weekly.

What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
National Wildlife Federation, California Native Plant Society, San Diego Floral Association, Exotic Plant Society, San Diego Horticultural Society

What other biographical information would you like to share?
I love to travel and have visited beautiful botanic gardens in Thailand, China, Europe, South America and Mexico and all over Canada and the U.S. Every garden I visit teaches me something and links me to all the other gardeners in the world.

Gardening Questions

What do you like most about gardening?
Sitting in the garden and watching the birds, butterflies, lizards and insects. Also I love to plant something new and watch what it becomes.

What do you dislike most about gardening?
Actual work, like deadheading and pruning, which I do as little as possible.

What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
Many years ago I bought a stack of old Organic Gardening magazines for a nickel apiece at a library sale. Bob Rodale, the editor of that magazine, was an inspiration to many of us. I still have some articles from those magazines in my files today.

What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
Sitting down in my glider or swing just to enjoy the time watching the birds. Taking time to smell the jasmine, citrus blossoms, herbs and other fragrances in my garden.

What is your favorite time in the garden?
Any time I can get there, especially if I have time to fool around with propagating something new to me.

What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
I love to travel and have seen 7 of the "top 10" gardens in America. I've also seen gardens from Peru to Thailand, Victoria to Florida. Of all of these the one I find myself thinking about most is the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Garden in Vancouver. One of the gardeners there is a survivor of Mao's cultural revolution in the 60's. He generously spent almost two hours with us talking about his past and explaining the meaning of the stones and all the significance of the structure in the Scholar's Garden. It was an unforgettable experience.

What is your favorite color in the garden?
I am continually amazed that I seem to gravitate toward lavenders and shades of pink. I never thought of myself as that kind of girl!

If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
If you make a batch of semolina pasta from scratch and then make a burnt butter sauce for it using Cleveland Sage leaves, then you will agree with me that Cleveland Sage is the greatest plant on earth! Not only does it look beautiful with its lavender blossoms and silvery leaves, but it smells wonderful and is the easiest plant to grow in anyone's garden.

What plant have you tried to grow that has given you the most trouble? Or, what plant would you like to grow and can't, and why?
Fremontodendron is so beautiful in other people's gardens. I've killed 3 so far.

What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
Grubby old levi's and a disgusting denim shirt. No problem with sticking dirty tools, labels, seed pods, etc. in the pockets.

Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?
Relax and enjoy your garden. No one else sees all the problems you see, they see your beautiful plants and your successes. And if they are judging you then never invite them back again!

Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?
Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter once said "gardening is eleven months of backbreaking work followed by one month of excruciating disappointment." I still laugh every time I think of that quote, and I hope he found some satisfaction in his efforts before he passed away. Currently I enjoy Paul James' By the Yard television show as he is good at debunking silly suggestions and gardening "rules" that don't really work.

What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
So what's so bad about lawns?

And what's the answer?
They belong in parks, not in our own yards unless they are very small and someone will actually use them almost every day. Otherwise they are an ecological wasteland of toxic chemicals. Nothing else in our landscape uses so much precious water which is brought to us from so far away at such a great economic and environmental cost. An unused lawn in front of someone's house just tells me there was a great failure of imagination there.

What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
A little MiracleGro (or RoundUp) won't hurt anything.

And, what is the reality?
Anything toxic that you add to the soil does hurt something, and eventually ends up hurting us.

What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
My classes are usually full of people who want to give up toxic materials in their gardens as well as new gardeners and people who have moved here from out of state. I think I can demystify southern California gardening and coach them into success here.

Would you like to participate, or can you recommend someone who you think should? We're always looking for more expert gardeners to tell about their philosophies and give their plant recommendations contact us and we'll get started (it's easy and a great way to promote yourself).

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