About the Author
Author: Mitch Shirts
Sub-Region: Southern California Coastal, Inland
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.
My favorite cause, business and product is San Diego Botanic Gardens.
Where can members get more of your advice?
The only option open, as I am not in the business of consulting, would be through SDBG.
Briefly describe the climate where you garden now (climate zone, state, area) and any other areas where you have gardened in the past.
I come from the Midwest before moving to Encinitas to become the ED for SDBG I lived in Indianapolis for fifteen years. I gardened hardy plant material there but spent most of my time with potted plants that wintered in my greenhouse. I moved about 800 potted plants with me from Indianapolis 11 years ago. Many of these plants have been liberated from their pots in a landscape I have been planting at a home we bought three years ago in Vista. Most of my plants are still in pots however (bigger pots than what they were in in Indy) where I live on site at SDBG with my wife Leslie, a Chihuahua, two rescue cats, three frogs and a box turtle I have had for about 25 years.
How long have you been gardening?
My first plant experience was planting a dish garden with a grandma's guidance in a discarded dishpan when I was in fourth grade.
What triggered your interest?
I liked things from or to do with nature. Understanding parents and an early and lasting interest in snakes helped because I always thought they would be happier if housed with plants
What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
My interests are fairly wide ranging. I suppose I would have to admit to have strongest interest in what would be considered exotic plants. I have worked many years in zoos so I have background and continued interest in animals. Oh yes and I like rocks also.
What formal education do you have?
Four year degree in Wildlife Management.
What formal horticultural training do you have?
A few related courses from college, range management, soils, - I fell in love with desert plants while in school at New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
If I had to choose it might be Ganna Walskas' Lotusland in Santa Barbara. She liked most of the same plants that intrigue me.
What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
Right now gophers I am battling in Vista.
How much time per week do you spend gardening?
As much as I can when not at work and Leslie says too much. She is very understanding however, as she knows how much enjoyment I get from tending plants.
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 don't really want to figure this out.
What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
San Diego Horticultural Society, San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society, International Bromeliad Society, American Orchid Society, Cactus and Succulent Society of America, San Diego Fern Society, Palomar Branch of the American Begonia Society, Society for Conservation Biology,
What other biographical information would you like to share?
I grew up in the Chicago area and can remember most of all the conservatories I visited as a child. I have always seemed to have a bias for plants from tropical or subtropical climates. I worked at Brookfield Zoo for 7 years. Started college at College of Dupage and then moved to Las Cruces for my degree in Wildlife Management. I worked for a college professor for a year after graduation and then got a response to an application I put into the Peace Corps a year earlier. That was a great fit. I worked to help open a new national zoo in the Dominican Republic. I worked there for over 3 years and then moved to Guatemala where I helped open a private zoo. I would have never returned to the US if not for the political situation in Guatemala in 79/80. That brings me to Indianapolis where I helped design and open a new $64M zoo and spent 15 great years being in charge of both animal and plant collections. I met Leslie in Indy and we have been at QBG for the past 11 years.
What do you like most about gardening?
Looking at the plants.
What do you dislike most about gardening?
Too few hours in the day, especially in winter.
What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
Too many to list one to be fair. Both grandmothers did help me get started however.
What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
My favorite place in my own garden is the whole garden I have been planting for the past three years amongst some really fantastic boulders at our home we will live in one day in Vista CA.
What is your favorite time in the garden?
Anytime I can be there. Morning and afternoon light always makes it the most attractive times.
What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
Ask me at the end of this year as I hope to see Kirstenbosch in South Africa. I expect it to have the most extensive collection of mature plants that are of greatest interest to me.
What is your favorite color in the garden?
Any color that the plants I like come in. I am not that big on flowers per se.
If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
A real toughie. Probably Beaucarnea recurvata as I like plants with fat bottoms.
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?
I have limited success with Welwitschia mirabilis and wish I could grow Adansonias, (Baobabs or dead rat trees) from Madagascar. I need to have a garden in the Cape area of Baja.
What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
Whatever I can get really dirty without being too scary to any one seeing me.
Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?
Enjoy it. If not, quit doing it.
Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?
I liked Thalasa Crusoe the best. She has not been on TV in several decades. I always enjoyed Roger Swain also.
What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
And what's the answer?
What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
Planting by the cycle of the moon.
And, what is the reality?
Maybe the jury is still out as I hear lots who claim results from this.
What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
I am available to give my neighbors advice and anyone who might find me at SDBG where I usually would refer them to another more qualified staff member.
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.