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Susi Torre-Bueno

Sub-Region: Southern California Coastal, Inland
State: California
Business: Former President - San Diego Horticultural Society

Biographical Information

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 is the San Diego Horticultural Society (SDHS). It's a large (over 1200 member) but very friendly group of passionate backyard gardeners and many horticultural professionals, all of them interested in sharing knowledge and learning more about gardening. I joined at the first meeting, in September 1994, have been on the board since 1996, when I became the newsletter editor, and have been the president since 2002. In addition to having free public monthly meetings on a wide range of topics (and attended by 300-400 people), the SDHS published Ornamental Trees for Mediterranean Climates: The Trees of San Diego, provides three $1000 annual college scholarships, sponsors many horticultural events, and supports local horticulture and gardening in numerous ways. Visit www.sdhortsoc.org for details.

Where can members get more of your advice?
At the San Diego Horticultural Society website www.sdhortsoc.org.

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 currently garden in USDA zone 10, Sunset zone 24 (San Diego, CA area). This is a very mild Mediterranean climate area with about 9-11" of rain a year occurring almost exclusively during the winter, low humidity, virtually no frost, and seldom getting over 85 degrees.

How long have you been gardening?
About 50 years -- since second grade!

What triggered your interest?
I got hooked on gardening when I grew my first radish from seed in a school garden plot when I was in the 2nd grade. To this day I hate the taste of radishes, but I was enthralled by the process of growing plants from seeds and became the first-ever gardener in my family.

What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
I'm crazy about low-water plants from all over the world, especially plants with colorful foliage.

Susi's Book Recommendations

Index of Garden Plants

Mediterranean Climate Trees for The Garden, Ornamental Trees of San Diego

Shocking Beauty

  Susi's Favorite Websites

iVillage GardenWeb
The Internet's garden & home community

San Diego Horticultural Society

What formal education do you have?
I'm a college graduate.

What formal horticultural training do you have?

What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
My passion is plants with colorful foliage.

What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
My peeve is water-wasteful, chemical dependent lawns being used in low-water climates.

How much time per week do you spend gardening?
About 5-10 hours a week getting my hands dirty and another 10-20 hours a week researching plants to add the the new garden at my new house.

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 give a 1-hour talk about gardening about 6-10 times a year, usually for a garden club or similar group. Also, for the last several years I have organized garden symposiums for Pacific Horticultural Foundation. Right now I'm working on a "Style & Whimsy in the Sustainable Garden" symposium to be held on Sept. 24-26, 2010 in the Pasadena area. Contact me for details.

What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
San Diego Horticultural Society, Village Garden Club of La Jolla, San Diego Botanic Garden, San Diego Floral Association, Pacific Horticultural Foundation.

What other biographical information would you like to share?
I'm currently designing a low-water garden to surround a new home I'm building. I want this garden to be a gorgeous showplace of plants from all over the world to prove to people that low-water gardens don't mean cactus and gravel, but that a very rich, diverse and exciting plant palette is available.

Gardening Questions

What do you like most about gardening?
I love the way time just STOPS when I'm gardening, and I can let go of everything else for a while.

What do you dislike most about gardening?
Weeding. Plus I wish it didn't take 5 years for a garden to start looking good!

What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
My 2nd grade teacher got me started growing radishes from seeds. I was hooked! I'm the first gardener for many generations in my family (we've been apartment dwellers for over a century), so I had no knowledgeable grandparent to guide me, but read all I can and learn more every day.

What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
I love adding new plants to the garden, designing new areas of the garden, and pruning/shaping plants.

What is your favorite time in the garden?
Any time at all I can be out there, especially if I can spend at least an hour or two and don't have to rush through anything!

What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
My friends Eric and Irina Gronborg have a magical garden on a 60'x120' city lot. They're both artists as well as plant-lovers, so the garden is filled with their artwork (sculpture, paintings, ceramics, etc.) as well was a very eclectic mix of plants. It is whimsical, exotic, stuffed with plants from all over the world, and a 30-year old labor of love.

What is your favorite color in the garden?
Violet, preferably with pumpkin orange nearby.

If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
It's a cruel world if I could only grow one plant, but I guess if I had to pick just one it would be Beschorneria yuccoides, a plant from the cloud forests of Mexico which does great in a Mediterranean-climate garden. It looks like a yucca (but with softer leaves), thrives on neglect and moderate water, and in early spring sends up a neon-pin 6' tall flower spike which pushes out side shoots from which dangle 2" red and green flowers. Best of all, the flower spike persists for many months, getting up to about 9' tall. The flowers that are pollinated form 2" long seed pods which, when ripe, are filled with black and white round flat seeds stacked up like piano keys in a random pattern - only the black seeds are viable, and they germinate very easily. This is a real traffic-stopper!

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?
Most trouble (I've given up after many failures) - Gardenias I'd love to grow Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) for it's astounding turquoise flowers, but it's not tropical enough here in San Diego County.

What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
I prefer an old shirt, well-worn jeans, and comfortable closed-toed shoes. However, I often find myself in the garden wearing something far dressier and less suitable. The garden calls and I must answer, meaning to pick only one flower and ending up, an hour later, my second-best pair of shoes spotted with mud, my blouse sweat-stained, my slacks wrinkled, and a big grin on my face.

Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?
I'm mad about colorful leaves, so my mantra is "Flowers are fleeting -- foliage is forever." Also, I try to encourage people to plant appropriately for their local climate, but also to follow their bliss in the garden and plant what makes them happy.

Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?
Print - Christopher Lloyd.

What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
What can I replace my lawn with?

And what's the answer?
The answer depends on what they want. There are several low-growing, low-water groundcovers I can recommend, depending on their local growing conditions. Dymondia makes an excellent lawn-substitute for full sun in mild climates, as do various low-growing Achillea species and cultivars. If the area doesn't have foot traffic there are many other substitutes as well, including thyme.

What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
You can't grow anything under Eucalyptus.

And, what is the reality?
I've grown lots of stuff under this Australian genus.

What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
My garden talks are aimed at gardeners who want to enliven their gardens with colorful foliage. My advice is for both beginners and experienced gardeners.

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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