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Archive for the ‘Lectures and talks’ Category


Inspired by Flowers

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

One of my greatest honors is to have my work inspire others.  When students email me with stories and photos of their water-wise gardens inspired by one of my classes, for example, I am thrilled.

CAGGcoverMDP:MO cover final

Imagine my delight, then, to discover that my book, California Gardener’s Guide vII inspired a gorgeous mosaic mural!

A few months back, public artist Christie Beniston invited me to the dedication of her tile mural as it was unveiled in its permanent home at the main entrance to  Flower Hill Mall in Del Mar, California.

The images in Christie Beniston's mosaic mural are based on photos from California Gardener's Guide vII

The images in Christie Beniston's mosaic mural are based on photos from California Gardener's Guide vII

Christie’s 5′ x 9′ mural features oversized flowers and critters in fantastic colors.  She designed it and assembled it with the assistance, she tells me, of many hands “The mural was created by members of the community” she says, “under (my) design for ‘Arts in Bloom 2009‘ sponsored by the Solana Beach Art Association and Flower Hill Mall.”

Book Works, one of our finest local independent bookstores, invited me to speak at the event, but for some reason, I didn’t get a chance to see the mural that day.

Later, Christie told me that she’d used my book as a reference guide for the flowers.  “The flowers pictured are meant to represent verbena, cape mallow,  California fuschia, matilija poppy, penstemon, and marigold” she explained, “I took some artistic liberties along the way but your book was the guide, it is a beautiful resource.”

How thrilling!

The mural is both colorful and whimsical

The mural is both colorful and whimsical

I asked Christie how the piece came together.  She said, “Teen Korps volunteers helped supervise and break tiles.  I painted a cartoon outline on the cement substrate to help guide the placement of the broken tiles. We used commercial tile and some handmade tiles from my studio.  The tiles went on with thinset.  I then grouted (with some help from friends!) and the sign company that works with Flower Hill (Mall) donated the frame and helped with the permanent installation.”

Several months back, I had seen the mural in-progress when I visited   the Center for a Healthy Lifestyle at Solana Beach Boys and Girls Club.  Our mutual friend, garden designer Katie Pelisek, who runs the center,  had generously allowed Christie to use her facility to assemble the mural.

At the time, I had no idea that there was any connection to my book.  I just admired its whimsical, colorful, oversized flowers.

The mural’s beauty is the result of Christie’s magical touch, just as she has a magical touch with all the art pieces she creates.  And she creates alot of art!   Murals, sculptures, garden art, and more.

Christie Beniston by her installation "Time Interwoven"

Take a look at her on-line galleries!  Recently, the San Diego International Airport held a dedication for Christie’s installation “Time Interwoven.”  (It also won a coveted “Orchid” award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Orchids and Onions Awards).

Christie Beniston by her installation “Time Interwoven”

I’ve always been fascinated by mosaics, though I’ve yet to try my hand at making any (anyone want to invite me to a mural making session?  I’d like to learn!).

I’d love to have one of Christie’s pieces in my own garden, but for the moment, I’ll have to live with having my garden in her art instead!

Visit Christie’s Beniston’s mural at the main entrance to the lower level of Flower Hill Mall , 2720 Via De La Valle, Del Mar, CA 92014-1923


Festival of Flavors!

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

What’s the surest way to get the most flavor from vegetables and fruits?  Grow em yourself…..from seed!

Starting vegetables from seed was the topic of the talk I gave at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden’s Festival of Flavors this past Friday. The topic seemed fitting since the huge variety of vegetables seeds on the market offers gardeners their widest range of possiblities!

It always seems so magical to me to start with little pieces of what look like wood; Add with some water, light, and a bit of seed starting mix to make those seeds  sprout and grow into bountiful plants that produce delicious vegetables.

Homegrown veggies always put supermarket veggies to shame.

By 3 pm Friday, the seats in the speakers’ area were full and everyone had a package of gourmet red chard ‘Scarlett Charlotte’ seeds I brought with from my good friend Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seed.

My dear friend and mentor Jan Smithen, author of Sun Drenched Gardens, introduced me to the audience and away we went.

I love the fact that people are interested again in growing their own vegetables, herbs, and fruits. It only follows that they are interested in starting them from seed. It is a skill that was once commonplace, then nearly lost, but is now coming back around again. Much to my delight!

We started with a lesson on reading seed packets.scarlet-charlotte-2

scarlet-charlotte-1

Its ironic how important label information is and how little effort most companies put into their labels. Some companies do a great job and Renee writes some of the best. She deftly combines romance and detailed how-to with delicious suggestions for cooking and eating each variety.

Being a frugal gardener (is there any other kind?), I presented several examples of containers for starting seeds – old cottage cheese or yogurt containers, take-out food containers, or plain ‘ole four packs recycled from the nursery.

I prefer four packs to six packs, since the cells in a four pack are large enough to support seedlings all the way to transplant. With six-packs, seedlings can get only so large before they need to be “moved up” to larger containers. Saving that step saves my time, and it also means seedlings develop faster since they don’t have to go through transplant shock twice (once being moved up and the second time when I put them in the ground).

And by the way, someone asked me about using egg cartons. The simple response is: “don’t bother.”

Anything being reused has to be disinfected first, of course, to keep the tiny seedlings free of deadly bacteria and fungi. I give containers a good soak in a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach to 9 parts water). While I’m at it, I throw in plastic plant labels so I can reuse them, and I give my pruners a dip too (I dry and oil them afterwards).

Fresh seed starting mix is important as well. As compared to potting soil, Seed staring mix is more finely milled so the tiny seedlings have an easy time pushing up through the surface. It is also pasteurized to kill the pathogens. Black Gold seedling mix is one of my favorites. I had the purple-and-black label bags with me on Friday.

We spent half an hour going through the how-to process of how to start seeds, both small and large, in containers and as what I like to call “seed sandwiches” (more on that in a future blog).

When we ran out of time to talk about how to do cuttings, the audience insisted on continuing. So, I spent another 15 minutes demonstrating cutting basics a beautiful pink-flowering perennial Salvia chiapensis from Monrovia growers.

The audience was wonderful. They were tremendously enthusiastic asked great questions – always the most fun part of any talk.

During the hour-long presentation, I divulged some of my favorite hints for success …Think I’m gonna give them all away here? No way! But I’m happy to share those secrets when you invite me to speak to your group or event!


Time to Go Grassless!

Monday, March 9th, 2009
Lots of green, no grass in my front garden

Lots of green, no grass in my front garden

I finally made front page news today!  The San Diego Union Tribune’s front page story was about people removing their lawns as a water-saving measure.  Reporter Mike Lee quoted me as a local expert:

“It’s the beginning of the end of lawn at home,” said Nan Sterman, who teaches a class called “Bye Bye Grass” at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon.

Last week, the garden’s managers started a hotline for people to seek advice from Sterman about “water-smart” landscaping.


“It’s not just the early adopters anymore,” Sterman said. “It’s (average) people who are really getting the sense that we have to do something . . . which tells me that it’s becoming part of the mainstream.”

Yes, going grassless it is becoming mainstream.  No longer do people walk by my front garden and scratch their heads, wondering where the grass went, or giving me funny looks when I tell them there never was any grass.
In fact, I just taught a Bye Bye Grass series at Quail Botanical Gardens this past week.  It was a full class of men and women, from all over the county, all of whom came to learn how to get rid of their lawns and replace them with low water plants – and a few with vegetable gardens.

Are vegetable gardens lower water than lawns?  I get this question all the time.  It isn’t that easy to answer but generally, when you water a vegetable  garden the idea is to target each plant.  A lawn, on the other hand, is blanketed in spray. And most vegetable gardens are smaller than lawns.
Either way, as I like to say, if you are going to “spend” water, spend it on something that feeds you.

Click here to read the entire story.

And by the way, if you are interested in getting rid of your lawn, the next series of Bye Bye Grass is April 1 and April 4 at the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College. The next series at Quail Botanical Gardens is May 13 and 17.  To register (which is required) for either series, click here.

The class travels too… in case you have a venue where you’d like to have me teach it!