“Every time I come, I’m still amazed at the breadth California has. Big Sur, Yosemite, the desert… I love it.” ~Theo James
I am excited to bring you another conversation with a wonderful blogger in my ongoing series, Meet The Blogger. I am always dumbfounded when it comes to remembering how or when I have met bloggers. Many, I have realized, I met through memes. And it seems that is how I met Kris. Back in 2013 she commented on one of my Garden Bloggers Bloom Day posts. And from time to time, I visited her blog, Late to the Garden Party, and saw her lovely gardens. But it wasn’t until 2014 when I joined the meme, In A Vase On Monday hosted by Cathy@Rambling in the Garden, that we reconnected and began a wonderful blogging friendship; admiring each others gardens and the flowers we wish we could grow.
Kris lives in a beautiful area where she gardens year round, and puts together some of the most stunning arrangements with flowers I would never see here in the Northeast. I can’t wait for you to meet her so let’s get started…..
Kris, for those that don’t know you, please tell the readers about yourself.
I’m a native Californian, married to another native Californian. I grew up in one of Los Angeles County’s inland valleys, spent my undergraduate years in Santa Barbara County, then returned to LA for grad school and work. I’ve had 2 careers: one in banking while my husband was in grad school and, after obtaining my own graduate degree, a longer second career in human resource management. I’m currently retired.
1. Wow I don’t think I know too many native Californians. Kris why did you start your blog?
The idea of starting a garden blog had been floating in my mind for a while but I never seemed to find the time to sit down and explore the requirements for starting one. Then, early one evening in late December 2012 when my husband was late in getting home and I was at loose ends, I opened up Blogger and within 20 or so minutes I had a blog. My thought was that it would provide a more interesting way to record my progress in renovating our garden and also facilitate a dialogue with other gardeners.
2. Great reasons for starting a blog that many of us can relate to.
I have enjoyed getting to know your blog, Kris. What is the significance of its title, Late to the Garden Party?
The garden blogs I’d been reading for years struck me as celebrations of gardens and gardening. “Late to the Garden Party” popped into my head for two reasons. Most obviously, it acknowledged my delay in adopting the blogging platform as a way of celebrating my own garden. Secondarily, it recognized the fact that, after almost two decades of gardening on a teeny 600 square foot plot behind a townhouse, I now had the luxury of gardening on the half-acre property we’d acquired two years earlier. Having some difficult family issues mostly behind me at the point I started the blog, I felt I finally had time to focus on my “new” garden.
3. That is quite a change and challenge to move to a bigger garden.
Kris, what keeps you blogging?
The connection to other gardeners and plant addicts. While a few of my close friends dabble in gardening, none are nearly as obsessed with plants as I am. Blogging has broadened my circle of gardener friends and contacts dramatically, opening my eyes to plants and gardens I’d never have discovered otherwise and broadening my perspective on what’s possible in my own garden. Blogging has also improved my discipline in documenting changes to my garden and provided a record that helps make me a better gardener.
4. I think those connections are the main reason many of us still blog after so many years.
What are some creative endeavors or hobbies you enjoy on a regular basis? Are there any new ones you would like to pursue?
I consume books in large quantities, mostly mystery novels. When I find an author I like, I’ll read everything that person has written, one book after another. I’ve tried my hand at writing one cozy-style mystery novel of my own but, after lots of tweaking, I’m still not happy with it so I’ve set it aside, at least for now. It needs restructuring to accelerate the action and trim the background details. I may rewrite it at some point or start another from whole cloth but that’s not an itch I currently feel necessary to scratch. In one respect, the draft novel served as an exorcism of sorts. The protagonist is an HR professional investigating the untimely deaths of some unpleasant characters in her workplace.
5. I too love mysteries, and consume them like candy never getting enough. I would love to read that mystery of yours if you ever decide to finish it.
Kris I would love to know more about your creative process. Is it the same or different when creating gardens versus pursuing other hobbies?
In the corporate world I took a methodical approach to most projects, starting with research, creating a project plan, defining deliverables, and obtaining buy-in before launching in one direction or another. When my husband and I began tearing out large sections of the lawn that came with our house and redesigning the garden, I embarked on a looser version of the same approach but, as I was the client, at least the buy-in step was eliminated! My approach to my draft novel was somewhat similar too. I created a rough plot line, developed character profiles, and defined key interfaces between the characters but, from there, I let the book write itself. When I think about that, that was much like designing my garden. I selected shrubs, perennials and succulents I thought might play off one another well, then stood back to see what happened.
6. That is a very interesting style, letting go of the final product, and it seems to have paid off with your gardens.
I know gardeners love to visit other gardens. What are some of your favorite gardens in North America, and around the world? And do you have a special type of garden you love to visit?
I’ve been to Europe twice but unfortunately neither trip involved much time visiting gardens. I remember seeing Versailles in France but it was too formal for my taste. I’ve enjoyed visiting gardens in Hawaii, but the attraction there is more the tropical plants like proteas and orchids rather than the landscapes in particular. I’ve always loved the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden for its natural look, and The Huntington, in San Marino for its diversity. But overall I prefer smaller private gardens, such as those you see as part of an event like the Garden Bloggers’ Flings, as they usually embody more of the maker’s personality.
7. I will have to add those two California gardens to my ‘must see’ list the next time I am out west.
Now let’s switch it up a bit. Tell me what famous person or not so famous person you would like to meet?
I struggle with questions of this kind. I’m not attracted to celebrities, regardless of their field. Maybe this is a product of growing up in the shadow of Hollywood, where such people were literally everywhere. I spent years working in Beverly Hills for a banking unit catering to the entertainment industry and I got tired of dealing with celebrity egos. I like talking to people who are excited about the things I’m excited about, like plants. I like meeting other garden bloggers, especially those facing similar challenges and those with similar plant addictions.
8. I can completely understand what you are saying, and meeting other gardeners is a dream of mine too.
Knowing you have had 2 careers, what is or would have been your dream career or job?
My career aspirations have changed as I have. I can’t claim to have ever had a single clear career focus. When I was in high school, I got it into my head I’d like to be an anthropologist but where I thought I was going to go with that I can’t say – I was just interested in other cultures and thought a job exploring them sounded cool. Practicality later had me focusing on human resource management and I returned to school to get an MBA to facilitate that shift. I wanted to make the world of work better for everyone. As naive and foolish a goal as a career as an anthropologist perhaps! In any case, I enjoyed it for a time, particularly the larger-scale project assignments, until the corporate emphasis on “right-sizing” wore me down. If I had my current mind-set and the energy of my former 25 year old self, I think I’d like to run a nursery or a flower farm, funds permitting. As neither of those possibilities is a reasonable option at this point in my life, I make do with a small cutting garden and creating arrangements for my personal enjoyment and that of friends.
9. That is fascinating how your career aspirations evolved, and I love the idea of owning a flower farm.
If it is possible to pick a favorite book or song, what would you choose? What type of books or music do you enjoy?
I love mysteries. My favorites don’t last long as I find new ones all the time. However, I love Louise Penny’s books and would move to “Three Pines” in a heartbeat if it existed in the real world.
10. I enjoy finding new authors and mystery series so I will take note of Louise’s books.
You garden in a unique area in Southern California with canyons and critters? What are some particular challenges you have to deal with that many of us may deal with? And what are some challenges that are unique to your area of the country?
Critters are everywhere aren’t they? My former, more urban, townhouse garden had opossums and, occasionally, raccoons but they weren’t particularly troublesome. The volume and range of critters I face in my current garden is far greater and they cause more havoc but I don’t imagine the problems I face are much different than those of other gardeners in semi-rural areas. I’ve got birds and squirrels of course, as well as raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and, of late, rabbits. We even occasionally get visits from peacocks, although thankfully they don’t stick around long. All seem to be more disruptive than they were in my former garden. Did you see my post on the coyote that stole our newspaper?
In any case the critters, however irksome they can be at times, pose fewer challenges than the summer heat and persistent drought. Neither of those things are unique to SoCal either but both have made it tougher to garden here than in my former location. In our last “rain year” (measured from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018), we had less than 4 inches of rain in total. While water restrictions were inexplicably lifted last year in 2017 after just one decent rain year, I’ve continued to be almost fanatical about conserving, saving, and reusing water. I’ve got three tanks to collect rainwater sheeting off our house and garage roofs and I’d get more if I had someplace to put them. We also use gray water collected from the washing machine and kitchen. It all helps but I worry about what the future holds. As to the summer heat, there’s only so much that can be done there. More shade trees would be nice but my community has a “view conservation” ordinance that limits the height of any foliage that obstructs a neighbor’s view so planting trees becomes a dicey proposition.
11. I think drought has to be such a tough challenge. And yet, you still have created such amazing gardens in spite of these challenges.
Kris, what are some gardening projects that are close to your heart that you are currently working on?
After several years of non-stop garden projects, I’ve got nothing big on the horizon at the moment. We acquired our current home and garden seven years ago. After gardening on a very small scale all my adult life, this property offered me over half an acre to play with, as well as nice views of the Los Angeles Harbor, but while the garden had some good bones, it consisted mainly of lawn surrounded by a few narrow borders. My objective was to replace the lawn with less thirsty and more interesting plants. We started removing the lawn shortly after we moved in, one area at a time. I’d estimate that two-thirds to three-quarters of the garden was lawn when we arrived. Now we have none.
We removed most of the turf ourselves the hard way, by digging it up, then hauled in topsoil and amendments to improve the sandy soil that came with the property. I dug out mountains of gravel from some areas too, possibly left over from the site’s former days as part of a rock quarry. (I used the gravel to line the areas surrounding the raised planters that now serve as my cutting garden.) In place of lawn, I laid flagstone paths and planted creeping thyme and other drought resistant plants. Last year, I overhauled a large succulent bed and planted another area with bromeliads and other compatible plants. (I’m still tweaking those areas.)
My husband built me a Lath (shade) House last Christmas and I’ve been having fun this year collecting shade plants to fill it, as well as dressing up the area outside of it. While I’ve been eyeing the upper portion of our back slope as my next major project, tackling that may require hiring professional help. It’s steep and I have a bad knee. I started nibbling away at the ivy and honeysuckle that covers the area, this past spring but then summer arrived, hitting us hard in early July with temperatures reaching 110F, burning everything on the back slope and leaving me disillusioned. As our temperatures came down in September, I started cleaning up the area once again, only to have a run-in with what I believe were fire ants. I’ll probably pick the project up again later this fall but, for now, I’m distracting myself with more manageable garden tasks.
12. I love that you removed all that lawn, and have shown what we can do with the land instead.
Kris, after many years of gardening, what has changed for you? Have you shifted your focus and why did you make the change? What are some words of wisdom you have for gardeners these days?
My focus on drought resistant plants, including succulents, is something that emerged from working with my current garden. Coastal Southern California is a Mediterranean climate so I use a lot of plants adapted to that climate, including not only coastal SoCal natives but also plants native to South Africa and Australia. I’ve accumulated so many varieties of Leucadendrons and Grevilleas I couldn’t even easily count them! In addition to rainwater collection, I’ve also put more emphasis on soil improvements. My soil is very sandy, which means it drains well but also that it doesn’t retain the precious little rain we get as well as I’d like. Adding compost and mulch to my beds has become a regular routine. And, as I still love flowers, even some thirsty ones, I use the raised planters in what used to be my vegetable garden for cut flowers. I can water those planters on a more frequent schedule without lavishing water on areas of the garden that can get away without it.
13. Kris, is there anything else you want to tell us about your life or garden, and what might be next for you?
In April I began serving as a volunteer docent at the South Coast Botanic Garden a few miles from my home. Ninety percent of our tour groups consist of elementary schoolchildren, which isn’t a population I’ve got a lot of experience with so I’m still learning how to balance their need for play and adventure with education.
My husband and I are also planning a major kitchen remodel next year, provided we can obtain clearance from the city to push out one wall several feet. As I anticipate I may have to seek respite from the noise and confusion of the work in the house, who knows? I may tackle that back slope sooner rather than later.
Wow, I am always amazed at the work Kris has put into her garden to remake it from lawns to more drought resistant gardens given the climate change there in Southern California. And I love the many unique plants she has used throughout her garden, many native to California. I have family about an hour away from Kris, so I hope to visit some of the gardens she has mentioned, and maybe even get a chance to see her beautiful gardens in person.
If you would like to read more of these interviews, you can find them on a new page at the top of this blog.
All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella@Gardens Eye View, 2010-2018. Photos are the sole property of Kris@Late to the Garden Party, and their use in this post is by permission of the photographer.