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updated: Apr 06, 2013, 2:00 PM

By Billy Goodnick

…to a 1 lb. 3.75 oz, 8" by 8", 142 page, 182 photos and illustrations, hardcover book titled Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space Into the Garden of Your Dreams. It's an easy-to-follow guide showing how anyone can design like a pro.

I have to start by thanking Edhat's deeply missed founder, Peter Sklar, for allowing me sow the seeds that eventually sprouted and blossomed into Yards. Back in 2008, Peter invited me to start this column, pretty much giving me free rein to write about my passions, share my knowledge and rant about what bugs me in the world of gardens.

They say we learn best by teaching and that's what's happened for me. By exploring my own ideas and putting them into words for readers, I've solidified my beliefs and clarified my message, taking 22 years of teaching design and demystifying a sometimes-complex process.

‘Cept I never intended to write a book; I had enough on my plate churning out bi-weekly blogs. That is, until I put my mind to moving up the food chain of garden speakers and educators. The entertainer (and egomaniac) in me enjoys spreading the word while getting a few laughs in the right places. To get on the radar of top-tier venues that can afford to fly me across the country, put me up in a good hotel and send me home with some serious folding money, it would help to have "author of…" after my name. That's where Edhat came in. "Maybe,"I thought, taking the lazy man's approach to publishing, I could get away with piecing together a book using my snarkily-captioned Crimes Against Horticulture (originating at Edhat as the annual Santa Barbara Not-So-Beautiful-Awards) interspersed with selected blog posts that espouse my ideas about beautiful, useful, sustainable landscape design." Sort of like Martha Stewart meets Michael Pollan meets Dave Barry meets Pee-wee Herman.

Well, I wrote a book proposal, shopped it around to a few garden book publishers and was told, "We love your writing, but we wouldn't touch this concept with a 12-foot Bambusa oldhamii culm." Good thing for me Paul Kelly, publisher at St. Lynn's Press, said, "What else have you got?" That was a year ago. Now I'm ecstatic to report that the book debuted March 1 and I've cradled it in my hands. After months of staring at black letters on my white monitor screen, I can't express what a joy it is to see it all come together into a beautiful, engaging, informative whole.

Here comes the hard-sell…

There are already lots of great garden design books out there, but I haven't found any that put you inside the head of a designer and clearly explain the process we use. I think of Yards as the book everyone should read before they pick up all those other books. It's the compass that gives you your bearings and asks the big questions that need to be answered before picking out color schemes or deciding upon the best pattern for your brick walkway. It's written for those who want to design their own gardens, but also has a lot to offer readers who will be teaming with a professional and want to be fully engaged, informed consumers.

For those starting their landscapes from scratch (or starting over), colorful drawings demonstrate how to use bubble diagrams to brainstorm different layouts.

Yards is filled with luscious photographs, mostly by yours truly. But since most of the 25,000 images in my catalog look distinctly Left Coast - and I needed to appeal to a national audience - I was fortunate to have writer/photographer friends from around the country who allowed me to use their images.

I've had a lot of students and clients with a strong design sense when it comes to fashion or decorating a room. But they enter a state of dumbfounded paralysis when it comes to composing beautiful plant combinations, perhaps because of all the variables and that oh so perplexing little detail of having to keep everything alive. (You might have noticed that your coffee table rarely gets infested with aphids or wilts when exposed to too much sunlight.)

So I filled a lot of pages with a step-by-step process for selecting the best-adapted, most beautiful plants for the garden. One of the key ideas is designing as if your garden will never flower. If you can compose a rich palette of plants with varying forms, foliage color and shape, density and texture, it will look great whether or not there are blooms bursting in air. Then, when the petals pop, that's the icing on the cake.

In case you're wondering, I didn't abandon my obsession with Crimes Against Horticulture. I saved the best ‘til last, starting with a full-page essay bemoaning the assaults perpetrated by "plant janitors" wielding "razor-sharp, casehardened steel 200-horsepower, fuel-injected hedge trimmers." There's even a cameo appearance from Sponge Bob Square Tree.

Being the "author of…" Yards has been paying off. I've been racking up the kinds of speaking gigs I'd hoped for, traveling from coast to coast lecturing, teaching workshops, and leading educational walkabouts through some of the most beautiful public gardens around.

I also have a few local talks and book signings on tap. I hope you can make the scene, pick up a signed copy of Yards and help spread the word. And if you can't come by, shop at your local indie bookstore (find one at IndieBound.org) or order on-line at Amazon (where you can flip through the on your screen!), Barnes and Noble, or Powell's.

Upcoming local appearances include:

  • p o r c h (3823 Santa Claus Lane, Carp) Sat. 4/6, 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (1212 Mission Canyon) Sun. 4/7 3:00-5:00 p.m.
  • Chaucer's Bookstore (3321 State St.) Tue. 4/9 7 p.m.
  • Baron Brothers Nursery (7568 Santa Rosa Rd, Camarillo) Sat. 4/13 10 a.m.
  • Faulkner Gallery at the SB Main Library (40 E. Anapamu) 5/23 7 p.m.

    Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

     ROGER DODGER agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-06 03:33 PM



     COMMENT 394199P agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-06 07:09 PM

    Billie - don't forget the local SB gardeners when you become famous. We fed you, watered you and if you need a bit of pruning - we wil let you know! Congrats on a sempervirens scale! Bravo for you bro.


     COMMENT 394201P agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-06 07:15 PM

    Billy - I spelled your name wrong, so sorry. I am off to Chaucer's manana to purchase "Yards." Can't wait to find more art and knowledge from you!


     COMMENT 394224P agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-06 08:12 PM

    Looks like, sounds like a wonderful book and I look forward to it and also to one of your local signings. (Btw, it's free rein (not reign) --- think of it like a horse able to wander with reins free of being held tightly!)


     COMMENT 394292 agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 08:06 AM

    Well done, Mr Goodnick! Well done!


     BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 08:23 AM

    Hey readers... Sorry for the sloppy copy. My excuse is that my hawk eye wife and final editor, lovely Lin, is out of town and some spelling and punctuation errors slipped through. Should be fixed soon.



     ROGER DODGER agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 01:17 PM

    Billy Did you read Steve Lopez in the LA Times Sunday? Read the article you might find it very intresting.


     YIN YANG agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 02:23 PM

    Thanks Roger, I'd missed it!

    Congratulations, Billy! I love your writing and humor.


     YIN YANG agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 02:27 PM

    Wanted to add this teaser: "If the penal code had a section on landscaping crimes, the Los Angeles Police Department would need a full-time squad to go after everyone responsible for the ongoing fiasco on its own property."

    What a lost opportunity for highlighting xeriscaping and local, appropriate gardens!


     BILLY GOODNICK agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 07:42 PM

    Yin Yang: Thanks for pointing out Steve Lopez's article. Great read, great perspective.


     YIN YANG agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-07 10:47 PM

    credit goes to Roger. :-)


     COMMENT 394759P agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-04-08 09:13 AM

    Congratulations Billy! I've always enjoyed your writing and points of view.
    Perfect timing too since we're in the planning stages of our blank slate yard! I'm looking forward to getting your book.
    Heading to Chaucers tomorrow for my signed edition!


     COMMENT 412580 agree helpful negative off topic

    2013-05-25 10:20 AM

    Your next book....Real life gardens you help transform into beautiful, useful space... with the owners key needs/wants factored in..

    Want a shady play to read..?
    To attract hummingbirds?
    A place to sun bath?
    Have iced tea with friends?

    Of course I'd love you to start with MY yard as an example! (yeah, I can dream...) My little yard has an orange tree, a grapevine, french lilac, roses, a mini palm tree, bird of paradise, lilies, and it's all taking over!

    Anyway I'll head to amazon to check out your Ed Hat inspired book...
    just wanted to let you know the Edhat viewers pay attention to good news, congrats on the book... from one author to another...:)
    Robin Smith
    4 books at Amazon and on the way to 40 books! Amazon baby!


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