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Owen Dell Wants To SLAP Your Garden Around
updated: Aug 20, 2011, 10:15 AM

By Billy Goodnick

Abraham Maslow probably wasn't aware of it, but when he wrote his 1943 paper, A Theory of Human Motivation, he was talking about sustainable landscaping.

Now hold on a second. He didn't SPECIFICALLY mention murdering your lawn, setting an egg timer when you turn on the sprinklers, unleashing badass carnivorous bugs in your pumpkin plot, or luring slugs to a drunken death in a saucer of Rolling Rock. He didn't have to. It's obvious.

Starting from the bottom of his triangle, he describes the human animal's needs. I'll connect the green dots.

Level 1: Food, water, warmth, and rest: If he'd planned ahead (and left more room at the bottom of his chart) he would have also included "plucking fresh-laid eggs from your Double Breasted Pin Striped Bantam Appenzeller's coop, keeping toxic lawn sprays out of groundwater, planting deciduous trees to invite morning sunlight into the breakfast nook, and stringing an authentic Guatemalan Kaqchikel hammock between your Quercus agrifolia trunks.

Level 2: Safety and security: Sounds to me like chemical-free play areas and purposeful plant selections that keep your back slope from sliding through the bathroom.

Level 3: Belongingness and love: Obvious. Babes put out for studs with regionally appropriate, water-conserving plant palettes, and, to avoid accusations of gender bias, vice versa.

Level 4: Prestige and feelings of accomplishment: Just like driving a Prius, neighbors have nothing but praise and admiration for those who install permeable driveways that reduce the impacts of stormwater run-off in creeks.

Level 5: Self-Actualization, including creative activities: If you're not spending your weekends pushing a gas-guzzling, fume-belching mower around the front yard, you'll have more time for perfecting a pocket-size nuclear fusion power source and relieving the planet of energy concerns and foreign wars for resources. (Did someone say Nobel Prize? See level 4).

That's where Owen Dell's Sustainable Landscape Action Plan (SLAP) comes into the picture. Owen, a legendary landscape architect, author, and educator, is my buddy. We co-write and co-host the Garden Wise Guys TV show. Long before we teamed up on the flat screen, Owen was proselytizing for sustainable landscaping while putting those principles into practice in his design work. Together we've pondered ways to deliver an inspiring, motivational message to viewers: "Come to the light! Abandon wasteful, harmful, conventional landscaping practices!"

Sometimes we get viewers' attention with a pie in the face or a cameo appearance by Dirtrude, our rubber chicken mascot. We've used altruism to appeal to peoples' higher selves: "Your children and your children's children will praise you and honor you with graven images for saving the planet!" In a recent episode, Money In Your Pocket, we took another approach - GREED! As Owen says, "I don't care if you eat spotted owls for breakfast. Sustainable landscaping will save you money."

Now Owen has taken this fundamentally motivating idea and created the Sustainable Landscape Action Plan, aka S.L.A.P. Taking a cue from the increasingly popular home energy audit services that are quickly proving their value to savvy homeowners, Owen has developed a money-back guaranteed service that does the same thing for your garden. Here's how it works:

From Owen's website www.owendell.com, click on the S.L.A.P. tab and say hello to this distraught fellow. I call him Slappy.

On this web page, you can read in detail what the SLAP process is about, then click through to the BENEFITS page to see all the quick, painless, free or inexpensive ways homeowners and property managers can save money, labor, water, increase property values and curb appeal, do something good for the environment, achieve world peace, and develop rock-hard abs with a two-minute work out while flossing.

Another click and you'll get a complete view of the four-step SLAP program: Step one: Fill out the on-line intake questionnaire giving Owen and company the baseline information for determining whether the SLAP program will bring you benefits. If you're already doing everything right, you get a huge WAY TO GO! (and your own timeshare condo on Level 4 of the Maslowian Triangle).

Next comes the house call. Owen himself, with 41 years of experience, inspects your landscaping and reviews maintenance and water costs. He'll also check for safety problems and assess the health of your plants. Bonus! You don't have to change into one of those confounding examination robes. (I can never remember if the opening goes in the front or the back.)

After a little number crunching back in the office, you'll receive a thorough report. This serves as your road map for making changes that will bring about some or all of the aforementioned benefits. You even get a free autographed copy of Owen's book, "Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies." The book serves as a detailed guide for implementing the recommendations.

Lastly, the service includes hotline phone support for your questions and three months of unlimited e-mail consultation.

Many of the remedies you'll find in a SLAP report cost nothing to implement: They're behavioral changes, like modifying your irrigation schedule or mowing your grass higher to help shade the soil. If you're smart, you'll put those savings in a piggy bank and use the savings to implement inexpensive infrastructure recommendations. Those include things like changing old-fashion spray heads to more efficient stream rotors, and spreading mulching over garden beds.

The normal price for a basic SLAP package is $475, but Owen's got a $300 introductory deal for the next couple of months. Some of that money goes back into the community in the form of a 2% donation to the Wilderness Youth Project, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and similar worthy causes. The money-back guarantee means if you don't achieve the savings promised in the SLAP report, Owen will refund the difference. How can you go wrong?

If it seems like I'm blatantly shilling for a friend, you bet your sweet bippy I am. Certainly, I'd like to assist his bottom line. But here's the other part of the my motivation: I REALLY want people to see the light, stop wasting resources, time, and money, and start enjoying their gardens more. Sure, I'm making inroads on my own, writing, lecturing, teaching classes, and designing sustainable gardens for my own clients. But what Owen is offering has the potential to affect a whole lot of landscapes with tangible results.

I promote SLAP at great personal sacrifice: For every garden that makes a turn-around, there's one less candidate for my Crimes Against Horticulture rogue's gallery, giving me less ammunition for my columns and talks. But, hey, if I have to take a bullet for the cause, so be it.

As for Mr. Maslow, I did a quick Google search hoping to find pictures of his garden. No luck. But I imagine it was a comfortable, wellness-producing, beautiful refuge where he could achieve self-fulfillment drawing cool, multi-colored triangles.


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