Sage Advice: The Best Gardening Insights of 2013

While on vacation last week, we indulged in quite a bit of 2013 hindsight. (I mean, what else do you do while on a sluggish drive from NYC to DC?) This was the year we nurtured our surroundings like never before, experienced an exciting coup, and learned and learned and learned so many things about gardening. It’s amazing, all the people we met and bombarded with horticulture questions, people who responded with their wisdom in the most generous ways.

So here’s a roundup of our favorite gardening (and food, and design) insights from a kale-filled 2013. Continue reading for what we discovered about bonsai trimming, how beets increase your confidence, “emotional” minimalism, and why you should be putting nasturtium flowers in your salads.

Photos by Ryan Benoit unless otherwise noted.


David Solomon, Stone Farms: “People don’t realize harvesting is an art form — leaving enough leaves so there’s constant production. How to harvest salad — if you cut too low, you ruin the plant, if you cut too high, then you’re attracting insects.”

Christy Wilhelmi, Gardenerd: “You can grow anything from seed that’s not available in the nurseries. When you go to a nursery, you can usually find curly kale, maybe dinosaur kale, probably red Russian, but that’s it. This Siberian kale is really hard to come by. This Portuguese kale I’ve never, ever seen anywhere. I grow heirlooms and open-pollinated seeds to make sure I can save the seeds.”

Also: “I plant beets every year to keep me feeling confident. They’re so easy to grow and have very few, if any, pests or diseases.”

Gardenerd kale

Christy Wilhelmi.

Gail Langellotto, entomologist: “Squish an aphid, and you magically attract parasitoid wasps. Some species of aphids release alarm pheromones when they are crushed. The alarm pheromones send a signal to nearby aphids: ‘Abandon ship! We’ve been found! Parachute to safety, or else be eaten!’ ”

Warren Keller, Instagram sensation: “Miracle-Gro has way too much peat moss; that’s bad for succulents, it’s either too dry or soaking wet. I always throw a handful or so of sand into the potting mix, then plant accordingly. About 30 percent sand and 70 percent soil. Not just any sand, it has to be an all-purpose, coarse sand — [like] Quikrete. I haven’t lost a single cactus or succulent since I’ve started using sand.”

Lily Kesselman, Brook Park Chickens: “Chickens do so many things, like keeping bug populations down. The hens will be out in their tractors in the upcoming weeks cleaning out the old vegetable beds and preparing for winter. We also collect wilted collards and hang them in the coop for ‘chicken cardio,’ hanging them so the hens have to jump up to get their treats.”

Brook Park Chickens. Photo by Lily Kesselman

Brook Park Chickens. Photo by Lily Kesselman.

Bill Vengelen, The Herbfarm: “Don’t be afraid to take risks. Every site is different. They say, ‘plant peas by Presidents’ Day,’ but I planted them three weeks earlier than that, and now we’re harvesting peas. We’re probably the only one in the valley that has them.”

Josh Rosen, Airplantman: “People relate more to plants that look like they have a personality. There’s something anthropomorphic about air plants. […] In general, I recommend watering them by submerging in water for a few hours once a week. If they’re outdoors, you can spray them, depending on your climate, a few times a week. They like bright filtered sunlight. If you’re by the beach, it can be more direct.”

Airplantman Josh Rosen. Photo by Art Gray

Airplantman Josh Rosen. Photo by Art Gray.

Thomas Ogren, horticulturist: “We fill our cities with these male [trees] as a ‘modern’ way of landscaping, and the end result is everyone who lives close to them is constantly overexposed to allergenic pollen. […] I strongly recommend the use of any and all female plants. Female lawns (for example, UC Verde Buffalo grass) produce no pollen. Flowers on female plants produce much more nectar than do male flowers, and are wonderful for hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. Female plants produce fruit and seeds, and this feeds a large numbers of native songbirds.”

Kalim Owens, Weidner’s Gardens: “We almost always have three to four Santa Ana [wind] events in the fall. This year we only had a couple, and they were very moderate. That lends itself to a really even temperature, and not the big swings that make poinsettias cranky.”


2013 was a great year for Weidner’s poinsettias.

Barry Levine, bonsai practitioner: “The trees should taper from wide to narrow. Coarse to fine, thick to thin. The apex of the tree should be the thinnest part of the tree. […] You want something that has some nice-looking roots on the surface that look like they’re grabbing the ground, almost like a claw. That’s what gives it that feeling of strength, that stability.”


Barry Levine.

Chris Hart, who built his front porch around his twin juniper trees: “I saw a group of elderly women looking at the yard. They were immediately on me about the trees: ‘You’re not cutting them down.’ It was more or less a mandate. How many old ladies come out of the blue and aggressively fight for the trees? […] The trees do shed, and that’s what kills the lawn, so I have to be diligent about blowing the needles. In the springtime, I pressure-wash the front of the house to remove the debris and needles. Every couple of years I power-wash the trees. The twisted bark is really interesting — when you pressure-wash it, they’re red and really beautiful.”

Juniper trees San Diego

Chris Hart.


Bella Meyer, floral designer: “Flowers represent a kind of mysterious spirituality in nature. Not that they’re trying to — flowers are what they are. But art is what comes closest to the mystery and beauty of flowers.”


Bella Meyer assigns a bouquet of baby’s breath to her moss angel at the San Diego Museum of Art.

Evelyn Weidner, Weidner’s and Proven Winners matriarch, on what she grows at home: “Depends on whether I’m having a party or not. The day before a party, a truck will bring in whatever’s in bloom. And the next day, the truck will come and take it away. I love fuchsia, but I manage to kill every one I take home.”

Frank Banzali, gardener, doctor and Hollywood resident:  “I’m always thinking of the next project, like I always think of my next meal while I’m eating. Once I start a project, I just can’t stop till it’s done. I’m in the zone, so I can spend practically the whole day doing a project. It’s a natural high.”

Amanda Thomsen, Kiss My Aster, on her desert garden-island picks: “The basics I need are ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas and ‘Black Lace’ elderberry. From there, I have to have cardoon or artichokes, castor beans, black knight buddleia and old, dark red, deeply scented roses. I cannot live without my Felcos, and I’ve never been a gloves-wearer, but I sure look chic in my Foxgloves.”

Louie Schwartzberg, director, Wings of Life: “Technology can actually be a gift and an ally in showing us things the human eye can’t see. [Plants] growing and moving in a way that rivals a ballet dancer, hummingbirds doing amazing pirouettes. Technology opens up our consciousness to that. It makes us better human beings.”

These gasp-inducing scenes help to remind us that “we are a part of nature — not apart from it.”

These gasp-inducing scenes help to remind us that “we are a part of nature — not apart from it.” Photo courtesy of Louie Schwartzberg.

Janit Calvo, Gardening in Miniature, on what MGs (miniature gardeners) discuss when they get together:  “We tend to talk about our latest conquest, how we adapted or found the perfect plant, or how we created or found the accessory that was the final piece of the puzzle. And we brag about our miniature trees, and how much they haven’t grown.”

Kimberly Kassner, our neighbor, equestrian and gardener: “This is my first time, in my mid-50s, that I’m like, ‘I like where I’m at.’ I don’t feel like I need to be in Paris or need to be in Argentina. So I’m learning, wow, just enjoy your space, you know?”

Food & Drink

Yovana Mendoza, Rawvana, on leading a raw vegan lifestyle: “Most of the day I’m eating fruit — three to four pounds depending on how active I am. When you’re eating this way, you start craving being outdoors. Now I have all of my meals out in the sun. I always eat on the grass — breakfast, lunch and dinner.”


Yovana Mendoza showed us how to make farmer’s market zucchini pasta.

Mitch Steele, Brewmaster, Stone Brewing: “I was amazed at how well the jasmine played with the beer flavors. It just seemed natural to me to use honey in a beer that had jasmine in it — I think the flavors are somewhat complementary.”

Steven Grasse, Art in the Age spirits: “I really wanted it to taste like it might have come right from Jefferson’s garden at Monticello, the garden that was inspired by what Lewis and Clark brought back from the West. […] Spirits, if done right, are literally horticulture in a glass.”

Clark Loro, artist, chef and nasturtium forager: “The petals are velvety soft and slightly peppery to the taste, but their main strength is in the vibrant color they add to a dish. Here you have instant romance, or the chance to get young people excited about a salad. It’s easy, free…what’s not to love?”


Clark Loro.


Ilan Dei, designer: “Lack of resources leads to minimalism — doing very well with the very little that you have. The only problem with minimalism is that it’s a little inhumane in the end. I’m from the Middle East, so it’s not warm enough for me. When I design, there’s a skeleton that’s very minimalist, and then we add some degree of lushness to it. So that you can have more of an emotional attachment — and it’s not just an intellectual exercise.”


Ilan Dei’s eponymous shop in Venice Beach, California.

Jennifer Gilbert Asher, artist and designer, TerraTrellis and TerraSculpture: “It’s important to me use colors that would be naturally occurring in the landscape like eggplant (‘Aubergine’), green (‘Leaf’), periwinkle (‘Berry’) and weathered steel (‘Oxide’). I make an effort to avoid trendy colors like turquoise, since that’s not something you would naturally see in a garden.”

Jennifer Gilbert Asher Greystone Mansion-featured-on-thehorticult

Jennifer Gilbert Asher.

Lora Banzali, Button Events, Lo Motion LA and Hollywood resident: “I’m more into editing – I let [my husband] Frank’s creative juices flow, but I’m all about order and not looking too cluttered. Our personality plays a huge role in the decor — you’ll find humor throughout. We don’t take ourselves that seriously.”


Lora and Frank Banzali.

Melissa Kushnaryov, marketing expert, yoga instructor and October bride: “My bouquet wasn’t your typical wedding bouquet. It wasn’t symmetrical or clean around the edges. It had volume and dimensions. The cabbage was very unexpected and a bit playful, and I think that’s the part that reflected me the most. It was nice to bring some of my farm girl roots into the bouquet.”


Melissa and Anton Kushnaryov. Photos by Lauren DeBell, courtesy of Melissa Kushnaryov.

Ryley O’Bryne, Strathcona Stockings: “I don’t do much academic research — it’s mainly about feeling and aesthetic. I will walk through the garden and pick flowers to draw or shoot. I will find the nicest pineapple at the market. In the case of the Fruit Punch print, I was inspired to create that one after making lunch and cutting into a particularly perfect avocado.”