Sustainable Garden Show

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Photography
Banner for The Late Show Gardens

Banner for The Late Show Gardens


I suppose like me, many of us wonder what this word has come to mean.  In the words of R.E. Faro official blogger for The Late Show Gardens (TLSG), the word : “drifts perilously close to lapsing into the orbit of junk words, satellites reflecting a bit of light but with not enough charge to stay in communication.”

There is just SO much to talk about this subject, and I am not the first to chime in.  Sustainable experts are popping up all around.  I don’t know who among you will be relieved or angered to hear that no-one knows much of anything about this, really.

[A previous post at GGW looked at the futile attempt to define “Sustainable Agriculture” at the Eco-Farm conference]

Says R.E in another post for TLSG: “Enthusiasm for “sustainability” is prompted primarily by fear, fear for our collective ass.” And now we all want to DO something about it.  There is even a garden show.

TLSG designer Gary Ratway

TLSG designer Gary Ratway

The Late Show Gardens are coming up next month in Sonoma, California where (now quoting from The American Gardener Magazine) “The cognoscenti of the horticultural community emerge in the show’s line-up…”.  What can a garden show do about saving our collective ass ?  Well for serious gardeners somebody has to expand the conversation beyond organics and habitat.  By bringing together a stellar line-up of avant guard designers and provoking speakers TLSG will surely move the conversation forward.

I won’t go into detail of all the biographies of all the designers and speakers, you can do that yourself on the website, but it is sure to be an event to satisfy the heart, head, and hand of  any serious gardener.  The heart to be warmed by the sensual delight of gardens, the head expanded by new ideas, the hand satisfied by vendors who will give us work to do with plants just in time for fall planting.

Part Chelsea Garden Show, part Bioneers, with a heavy dash of whimsy and a bit of garden rant the show should surely provoke and entertain.  I know bunches of the folks involved with this thing and they are an irreverent and fun bunch.  Do read more of R.E. Faro’s BerryPicking blog.  Be there if you can, let others know even if you can’t.

A changing aesthetic

A changing aesthetic

The photos here have been borrowed from Marion Brenner, garden photographer extraordinaire who will be speaking at the show about: A changing aesthetic – gardens, politics and culture.

Oh, and I will be there hanging a photo show “The Green Wall” a group of large photo canvases of succulents inspired by a layout in my Hardy Succulents book.   Many succulents are used on green roofs, an emerging idea of sustainable design, so my exhibit will be a bit of a play on that concept.  The exhibit design is a work in progress, two ideas here (for actual scale, the big sempervivum is 5 feet wide):

Green Wall 1

Green Wall 1

Green Wall 4

Green Wall 4

Well beyond my personal interest in TLSG and how anyone defines the word “sustainability”, we must consider our collective future if we want to save our collective asses.  Two speakers at TLSG, Glen Withey and Charles Price say “With the concern growing every year over the impact we have on our environment, can a garden actually be ‘sustainable’?  For the two of us, the jury is still out.”

What do you think?

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Susan aka Miss R August 23, 2009, 7:21 am

Agreed. Sustainability experts seem to be populating the ‘landscape’ as frequently as success coaches and social media experts. I suspect we’ll figure out who actually knows something when their expertise proves to be as long lasting as it is sustainable.

Yeah, we all need to do what we can but “sustainable” is a moving target. – Saxon

Andrew Michael Clements August 23, 2009, 11:52 am

Without intending to state the obvious doesn’t ’sustainable’ mean ‘can keep going’ – May be the term ’sustainable growth’ is a contradiction in terms because growth by its very nature can not ‘keep going’ – Whatever grows sooner or later goes exponential. What may be a better term would be ‘remedial ass saving action’ I think that nature does not need saving , we do !! I also believe our only viable saviour is nature. To this end I believe urban greening using Green Roofs, Eco Roofs, Prasines Steges, Oikosteges (Green Roofs in Greek) is one viable course of ass saving action elisting nature’s support.

It concerns me that “sustainable” is so intertwined with saving the earth, as if we are doomed. We humans do not have a good track record, but it is more from ignorance and our hubris that we are mightier than nature. Indeed working with nature is the obvious and only hope. This should be our approach whether we are saving the planet or not. – Saxon

Michelle D. August 23, 2009, 12:03 pm

See you there Saxon !
I’m debating about riding my bike to the show, it being about sustainable practices and all. ( though not to crazy about the hiway 37 stretch )
It’s nice that a garden show is so close to our ‘hood.
I’m very curious to see the sustainable design solutions that are to be presented as well as how the show handles it’s impact on the land.
I’ll be blogging about it and hope to have a review up by the first day.

Hey Michelle – You probably know many of the designers, if buy reputation only. And you know as artists, many of these designers may have messages that are not so obvious. I look forward to be challenged by them. See ya to compare notes – Saxon

Susie August 23, 2009, 2:10 pm

Love the green wall….succulents add such nice texture to the garden & yours is permanent!

Thanks for the comments Susie. My exhibit may be permanent in one regard but does as little for sustainability as does astro turf. Did I just compare The Green Wall to astroturf ?! – Saxon

Garden Mad August 23, 2009, 8:07 pm

Although Sustainable does mean keeping on going the plants in the garden don’t keep on going without help as a garden is not quite the usual habitat for most of the plants I love. Also they do tend to munch up all the nutrients so I have to get them out and move them to pastures new!

Ah Garden Mad – you begin to hint at the most neglected resource when considering sustainability – you the gardener. – Saxon

Christopher C NC August 23, 2009, 9:29 pm

Spiritually and culturally we have placed ourselves outside of and apart from nature for so long that the idea of sustainability is alien to the very fiber of our beings. Humans are every bit a part of nature as every other living organism on the planet. There is no, no impact by man. It is not possible in the system as it is set up.

When I read this sentence by R.E. Faro, “Enthusiasm for “sustainability” is prompted primarily by fear, fear for our collective ass.” I think first of man as I am sure most other people will. That is the heart of the problem. We do not think about the collective totality of life of which we are just one part and an expendable part at that in the concept of life.

If there is anything that would promote sustainable behavior, it would be for man as a collective to learn a deep and abiding respect for all the other life forms we share the planet with. Respect does not imply we will have no impact. Our existence negates that.

Christopher – wonderful comments; thanks for chiming in. In the really big picture, we have no idea what sustainability is, we take an entirely too human view of this. I invite you to read more of R.E.Faro of The Late Show Gardens blogger. The BlueBerry post is right up your alley. We humans are prompted by fear but says Faro: “I doubt that Nature, which takes a longer view, is fretting overmuch”

Or as he says in his firsrt post for TLSG Into Orbit: Why are we talking about sustainability? Wouldn’t changeability be more apropos?

Onward – Saxon

Erik August 23, 2009, 11:46 pm

Sustainability is an interesting word. So is the word organic. I use these words to best describe how I do and how I want to live my life. Even though I use these words the best thing I can say in relation to them is that I don’t like labels. I do like trying to live my life working with nature.

Erik – I do like comments by gentle readers who live beyond words – Saxon

Ditto August 24, 2009, 3:11 pm

both the term garden and sustainability suggest a sustainer/gardener as well as the ability to continue on a current path. There are some things that can clearly make a garden unsustainable, like overplanting.

Thanks for joining the conversation Ditto. Overplanting is a relative term. Over the life of any patch of earth, any gardener’s tampering with that patch might be considered overplanting. But y’know ? we just don’t know . – Saxon

jo August 24, 2009, 5:14 pm

I’m with Humpty-Dumpty as far as the actual >meaning of the word goes, which in itself definitely is not sustainable 🙂

I like it to mean ‘sensible’, ‘ungreedy’, and ‘showing consideration for living things ‘.

I also believe there is no such thing as sustainable forests. A tree which takes 200 years to grow cannot be replaced inside a human life time.

Commerce and manufacturers obviously have it mean something totally different.

Thanks for the comments Jo. Love this conversation about what words mean. I think this is one reason I am excited by The Late Show Gardens as a venue for creative minds to come together in visual and oral conversation about what sustainability means in a world too full of assumptions. – Saxon

Pam September 1, 2009, 5:55 pm

Sustainable agriculture is a relatively recent term, coined by a Filipino activist in 1983. Since then the term sustainable has been adopted by just about everybody. Interestingly, Robert Rodale agreed with you that it was not specific enough to be useful. Sustainable how? For the general economy? For soil health? For the farmer’s livelihood?
Rodale linked “regenerative” to sustainable, which does give the idea a sharper focus. Here is his thinking: “enhanced regeneration of renewable resources is essential to the achievement of a sustainable form of agriculture,” and “the concept of regeneration would be relevant to many economic sectors and social concerns.” The word regeneration can’t be thrown around as easily as sustainability can, but as a goal to guiding consumption, it works.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments Pam. The “regenerative” concept makes a lot of sense and can be applied to many systems that want to be sustainable. – Saxon

Susi Torre-Bueno September 7, 2009, 9:57 pm

For me, “sustainable” is about as specific as “green,” but maybe that’s not a bad thing. If the overall concept is one of harmony between the designed landscape and the natural world, people can approach it as it makes sense to them and, hopefully, by not being too dogmatic we can encourage individuals to do their bit as best they can without being afraid to do nothing for fear of doing it “wrong.” You probably know that I’ve organized (for Pacific Horticulture magazine), two weekend symposia (called Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies VII: Lessons in Sustainable Gardening), which will be held in Santa Barbara on Sept. 25-27 and Oct. 2-4. We’re virtually sold out, and I think that is because people want to learn what they can do, in their own (sometimes) small ways.
For Sept. 24-26, 2010 I’m now working on a Pacific Horticulture symposium (to be held in the greater Pasadena, CA area), on Style and Whimsy in the Sustainable Garden. I think that the Last Garden Show is setting a wonderful example, and that you’re going to bring a similar message to many people – bravo!

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