Gardening in America doesn’t have celebrities. Quick – name a famous gardener. I’ll bet you couldn’t. Gardening is still the most popular outdoor activity in the country and yet their aren’t any well known gardeners.
Nonetheless, two fine ladies of horticulture have had more influence on local gardening than anyone else. If, like the Academy Awards, there were lifetime achievement awards for gardeners, statuettes would surely be presented to Kathleen Norris Brenzel and Pat Welsh.
One evening some time ago, I had the privilege of presenting a small token of gratitude on behalf of local gardeners to Kathleen Brenzel, editor of the past three editions of the Sunset Western Garden Book. Our small gift was a lapel pin inscribed with the words “Friends through Horticulture”. Hardly enough of a reward for providing countless gardeners with a nearly endless resource of gardening information.
Fifteen years later I am a now a consultant to the latest edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book. While reading Kathy’s preface in the newest edition of “the gardener’s bible” she recalled that evening. Kathy writes “Over a supper of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, warm muffins and tangy sweet boysenberry preserves, our spirited conversations bounced from the search for a true blue rose, to new shrubs headed our way from Australia, to the hot color bowls flying off nursery shelves on weekends. We learned a lot from each other and we wrapped up the evening energized”.
During the past twenty-six years as the Senior Garden Editor for Sunset Publishing, we have learned a lot from Kathy; from her writing and from her enthusiasm for the subject. It is Kathleen Brenzel who has left us energized.
Under Mrs. Brenzel’s guidance, the newest edition includes 500 new plant listings, larger illustrations and expanded information on organic methods and native plants. Personally, I was priveledged to add content and clarity to several plant listings and was able to add several plants to the current edition. Some of these you may know, Acacia iteaphylla, Agapanthus ‘Summer Gold’, Agave geminiflora, Agonis ‘After Dark’, Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’, Albizzia ‘Summer Chocolate’, Aloe ‘Johnson’s Hybrid’, Ammi majus, Angelonia angustifolia, Astelia nervosa and Avocado ‘Don Gillogly’. And that’s just the A’s.
Pat Welsh was born 5000 miles away, in Yorkshire, England. She literally grew up in a garden. At age three she had her hands in the soil. Her refined and sophisticated roots are still evident today, for it was in England that she initially cultivated her passion for gardens and gardeners; an obsession that continues today. In a fortuitous decision for the rest of us, Pat Welsh moved to southern California in 1945.
Once under the influence of our warm Mediterranean skies, Pat went to work learning our plants, our soils and our seasons. Pat Welsh, first and foremost, is a great gardener. I have had the privilege of knowing Pat for several years and have visited her amazing Del Mar garden. Her knowledge of gardening is real, not imagined. It is the result of experiences in her own gardens, as well as those of the hundreds of others she visits.
There are other examples of great gardeners, but Pat Welsh is special. Her gift is her ability to communicate her enthusiasm and knowledge of gardening to the rest of us. In 1992, Pat authored the most significant book yet on local gardening: Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening: A Month-By-Month Guide. Recently, Pat completely revised and updated the landmark book. If you ever have the opportunity to be around Pat Welsh or to hear her speak you will be treated to a gardening experience like none else.
Pat Welsh is as close to a gardening celebrity as can be. She has hosted gardening segments on network television and HGTV, worked as a magazine garden editor, created how-to gardening videotapes, written dozens of magazine articles on gardening and taught college gardening courses.
She is a masterful writer and has received four Quill and Trowel Awards from the Garden Writers Association of America as well as an Emmy award for her “Resident Gardener” television series. Pat is the recipient of Press Club Awards, Horticulturist of the Year awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award in horticulture.
Great gardeners often have a penchant for art and Pat Welsh is no exception. An accomplished artist and a student of art, she received her BA from Scripps College where she studied painting, ceramics, and design. Her Del Mar home is designed by John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Says Pat, “To me a garden is more than a collection of plants. It’s a place with romantic atmosphere, a place where one can entertain friends and where plein air painters can gather to paint. It’s a sort of paradise to delight in and to share.”
Kathleen Norris Brenzel and Pat Welsh are certainly garden celebrities. We applaud you and thank you.