Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quieting the Lizard Brain

Here's a CLCA San Diego Chapter President's message I wrote a couple of years back about the 'lizard brain'. While I think things are looking slightly better on the economy front right now, I do think this is still a thought provoking approach to our life and work. Enjoy!

I’m always on the look out for insights into how I can become a better landscaper/steward of the environment/wife and mother, so I was excited to find Seth Godin (of Tribes fame) had written a new book called ‘Lynchpin’. 
In his book, Godin talks about this primeval part of us that he calls the ‘lizard brain’ that hates change, achievement and risk. In our industry at the moment we face lots of change and a great deal of risk. The economy is in a very different place than many of us would like it to be. The reality of our water future is looming large. The impact of these things on our businesses makes everyday a challenge, and yet many will just respond by doing the same things that they always did in the hope that things get better. 
Godin urges us to do things differently: 
  • be impatient with the status quo, 
  • don’t copy someone else’s tactics, and 
  • do something new
By becoming a ‘linchpin’ we bring the emotional labor to our work. We pour ourselves into what we do because we know it is the right thing to do, and we become better people for living and working this way. This also makes us very scarce, and that scarcity makes us valuable - indispensable.
My wish for you this month is that you take time for yourself to focus on where your emotions or passions are, that you look at what needs to change, you find a creative way of achieving that change and you try something new. 

Since 2003 Diane E Downey has owned The Yard Fairy, a North San Diego County based award winning landscape consultancy, design, installation and maintenance company creating low water, low maintenance landscapes that are as functional as they are pleasing to the eye. She continues to share her passion for landscaping with others via garden consultations, garden coaching and the community based site that The Yard Fairy has become.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Interesting Conversations You Have As A Business Owner

Another rainy day in England
I answered a call the other day, just after dinner, so outside of 'business hours' and had an interesting exchange that left me scratching my head. It went something like this:

Customer: "Do you do fix sprinklers?"
Me: "Well, yes but we usually have another company, Blue Watchdog Systems, do our irrigation work for us"
Customer: "Well I cant be bothered with that."
Me: "Can you tell me a bit more about what is wrong with your sprinklers?"
Customer: "Do you do the work yourself or is it your husband?"
Me: "No, we can help with some problems, and I do the work, its just that right now I'm taking care of two new children, so I'm referring my clients onto Blue Watchdog."
Customer: "I just picked up a couple of Mexicans and got them to switch my sprinklers to drip, but after four hours of work they decided they'd had enough and left"
Me: "ok, well.... can you tell me what is wrong?"
Customer: "That's a nice accent"
Me: "Thank you. Can you tell me some more about your sprinklers?"
Customer: "Where's that accent from?"
Me: "Well, its English. I'm from England. Have you traveled to England?"
Customer: "I spent 9 months studying at the London School of Economics when I was a student"
Me: "Very nice"
Customer: "My Dad took me to the airport and gave me a postcard of the sun and told me that was the last I was going to see of that for a while"
Me: "Yes, it does rain a lot there. Did you enjoy it?"
Customer: "Worst nine months of my life"
Me: "Sorry to hear that"
Customer: "So you cant help me?"
Me: "Well...can you tell me..."
Customer: puts the phone down

I can put all sorts of interpretations on this conversation, but I'll leave you to decide. I figure I'll quit trying to figure out how I could have handled that differently and just smile. You meet the most amazing people as a business owner.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spring is here in San Diego

I got this great email from one of our design/build clients this week and thought I would share it with you all:

I was out in my gorgeous front yard this morning, doing a little weeding and checking on the plants and I was happy to see that the plums are starting to bloom. Although the sages still look dead, there a little tiny green leaves on each of them, so they are waking up too. It appears everything that was planted is surviving. I don't think I've lost any plants. Thought I'd share a few pics with you. I still need to buy something to put in the low bowl-shaped pots. I'm thinking some yellow lantana would look nice.

I'll let you know when the trees are starting to leaf. You might like to take some pictures at that point. I am so pleased with the design and the work that you and your team did. I continue to get many compliments on how nice the new yard looks.

Thank you to our great client, and I cant wait to stop by next week and take more pictures.
Have a wonderful weekend all.

Diane E Downey is the owner of The Yard Fairy Inc, a North San Diego County based award winning landscape design and installation company creating low water, low maintenance landscapes that are as functional as they are pleasing to the eye. To arrange your consultation with The Yard Fairy, please call 760-814-1266 or email info at today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - The Huntington Library and Gardens

My family took me to The Huntington Library last weekend for my birthday tea. It was wonderful as usual. I thought I'd share some pictures as part of the 'Wordless Wednesday' meme borrowed from my fellow gardening bloggers at flowergardengirl and BGgarden:

Diane E Downey is the owner of The Yard Fairy Inc, a North San Diego County based award winning landscape design and installation company creating low water, low maintenance landscapes that are as functional as they are pleasing to the eye. To arrange your consultation with The Yard Fairy, please call 760-814-1266 or email info at today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Ten (Gardening) Truths About Me - My Honest Scrap Post

My good friend Jenn from Facebook and Twitter has passed this joyous piece of scrap to me! She has two blogs, one called Jenn's Gardening Spot and the other ~Recycling Gardener~. Both show her passion for her family, her garden and the environment.

Recipients of the Honest Scrap award are supposed to reveal ten truths about themselves, and then extend the award to seven other bloggers. I feel honored to have had this bestowed upon me, and though I'd use the opportunity to tell you a bit more about my path to becoming The Yard Fairy. Thank you Jenn, for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

Truth #1: I was taught to garden by my Grandmother when I was 7 years old and visiting her in the Summer in Bedfordshire. My first planting plan included snapdragons and marigolds. She taught me how to build a compost heap and how to layer greens and browns with some horse manure to accelerate it all, and how to over it in straw and plastic sheeting to cook it. She showed me how beneficial it was when she used it in her own garden to improve the soil and grow wonderful, fragrant roses. She and my Grandfather took me for long walks around the woods where he would come across a 'chocolate tree' just as the going was getting a bit tough. I remember seeing carpets of bluebells, and picking them to bring home, with their slippery, stringy stems and their haunting fragrance. My grandparents were my inspiration for learning about nature.

Truth #2: In 1974, my step father built his own vegetable garden from a bare piece of earth that was our back garden in our new house in Wigan, Lancashire. We kept a small flock of Bantam hens and Rhode Island Reds in a converted garden shed with an enclosed run. They gave us lots of fresh eggs, and much amusement as we watched their antics. I remember him pouring over seed catalogs trying to work out which exotic species he was going to try his hand at next spring. He taught me how to see possibilities in a piece of land.

Truth #3: My high school had a stags horn fern hanging up somewhere between the Biology department and the sixth form common room. It was the first time I had ever seen such a plant and it became one of those plants that I just had to have. I finally got two of them when I moved to California, some 20 years later. This was the beginning of me learning that the plant world was full of delights beyond my very limited experience to that point.

Truth #4: My A level (last two years of high school, for US readers) Biology teacher taught me botany, among other things. That's when I first learned about macro and micro nutrients, nodes, internodes, growing tips, stomata, xylem and phloem. I remember being so excited to see onion cells under the microscope for the first time, and doing the experiment that measured how much starch was in a leaf that had been masked from sunlight for 24 hours. This taught me the value of science and gave me a glimpse into the chemical reactions that surround us.

Truth #5: I spent my undergraduate days collecting sad looking, discounted house plants from places like Woolworths in Worcester town center. I would bring them home to my dorm room, prune, re-pot and nurture them into large, beautiful specimens. I would water them all by placing them in one of the communal bath tubs and letting them sit in water for an hour or so. Another hour or so to drain, and they would be just right for another week. When I moved into my first shared flat (apartment) with my best friend from college, I somehow forgot that trick and would water them with a small watering can. I always managed to over water them and had to run round with a cloth drying up after myself. Still do to this day! Watering plants is not as easy as you think and water needs to be managed.

Truth #6: My first real garden was in Faversham, Kent when my husband, our good friend Debbie, and I bought our first house. The back garden was long and thin, with a high red brick wall all the way around. When we moved in, the garden was in a really sorry state, so we came up with a design and set to work with a rototiller. We created new pathways using gravel, and we curved the planter beds to disguise the shape. We planted goldenrod, honeysuckle and a small flowering cherry tree. Good landscape design is key to getting the best out of any garden.

Truth #7: My favorite English garden was in Eythorne, Kent where we lived from 1994 until 2001. When we bought the house it came with a small greenhouse, a pond, and a detached garage. I would spend my weekends pottering in the greenhouse, starting vegetable and bedding plant seedlings. I recycled one of our old kitchen cabinets and some old worktop to make a potting bench, and my husband built me some greenhouse staging. I converted two old coal bunkers into compost bins, and used a shredder to chop up all the tree trimmings to add to the heap. I created an herb garden in the front by taking out a small area of lawn, and I 'hedged' it with thyme. One of my favorite plants was a ceanothus or California Lilac, and the other was a clematis (Nelly Moser) that just grew and grew and grew. Now it was my time to pour over seed catalogs and work out how to limit my seed order to a manageable budget!

Truth #8: My current Californian garden is now my favorite. Its not as big as I'd like it to be - we got that warning quite early on from our Realtor - but its where I try out ideas and plants. And boy, what a learning curve I had when I got here. The soil was just the wrong color - kind of yellow-brown, not dark brown I'm used to. The plant choices available were mind blowing and I felt like a kid in a candy store. It didn't take much time for me to realize that just because we can grow all sorts of exotics here, it doesn't mean we should. Once I had started improving my own yard, taking out the lawn, piece by piece, I realized that I needed some education to make this all work. I enrolled in the horticulture program at my local junior college, Mira Costa, and took a range of classes from Soil Science, Irrigation, Plant Science, Pest Control, and others. That experience shaped my thinking about our use of water, our guardianship of the environment, our impact on the ecosystem and our plant choices.

Truth #9: When I started The Yard Fairy in 2003, I knew I wanted to become part of the professional group for landscapers, the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). After being a member for a year or two, but not really being very active I realized that the association could offer me much more if I became involved. I set myself a goal of attending the monthly board meetings, and while walking into that first meeting was not easy to do, I have found the CLCA to be a major influence on my business. The friendships and camaraderie in both the local San Diego chapter, and in the last two years, up and down the state, have provided me with support, professional development and leadership training. I have been exposed to landscape business of all sizes and flavors; I have met and talked to politicians and policy advisers; we have won multiple awards for our work and for our website; and I have learned business skills from a wide range of green industry experts. As I start out 2010 as Chapter President, I am so grateful that the group were so welcoming when I took those first faltering steps to that first board meeting.

Truth #10: My family have been a very important part of this whole journey - my grandparents, my parents, my husband and my two boys. They have been very tolerant of my need to visit garden centers, botanical gardens and nurseries. My husband, in particular, has been very good about handing me a towel on the way to the shower after a long and dirty day in garden. I'm so proud of my sons as they become more involved in the garden and the business, and they start to see why I'm so passionate about my profession. I hope this continues to grow for them, and they too have a life time of gardening joy ahead of them.

Now it is time for me to pass on the Honest Scrap award to 7 lucky folks. I have picked these seven people because they accompany me on my daily travels in the form of their podcasts, and they provide inspiration in their writing and pictures on their blogs.

Emma Cooper creator of The Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast and blog
Dori and Val creators of the More Hip Than Hippie podcast and blog
Charlotte mastermind behind The Garden Book of Days
The famous Crafty Gardener
The mysterious 'Weeping Sore' and her blog 'Grow This'
Laura Z's blog, The Garden Pages
Yyvette Roman and Fred Davis' blog Beyond the Lawn

Thank you again to Jenn for awarding me this honor, and well done to Emma, Dori and Val, Charlotte, Crafty Gardener, 'Weeping Sore', Laura Z, Yyvette and Fred. Thank you for all you do to brighten my day!

Diane E Downey is the owner of The Yard Fairy Inc, a North San Diego County based award winning landscape design and installation company creating low water, low maintenance landscapes that are as functional as they are pleasing to the eye. To arrange your consultation with The Yard Fairy, please call 760-814-1266 or email info at today.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

January Garden Blooms in Carlsbad, California

On the 15th of each month gardeners around the country post pictures of what is blooming in their gardens, so here's what is blooming in my garden today (January 16th, 2010) - Pink Bower Vine (Pandorea pandorana), Gerbera daisy (this one is a perennial, low water variety from Proven Winners), Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata), Alysum, Azalea, Epidendrum radicans, Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens).

I spent a very relaxing day in my garden today. I planted some vegetable seeds - Broccoli Raab, radish and carrots, and some more sweet peas (my favorite). I also took some cuttings of a Manzanita Arctostaphylos manzanita) that had been damaged while the new pathway and steps were being installed.
This vegetable garden doesn't get much sun, so I'm a little concerned about how well things will grow. It also doesn't have any irrigation so this will all need to be water by hand until I can fix that up. Good job we have lots of rain predicted for this week.

I moved the lighthouse today and found this spot for it. My eldest son built me this in his high school metal shop. I love its rustic finish, and the contrast with the rough bark of the pepper tree suits it really well. Just need to figure out how to get some lights up there.

The new block walls at the top of the bank are something I have been thinking of doing for quite a few years. They give me a new planter bed that no longer slopes down, so hopefully it will be easier to water and keep good soil in there. They also give me a small walkway and two lots of steps up there that are much safer than the little stepping stones I installed 7 or 8 years ago. We also created a small 'pad' for the area where we hang the hammock for the kids. Last summer, our nephew and niece loved being up there but without steps the plants just got walked over and they created a dirt path that just eroded the soil.

I cleaned out the pond so now most of the string algae is gone, and I switched on the pump for the first time since the summer - water restrictions. A wonderful soothing sound. Tonight the California Tree Frogs are loving it.

My glimpse of what is to come came when I looked at my collection of cymbidium orchids that I keep under a magnolia tree in the shade of the fence. The flower spikes are forming and within a month they will be in full and glorious bloom.

The perfect end to a day in the garden!

This garden blog event is sponsored by : May Dream Gardens at

Diane E Downey is the owner of The Yard Fairy Inc, a North San Diego County based award winning landscape design and installation company creating low water, low maintenance landscapes that are as functional as they are pleasing to the eye. To arrange your consultation with The Yard Fairy, please call 760-814-1266 or email info at today.
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Friday, January 8, 2010

Edible Landscaping - Winter Veggies for SoCal

Out and about this week getting back into the swing of work and we got to pay a visit to one of our gardens that was finished in November last year. We built raised vegetable beds for them out of dry stack stone from KRC Rock, and filled them with yummy soil from Great Soil. The clients got busy over the holidays and started planting up their herbs and vegetables. What a lovely sight for us to find.

Seeing their vegetable garden coming together inspired me to pull together a list of good crops to be planting at this time of year in San Diego County. Although its winter here, we still get great temperatures in the 60s and 70s, with the lows in the 40s to 50s. We may get a very occasional frost in inland areas, but it is usually very localized to low points in gardens, or low points in canyon areas.

Here is my list:

1. Artichoke
2. Arugula
3. Beetroot
4. Blueberries
5. Broad beans or fava beans
6. Broccoli
7. Brussels sprouts
8. Cabbage
9. Carrots
10. Cauliflower
11. Chard
12. Chicory
13. Chives
14. Cilantro
15. Collards
16. Cress
17. Dill
18. Endive
19. Garlic
20. Kale
21. Leeks
22. Lettuce
23. Mustard
24. Onion
25. Parsley
26. Parsnips
27. Peas including sugar snap, English peas and snow peas
28. Radishes
29. Rutabagas
30. Salsify
31. Sorrel
32. Spinach
33. Turnips

Good sources for vegetable seeds and starter plants would be:

My own personal vegetable gardening success story was being able to pick fresh salad leaves over the holidays. They tasted yummy and it felt so good to be eating fresh salad to balance all the rich food of the season.

Diane E Downey is the owner of The Yard Fairy Inc, a North San Diego County based award winning landscape design and installation company creating low water, low maintenance landscapes that are as functional as they are pleasing to the eye. To arrange your consultation with The Yard Fairy, please call 760-814-1266 or email info at today.
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