The Educated Gardener in Santa Margarita is a tranquil, colorful delight
Some of Simone Smith’s earliest and fondest memories are of spending time in her grandmother’s garden. “My grandma’s garden wasn’t one of those orderly places where plants and flowers were neatly arranged in rows by color and height,” Smith says.
No, it was more of a colorful hodge-podge where plants were allowed to reseed and vegetables were mixed in. It was a feast for the senses – with birds, butterflies and hummingbirds darting about. The garden wasn’t big but made a kind of wonderland for a small girl.
“I really don’t care for nurseries where all the same flowers and plants are set out in even rows,” Smith says while strolling through her eclectic nursery, The Educated Gardener.
Visitors are definitely in for a treat with a stop at this garden located just a stone’s throw off of Highway 101, at the Highway 58 exit, in the quaint and colorful town of Santa Margarita. While there, visitors may enjoy being educated in the benefits of spending time in one of the most tranquil settings – complete with bubbling ponds, flowering plants of all kinds, and the delightful songs of canaries.
Smith and her husband studied and obtained degrees in Landscape Architecture from Cal Poly University. After graduating and spending some time doing design/ build projects for their landscape contracting business, they both ventured into other lines of work. Smith’s husband is now an area grammar school teacher, while she has created her dream job – owning and running her own nursery.
“Basically I’m a plant fanatic; I love diversity, the unusual, and working with nature instead of against it,” Smith says as she shakes out some hollyhock seeds from dried seedpods. Collecting seeds is part of the fun. “I just can’t stand seeing any of this going to waste.” She uses all of the seeds she collects either for new plantings or to pass along to friends and customers to start their own plants from seed. “My goal is to share the passion and inspire others to find joy in their own gardens.”
There is much for the eye to take in at the nursery. Rustic buildings sit around the perimeter of the site. Each looks like something from an earlier age that had been abandoned but, in fact, they were newly-created by Smith’s husband. Interesting art pieces created by local artists grace the buildings along with a variety of different plants. There is a large pond filled with pond plants such as pickerel rush, horsetail, and water lilies. Small golden fish dart around the plants and a tiny green frog pokes his head above water. Lounging in the pathway is a small black cat.
“This is Jinx,” Smith says introducing the kitty who turns out to be a Manx and has only a nubbin tail. Across the way, curled up and sleeping in an ancient rocking chair, is Theo, a Siamese-Manx cross. “His full name is Thelonius, after the jazz player.” Thelonius is a lovely shade of cream with dark brown markings typical of Siamese. He has a full tail so not much of the Manx is apparent. Next to where he is snoozing is the aviary where the canaries flit about and chirp away. Closer inspection reveals the white tufted head of Chicken John, the Polish bantam rooster who is busily eating. The cats help keep down the squirrel population and probably other rodents too that can wreak havoc with new plants.
Smith buys much of her plant material locally but is always on the lookout for more unusual perennials from specialty growers. All of the plants offered for sale at the Educated Gardener are specifically selected to thrive in this climate.
“I don’t use any chemicals,” Smith says, “all soils, amendments, and fertilizers are organic.” She offers organic and heirloom seeds for spring planting as well as bedding plants, vegetable starts, natives, fruit, ornamental and shade trees, shrubs, and vines. Smith also offers pond plants, pond kits and advice on how to set up your own water garden. “Don’t worry about mosquitoes, we have mosquito fish too.”
Recently, an out of town visitor came to the garden. She walked in, looked around, and exclaimed, “Oh, this is just like my grandma’s garden!” Simone Smith just smiled – that is just what she intended with The Educated Gardener.
The Educated Gardener, located at 22210 El Camino Real in Santa Margarita, offers various events throughout the year and is planning to offer a variety of classes as well. More information on the events will be available on The Educated Gardener’s Facebook page or by calling (805) 438-4250.
— Ruth Ann Angus