The Educated Gardener in Santa Margarita
Some of Simone Smith’s earliest and fondest memories are of spending time in her grandmother’s garden. Grandma’s garden wasn’t one of those orderly places where plants and flowers were arranged in rows by color and height. No, it was more of a hodge-podge assortment that made for a kind of wonderland for a small girl.
“I still don’t much 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 that is just a stone’s throw off of Highway 101 at the Highway 58 exit in the quaint and colorful town of Santa Margarita. When you come you will be 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 spending some time in that career, they both ventured into other lines of work. Smith’s husband is now an area grammar school teacher and she has created her dream job — gardening. “I missed having my hands in the dirt,” she says as she shakes out some hollyhock seeds from dried seedpods. Collecting seeds is a big part of her work. “I just can’t stand seeing any of this going to waste,” she says with a chuckle. She uses all of the seeds she collects either for new plantings or to sell to customers who want to start their own plants from seed.
There is much for the eye to take in as you come into the garden. Rustic buildings sit around the perimeter of the site. Each of them 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,” comments Smith with a smile, “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 plant material locally and gets some of the more unusual perennials from a supplier. All of the plants offered for sale at the Educated Gardener do well 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. She also has bedding plants, seasonal vegetable starts, bare root fruit, ornamental and shade trees, shrubs, and vines and a variety of berry plants. Smith also offers pond plants and pond kits and advice on how to set up your own garden pond. “Don’t worry about mosquitoes, we have mosquito fish.”
The Educated Gardener is offering an event entitled “Preparing Your Garden for Spring” on the Sunday prior to the first day of spring when a representative from Dr. Earth will speak. The Dr. Earth Company specializes in organic soils, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, soil microbes and more. They only sell to independent gardens, no chains. More information on the event will be available on the web site www.educatedgardener.com as the date draws near.
Recently an out of town visitor came to the garden. She walked in and looked around and exclaimed, “Oh, this is just like my grandma’s garden!” Simone Smith smiled because that is just what she intended with The Educated Gardener.
— Ruth Ann Angus