A Dark Place

Sentinals, standing guard, making shade, protecting the dark spaces
Sentinals, standing guard, making shade, protecting the dark spaces

I’m vacationing in Northern California this week, on the Russian River, enjoying a break from the bleak, scorching brightness of LA. It is very hot here as well, but the heat is mitigated by the deep, nearly mystical shade from the redwood trees. Driving into Guerneville, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive, frightened – like little red riding hood venturing into the woods, I felt something scary would happen under the gloomy  canopy of the impossibly tall trees.

It’s a matter of psychogeography. Guy Debord coined the term as the effect of the geographical environment on the emotions and behavior of individuals. In Los Angeles, the bright sun and constant light bouncing around bright, reflective surfaces makes for an unrelenting awareness of your environment. In the woods, things are blurry, obscured, somewhat hushed. It feels odd making too much noise in the woods, as if you are yelling in a cathedral. The air is still, and the branches create the hushed coolness that is present in every church, no matter where they are. Churches in the Amazon are still cooler than the surrounding buildings – why is that?

Walking from our cabin to the river, we pass by rowdy gardens full of giant sunflowers, spent and nodding on their tall stalks, as if they want the redwoods to know that they too, are bigger than average. Brambles are everywhere, and the path to the rocky beach is lined with sweet dark fruits. We pick handfuls and enjoy our snacks. Emerging into a clearing, the smell of sage and artemisia is heavy in the air, pungent and clean. Floating in the water I see the tops of the redwoods standing guard over the banks of the river, casting a cooling shade over my pale skin, insuring that today, I won’t burn.

Walking back from the river, wild fennel sways back and forth and I gather seeds for later. They’ll be delicious in a pasta. I put a dried salvia blossom in my hair and had a few more berries. I laughed to myself about my earlier fear of the tall trees – because in this heat, they sheltered the growth that made my experience of this environment so poignant. The dappled light doesn’t scorch – it is just right. So maybe this fairy tale isn’t about the girl and a wolf, maybe it is more like the three bears, and I am Goldilocks – finding something that feels just right.

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Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!


  1. I love this. “In the woods, things are blurry, obscured, somewhat hushed. It feels odd making too much noise in the woods, as if you are yelling in a cathedral.”

  2. There is something about being in a stand of old redwoods that soothes me and connects me to what is real. I love the scents, the visual textures, the physical textures, the critters, the sounds, the changing dappling of light, and standing in the center of a dense stand or grove looking up–I understood John Muir’s idea of the Master Builder’s Redwood Cathedral (no bishop needed) the first time I was in one.

    You are currently in one of my favorite semi-local spots. I was first up to Sebastopol for a Celtic Music Festival in September, now I am there for a Tribal-style bellydance festival in mid May. My mouth & tummy are always very happy after Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream–local seasonal produce only is used! There are a number of restaurants–and Copperfield’s Books–and the tea & chocolatier shop next to Whole Foods…and the junk-art sculpture lanes just west of the downtown area, on the way out to Forestville & Graton.

    I love the place and its residents, and would happily move there if I had a way to support myself. I think California Carnivores may have moved from its Forestville location in the mid-90s, and some longtime nurseries have had to close, but antique stores still abound, and the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa make the eastern end of Sonoma County worth the time to visit.

    BTW, http://www.viamagazine.com (an AAA publication) has lots of info on CA redwood spots and what to do in Sonoma County and along the Russian River specifically.

    • A. Marina – I LOVE the area! I’ve been before, years ago, and was enchanted, so the opportunity to visit for a week was pure joy. I didn’t get a chance to spend any imd in Sebastapol – that will have to happen next year! I know this area will draw me up again and again, much in the way Ojai does. I love California! So much gorgeousness to be enveloped by! Thanks for those tips – I’ll keep them handy for next time!

  3. Thank you for a wonderful piece about the redwood forests, trees from my childhood in northern CA. I have been in other ancient forests in my time, but the redwoods are unlike any other. Awe-inspiring, yes; but for me, I always felt nurtured there, like it was a safe zone, a house, familiar territory. A function of psychogeography perhaps? I love that idea, and I do agree we are shaped by our geography. In this day and age when people move around so much, how does that manifest itself? I will enjoy pondering that!

    • Anne I’m happy you liked the piece, and that Debord’s idea of psychogeography found resonance with you. I think all of us who have experienced being moved by a sublime moment in nature feel ourselves changed, sometimes forever – but the notion extends to the more banal, day to day experiences (still very important!). He talks a lot about the way people can approach their ways of experiencing a city as being more playful, encountering the built environment as a kind of challenge to find something other than the humdrum, so I think the notion can be very useful to those who move around. And to those who travel! Having an awareness of what our external space does to our internal experience is allowing a deeper experience, and I like that! Have fun pondering!

  4. Yvette, its been a year without California for me and I appreciate your sensuous mind trip that helps me trade the mildew of a too-hot southern summer for that eternal and ethereal place of vertical lines and blue shadows. Thanks for the reminder of a place that I love.


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