[This is Part 1: the Garden Tour. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2: the Interview.]
John Vanderslice and his garden by Adrian Bischoff
“Adrian. This is John Vanderslice. Is now a good time?” Any time is a good time when it’s JV calling. What can we do for my blog, he was wondering. I remembered him talking about gardening in person and in various, other places. How about a garden tour/ interview, I suggested. And that’s what we did–see below first for the garden tour and tune in tomorrow for the interview
But before we get into all that, let’s make sure you know that Romanian Names is out tomorrow on Dead Oceans and JV is playing two dates in SF today and tomorrow. Tomorrow’s show with the Morning Benders should be great.
5/18 John Vanderslice @ Amoeba, 6pm, FREE, a/a
5/19 John Vanderslice, the Morning Benders @ Rickshaw Stop, 7:30pm, $16, a/a
Time and time again, he spoke about how zen it was in the garden. How peaceful, how quiet. “We’re in the suburbs and we love it”, he said at one point. It doesn’t take much to figure out why this man has a garden and loves it.
John Vanderslice: These are–there was a neighbor’s house down the street. I’ll show it to you when we go outside. They had a really famous–I think the Examiner did a story on them a long time ago. They have a famous succulent garden. The owner sold it and the new owner sent a letter out to the neighborhood saying that if anyone wants some plants, just come down here.
Adrian Bischoff: This looks prehistoric.
JV: Let me show which house it is. It’s the house right on the corner there, with the long fence. That long house belongs to the house that’s down there on [the corner]. Their entire backyard was just succulents. It’d probably been growing since the ’40s or ’50s. It’s crazy back there. Golden Gate Authority came here and cut a bunch of stuff for Alcatraz. People found out and started taking stuff because it was not only expensive but it was super rare because it’d been growing for so long. So I just potted a lot of stuff and put it here.
These are our two strawberry trees.
AB, making my name as a botanist: Wait, strawberries grow on trees? I thought they grew on vines…
JV: They’re just called strawberry trees. I’ll show you when we go outside. There’s one at front of the house. These don’t have any but they have these little pods that look just like strawberries. So they call them strawberry trees. This was all blackberry and I cleared it all out. It seems so small and simple now but at the time it was a total mess.
[walking out front] This is a strawberry tree.
AB: Oh, I see. I’ve seen these before.
JV: They’re a real San Francisco tree. I think it’s going to start blocking the stop sign. People are going to complain.
AB: Didn’t you say you have some South African plants?
JV: Yeah, I have silver trees from Table Mountain. [shows me]
AB: Yeah, I recognize those. Those are sweet. I love the leaves on these.
JV: Check this silver tree. Isn’t that totally amazing? I mean, look at that.
AB: That’s pretty awesome. So where did you get that?
JV: I special ordered them from a gardening place and they took six months to come in.
AB: Why–where had you seen them?
JV: I’d seen them in Golden Gate Park.
Wasn’t “New Zealand Pines” about walking through Golden Gate Park and seeing all these plants?
JV: “New Zealand Pines” was about the botanical garden in [Golden Gate] Park. Isa and I go there. I go there alone all the time, just with my ipod and just listen. It’s a great place to get ideas for songs and to get ideas for recording. It’s a perfect zen place to be.
AB: And that’s where you started to think about gardening and stuff?
JV: Oh yeah. That’s the first time I saw echium. I went to the fuschia garden, not in the botanical garden, but to the north, near the Conservatory of Flowers. That’s where I saw silver trees for the first time. That’s where I saw a lot of stuff. That’s where I saw the kool aid bush. That’s where I saw–[pointing] that’s called dinosaur food, in the prehistoric garden. It’s just an incredible place. It’s really amazing. I think it’s my favorite place in the city.
JV: And these are echium. I think there are thirteen or fourteen varieties of echium here.
AB: You mean in San Francisco.
JV: No, in the garden.
JV: That’s what I really went crazy on.
It was great when I was recording. I could record and then garden. It was a great balance of stuff. Aren’t these incredibly beautiful? These are variegated echium.
Look at these things. Aren’t they crazy? They start out this big [indicating hand-sized]. These echium, they start out like this big and then…
AB: You planted them when they were that big?
JV: Oh yeah, I bought them from Annie’s Annuals in Richmond and they’re, like, $2.99. Oh yeah, they’re super small.
AB: How long did it take to get that big?
JV: Maybe–I’d say less than a year. This one, it went ballistic in three or four months! We could see it grow, every day. I mean, look at that.
AB: That’s getting ridiculous.
JV: A lot of these [echia] are from Canary Islands. They’re rare plants. This is another echium.
AB: That one looks totally different from the rest of them.
JV: I know, they look completely different.
And this is the Pride of Madeira. But look, this is blooming right now. Isn’t that wild?
And it was kind of wild: plants from Southern Africa, Canary Islands, California and many other places all on a modest plot of land in a hilly neighborhood in San Francisco. For a man that spends his days in the studio, writing songs or on tour, this provides a little piece of zen. Perhaps it’s rubbed off on the record.