Joyful Living: Trending in House & Garden

Gamble’s fall roundtable discussion on October 10, 2019 focused on Joyful Living and on what’s Trending in House & Garden. Many thanks to our moderator Richard Hayden, Gamble’s Garden Director Richard Hayden and our panelists — interior designer Melinda Mandell, horticulturist Janet Sluis, and food writer Carolyn Jung — for sharing their expert insights.

Joyful Living: Trending in House & Garden

Here’s a look back at the topics covered:

How did you get into your line of work and what inspired you to do what you do?

Richard got into the landscape business while working for Thomas Keller in Los Angeles during the Los Angeles riots. As he was driving home, Richard could see the fires burning and said to himself, “If they’re going to burn the city down, I’m going to plant a garden.”

Growing up, Carolyn loved to bake and to write. She graduated with a degree in journalism  and eventually made her way to the Bay Area as a journalist for the Mercury News. She covered hard news for many years until the Mercury’s food editor went on maternity leave and decided not to return. Carolyn’s colleagues convinced her to apply for the job, and she says, “It was the best decision I ever made.”

Although Janet is a sixth-generation member of a Dutch seed family, she never planned on making a living with plants. She earned her MBA and was working in business when she realized that she did not want to work in a cubicle for the rest of her life. She went back to school to study horticulture, then spent years in production and product development for large wholesale plant nurseries on the west coast. But it was only when she started working with Sunset that she really began to realize that plants weren’t just something in a box – they bring joy to people. Janet says, “It really changed my life.”

Melinda fell in love with design when she was in high school and her parents remodeled their home. She became obsessed with floor plans, layouts and maximizing existing space.  “That’s where I fell in love with design,” Melinda says. “Those are still things that excite me when I work with clients.”

Is “What’s Trending” consistent with “Joyful Living?”

The panel agreed that while trends may indeed make people happy, they do not necessarily bring joy. In Carolyn Jung’s words, “Joyfulness and trendiness can be one and the same, but sometimes they are not.” To Melinda Mandell, the things that give joy are things with meaning, things that spark memories.

The Role of Technology in Modern Life

The panel had mixed feelings about technology. Janet Sluis loves Pinterest boards for collecting ideas about gardens, but laments that sometimes misinformation about plants can be spread through social media posts. Melinda and Carolyn also have a love-hate relationship with technology. They love how technology gives them access to ideas, recipes, and unique artisans from around the globe — but when they reach a point of tech saturation, they still reach for old school, unplugged experiences.

Has blogging become a chore?

This question was addressed mainly to Carolyn, who runs a food blog called FoodGal. Carolyn thinks that by the fifth year of blogging, bloggers eventually decide whether to continue or to stop. By the fifth year, recipe bloggers have likely run the course of things they can think of. Others who blog about food as a hobby have realized by the fifth year how much time it takes: posting three times a week, taking food photos, cooking food and posting about it, and more. Carolyn says, “Life intervenes, and eventually you need time for other things.”

What are you doing to pass on your knowledge to the next generation?

One of the most famous volunteer gardening programs in the country, Edible Schoolyard (launched by Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters) is located in Oakland, Janet’s hometown. However, there is a five-year wait list to join the program, so Janet volunteers with Berkeley Youth Alternative‘s gardening program, to give more Oakland youth the opportunity to experience gardening and growing their own food. Melinda hires interns to work at her interior design firm, and she says it has been good for the interns and for the business. She enjoys working with new interns and remembers how appreciative she was for her own mentors early on: “I was so grateful for the mentors she was so grateful for the mentors that were there early in my career for me.”

Current and Future Trends

From a horticultural standpoint, Janet is looking forward to developments in breeding that move away from non-sustainable, chemical-laden product offerings like much of the annual color available in nurseries, and towards crops like salvias and other pollinator-friendly, water-thrifty plants. Melinda applauds the home interior industry’s renewed focus on the chemicals in homebuilding materials, affecting not only the end consumer, but also the producers of these materials. As moderator Richard Hayden put it, “Mindful Living can also be Joyful Living.”


Carolyn and Richard urged the audience to do things outside their comfort zone. Carolyn says, “Don’t be afraid to try something in your kitchen that you’ve never done before. It might be something you never want to try again, but it could also become a new favorite. If it doesn’t work out, think of the great story you’ll have to tell!”

Janet and Melinda encouraged the audience to decorate their homes and gardens in a way that sparks joy. Janet says, “Don’t feel like you have to keep something alive just because it’s there. If there’s a plant in your garden that doesn’t spark joy for you, throw it away. Don’t feel guilty; compost is a beautiful thing!” Inside the home, Melinda advises choosing items for the home that spark joy. “Many people worry whether an item matches or coordinates,” she says. “I think it is so much more important that something makes you happy.” Melinda goes on to say, “We all have an aesthetic, and if you’re paying attention to your aesthetic, then it’s gonna ‘go’. If you truly love the things you put in your home, they will all ‘go’ together.”

Joyful Living: Trending in House & Garden

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