As the pandemic hit, Santa Clarita Valley residents were left with nothing to do but stay home, so many turned to YouTube to find informational, how-to videos to pass the time.
It was then that Santa Clarita resident Mary Elizabeth Jacobsen, a landscape designer and the owner of Songbird Garden Design, decided to branch out, creating videos of her own in the hopes of helping SCV residents take care of their gardens.
“I decided to start creating short, hopefully helpful and informative YouTube videos as a way to reach out to the community, share my gardening knowledge, stay in touch with social media and maybe make a new client and friend along the way,” Jacobsen said.
With a background in working in the music industry, Jacobsen was no stranger to technology, but admits she had been slipping away from it in recent years.
“(People) want to see how things are done, so I thought, ‘Well, (I) have a little bit more time,’ … It’s now or never, so I said to myself, ‘Just go for it,’” she added. “I’d say the quarantine definitely gave me the kick I needed to get going.”
Hoping to create something fun, yet educational, Jacobsen decided her videos would simply answer some of the most common gardening questions.
“I just thought it would be good for the community (to answer) the basic questions I get from my own clients,” she said. “What I take for granted as a simple thing, but a homeowner has all these questions all the time.”
So Jacobsen shot her first video, explaining basic planting tips for the Southern California garden, including selecting the right plant and knowing your climate zone, soil, sunlight and water needs.
“A lot of plants in our area die just for the simple reason that they’re planted too low in the ground,” she added. “Something as simple as that could save a homeowner a lot of time and grief and money just by planting correctly.”
While she said it’s been a learning experience, the reception of the videos has made it worth it.
“You never know what reaction you’re going to get,” Jacobsen added. “It’s like you’re putting your heart out there, (but) it’s been wonderful. People have been just so supportive, friendly and positive, so it all worked out.”
Since then, Jacobsen has continued making videos, even partnering with Green Thumb Nursery and Garden Center’s chief horticulturist John Windsor for a video on fruit tree picks for Southern California, who she’d taken a class from years ago.
Windsor said he considers Jacobsen one of his brightest students and was excited to work with her.
“I hadn’t done anything quite like that before, but she has done a few before … so I said, ‘Yes,’” Windsor said regarding the video. “We did a very nice one, I thought, on fruit trees. … I think these things are great because people can learn a lot from them. With everybody being kind of homeward bound and not able to get up too much, I think it’s a great way to get the information to them.”
Doing what she loves
When Jacobsen moved to Santa Clarita in 2009, she decided to make a career change from the music industry to horticulture — which she didn’t consider a big leap, as she was always using that creative aspect of her personality.
“Believe it or not, even growing up in New York City, I just always loved the little flower box garden I had growing up in an apartment,” she said. “I had neighbors who had houses, so I’d go over to their houses and do gardening with them. As a kid, I remember just loving that.”
After taking a few classes here and there, including the one with Windsor, Jacobsen decided to go back to school to get a degree in horticultural landscape design.
“You come to a point in your life where you just say, ‘What makes me happy? What do I love to do?’ … It just seemed like a natural progression for me to draw, paint and design (landscapes),” she said, adding in 2013 she started Songbird Garden Design. “Do what you love in life, and that’s really what it comes down to.”
Since then, Jacobsen has kept busy, becoming a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and working locally with SCV Water Agency to help design sustainable lawn replacement landscape designs.
Last year, she and other local designers helped SCV Water to create a plan for a sustainable, water-efficient garden at Bridgeport Community Park, which has been approved by the city of Santa Clarita and is awaiting an installation date.
“I was so happy and proud to be a part of a hometown project with fellow colleagues, and hopefully more of that to come,” Jacobsen said.
Some tips for gardening in the SCV from Jacobsen
- The best time to plant is March and April, along with October and November — right before the heat and before the frost. “There might be frost in Santa Clarita, you never know,” she said.
- During the other periods, think about other aspects of your garden, including hardscaping, such as bricks and pavers, etc.
- Use hydrozones in the design of your backyard landscape, positioning plants with similar water, soil and sun needs together.
- Have a good plan. “The plants are like the icing on the cake of any design,” she added.