Volunteer gardener brings pruning mastery to Del Mar

By Claire Harlin

The Del Mar Garden Club, credited for beautifying the public gardens at places like city hall, the post office and the Del Mar Library, has done something it hasn’t done since its inception in 1988. The ladies of the club have decided to induct the first-ever non-Del Mar resident as an honorary member of the club — and he happens to be the first man to join, as well.

For the past six months, landscape artist Jim Stelluti has been a major consultant in the management of local gardens, including a project at city hall that just culminated a couple of weeks ago with the addition of agave plants and more dirt to change the land grade, said Garden Club member Mary Friestedt. The relationship began when Stelluti, 66, who works in the personal gardens of Friestedt and a few other Garden Club ladies, wanted to see what they had done at city hall.

“He saw it and said we had to tend to the shrubs every month and I know a little about pruning but not much,” Friestedt said.

Seeing that the shrubs needed “training,” as he calls it, Stelluti began working voluntarily at the post office and at city hall on a monthly basis.

“He is our guardian. He guides us,” said Friestedt. “Doing such a large amount of donating his time to the community, having him be part of the Garden Club was a way of showing gratitude to him. He’s doing things nobody else can do and is helping us so much.”

A native of Scarsdale, N.Y., Stelluti had a passion for gardening at a young age, and both of his grandfathers were gardeners. He attended art school at Brigham Young University and discovered San Diego when he was stationed here for Navy boot camp. He spent one year of duty in Vietnam in 1968 and returned to San Diego to attend Mesa College, where he studied landscaping.

Stelluti has served nine years as the reference librarian for the La Jolla Garden Club, and has even lectured multiple times on “Objects in the Landscape.”

Stelluti incorporates both his landscaping education and his artistic eye in his work. He specializes in artistic pruning, particularly a technique called “lacing” shrubs.

Friestedt said, “He can take ugly hedges and turn them into filigree and lace ... He makes them look so beautiful.”

Stelluti described the technique as “making [a shrub] seem like it hasn’t been touched, or making it more interesting.”

“With lacing, the light can go in and come out,” he said. “It makes you able to see a bird fly in.”

His pruning abilities are also used in new plants, he said, ones that need “guidance.”

“You must prune them while they are young or they’ll be juvenile delinquents,” he said.

Stelluti can be reached at (619) 298-7641.