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California Native Plant PR

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Something Borrowed and Brilliant

I recently received a wonderful email from my mother that she got from her mother-in-law. It was an imagined conversation between St. Francis and God. God was asking St. Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment, about the disappearance of all the original flora. He wanted to know why he was seeing only patches of green. The answers St. Francis gave God shocked him. Nothing seemed to make sense. Finally, God couldn't hear it anymore.

That frustration with things being so backwards is what drives me to argue for native plants any chance I get. Knowing that natives will nourish wildlife, environmental stability, water conservation and ecological balance gives me a sense of peace. There is no better time to use natives in our landscapes. We have the opportunity to make our natural world right again, one garden at a time.

I'm including the St. Francis piece. I didn't write it. I wish I knew who did so I could thank her or him.


God talking with St Francis.
GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the U.S.? What in the world happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and the stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees, and flocks of
songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of color by now. All I see are patches of green.
ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. They are called Suburbanites and they went to great lengths to kill the flowers and replace them with grass.
GOD: Grass? But it is so boring; it's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, bees, or birds, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want grass growing there?
ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing it and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
GOD: The spring rains and the warm weather probably makes the grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites very happy.
ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it has grown a little, they cut it, sometimes two times a week.
GOD: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?
ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
ST. FRANCIS: No sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
GOD: Now let me get this straight: They fertilize it to make it grow and when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.
GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
GOD: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep the moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves become compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.
ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. As soon as the leaves fall, the Suburbanites rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
GOD: No way!! What do they do to protect the shrubs and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?
ST. FRANCIS: After throwing the leaves away they go out and buy something called mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
GOD: And where to they get this mulch?
ST. FRANCIS: They cut down the trees and grind them up to make mulch.
GOD: Enough!! I don't want to think about this anymore.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Whole Foods Update

Great news! Whole Foods in Glendale is selling a California native plant, Ceanothus, to be exact. It was wonderful to see. I hope they continue the trend. Now, if only they'd use natives in their landscaping.

Problems: the parking lot is chock full of tropical and Mediterranean plants (which are a step in the right direction - Mediterranean, that is). And, there is very little shade, contributing to the "urban heat island."

Whole Foods would do well to practice what they preach. Their paper grocery bags offer tips on living a "greener" lifestyle - all well and good, but a little contradictory considering the way the run their stores.

Having visited many a Whole Foods bathroom (in stores from Madison, WI to Woodland Hills, CA), I can vouch for the fact that they use noxious chemicals, including synthetic air fresheners. Strange - they have a store full of natural, biodegradable, effective, germ-killing cleaning products but don't use them in the stores. Do they not believe in the very products they sell?

Getting back to the parking lots, outside of Whole Foods in Sherman Oaks is the sorriest display of poorly pruned trees. They're all "topped," which is a lazy and uninformed way of "trimming" the trees. In truth, topping a tree is just putting it on a faster road to death.

All that would need to happen to bring Whole Foods around to a less hypocritical policy regarding the creation and management of their stores, is for them to plant more trees native to each individual location, landscape the rest of the outside areas with natives, use biodegradable cleaning products and toiletries in restrooms, sell more native plants and install solar panels to help power stores.

They're a large corporation, they can afford these changes. In so doing, they'll set an example for everyone who visits Whole Foods. Frankly, these changes will SAVE them money in the long run (they'll help save the planet too, by the way). They were revolutionary in the grocery world, just imagine how much more GOOD they could do by bringing their green philosophy full circle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

City of LA's Wasteful Watering

I am perpetually perplexed and, frankly, outraged at the fact that the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department chooses to turn on their sprinklers in the middle of the day, sometimes for a half hour or longer. This is disturbing on MANY levels, not the least of which is the fact that a gross amount of sprinklers are so misguided that they are watering SIDEWALKS!!!

What's the deal, City of LA? Do you mean to tell us fair citizens that we suddenly have an endless supply of water with which to water our own lawns? Because, I gotta tell you, EVERYBODY who drives by one of your gigantic sprinklers spraying out hundreds of gallons of water in the dead heat of 12:30 pm is getting the message that this practice is A-OK with you.

It's very problematic, as I know that it simply is not that case that we've uncovered some vast water supply. Plus, we fair citizens are often getting messages in the form of commercials, inserts with bills, billoards, etc. from DWP and MWD that it is our duty to conserve water. I couldn't agree more.

But, if it's OUR duty, then why isn't it the CITY'S duty too? Why don't they reserve their watering for early morning? Why don't they re-direct their sprinklers to only water plants (a novel concept)? The answer is that there is no excuse. They have erred, on a grand scale, and must address the problem immediately.

C'mon! Get with it, City of LA. While you're at it, let Cal Trans in on the concept of water conservation. They're just as guilty: freeways are constantly being irrigated smack dab in the hottest part of the day.

Stop sending us all the wrong message. Start irrigating responsibly and stop wasting our precious water.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

August Los Feliz Ledger Column

Dog Days of Summer - To Plant or Not To Plant?

Summer planting of California natives is a hot button issue, depending on whom you talk to.

Some people argue you that you can plant throughout the year, but most experts simply say, “Don’t do it.”

It can be a confusing matter for home gardeners.

Barbara Eisenstein, Horticultural Outreach Coordinator for Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) in Claremont believes the controversy over when to plant stems from a nationwide spring marketing blitz. Retailers take a one-size-fits-all approach to gardening, leading to a misguided public here in California.

The truth of the matter is: most of our native plants don’t do well being planted in warm weather for many reasons.

Eisenstein, who runs RSABG’s Native Plant Hotline, a free resource for home gardeners funded by Metropolitan Water District, explained that, because most of California experiences long periods of hot, dry weather, many of our indigenous plants are not used to getting water during that time. They have adapted over hundreds of years to slow down, or go dormant, in the summer and do the majority of their growing during the winter rainy season.

Part of the problem for gardeners planting natives in the summer is that they try to compensate for the lack of rain by inundating the plants with water. That, Eisenstein said, creates perfect conditions for disease to develop in dry-tolerant natives from an over-production of bacteria and fungi.

Thus it is with good reason so many native plant people will tell you to “install in the fall.” At that time (usually end of November is best), we can take advantage of winter rains to irrigate for us.

It’s a great rule of thumb to follow, but sometimes the thought of digging in the dirt and communing with the Earth is too tempting to resist. In that case, there are ways of getting around the rule, if you’re willing to use the right plants and give them perfect growing conditions.

Native riparian plants (those that grow near rivers), Eisenstein pointed out, are accustomed to year round wetness; and desert plants, which receive water during summer monsoonal rains, can take more water in the home garden this time of year. Both groups of plants, however, require a fair amount of shade (research each individual plant) if being planted in the heat. After establishing a healthy root mass (takes about a year of babying and watering), some of those plants may be more tolerant of full sun.

Holliday Wagner, Nursery Manager at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants (TPF) in Sun Valley, was careful to emphasize that plants need large root structures to bring water up to cool the leaves. It is an essential process in the summer – unless you install shade plants.

If you’re going to plant any of the desert or riparian natives, try following these few tips for better success. After digging the right size hole for each plant, fill it with water and let it drain three times before putting the plant in the ground. Put the plant in the hole and then backfill the soil into the hole. Create a circular basin around the outer edge of the rootball for water to more easily seep into the root area and then water again. Add a 2-inch thick layer of mulch (shredded or chipped redwood bark works well) around your plants, keeping it 2 to 3 inches away from the crown to prevent rot.

Mulch is key to maintaining cooler, wetter soil, said Eisenstein. And, it keeps weeds down.

As for specific native plants that are more amenable to being installed in the summer, Eisenstein recommended: bunch grasses, Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) in particular, which “does fine [being planted] almost any time;” California Aster (Aster chilensis), a native ground cover known to grow rapidly; Island Alum Root (Heuchera maxima), which needs some shade; native Yarrow (Achillea species), which also needs a little shade; and Erigeron species.

She noted that these and other natives might also do well in pots during the summer. Pots provide portability if the sun exposure is too intense. Just be sure to stay on top of watering. A water meter will help you keep the right balance.

Wagner’s short list for summer planting included all shade-and-water-loving natives such as a stream orchid (Epipactus gigantea) with the largest flower of the California orchids, Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis), a large shrub with big leaves and fragrant red flowers, and Button Willow (Cephalanthus occidentalis californica), also a large shrub.

Though both experts were willing to give specific plant names, neither seemed thrilled about the idea of summer planting, given all they know about native plants. Instead, each advised pulling back on the urge to garden in the hot months.

That seems wise not only for the reasons stated above, but also to conserve our precious water supply. And, for a lazy gardener, like myself, all the hoops and limitations of summer planting are just plain old unappealing.

There are other activities for those of us to whom the garden beckons in the summer. Try mulching and container gardening or (gasp!) killing your lawn through solarization and/or start thinking about a new landscape design that can be implemented in the fall.

The Theodore Payne Foundation (http://www.theodorepayne.org) offers great classes to spark the creative process and, of course, the Native Plant Hotline (909-624-0838) is always there to help you in your research.