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California Native Plant PR

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tribute to Griffith Park

Above photo of Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) in Griffith Park by Carmen Wolf

This past Tuesday, Wednesday and part of today a massive, aggressive fire torched over 800 acres of our beloved Griffith Park, one of a few special places that has been the source of my love for California native plants. It is truly a haven in the midst of this often miserably vapid, superficial concrete jungle.

Over the past 10 years I have hiked in Griffith Park countless times with friends, dogs, family visiting here for holidays and my husband. It is where our third dog, Vida, was rescued after a month of failed attempts by myself and three other people who watched and worried about her from afar.

I have stumbled upon some of the most beautiful flora and fauna, always inducing wonder and awe. Just two weeks ago, my sister and I were walking my dogs when we spotted an enormous deer sitting down for a spell at the top of the nursery, just below cedar grove (areas that were burned). I shudder to think of the fate of that beautiful creature.

There's probably no telling how many of our vulnerable wildlife were killed, harmed and displaced from their homes.

As for the plant life in Griffith Park, there are ways to tell how many of the old trees were lost. LA Recreation and Parks can likely determine this, if they haven't done so already. They will then make a plan for how to restore the vegetation.

I hope they will include the following plants:

Artemisia californica
Baccharis pilularis
Encelia californica
Eriogonum fasciculatum
Heteromeles arbutifolia
Juglans californica
Mimulus aurantiacus
Quercus agrifolia
Rhus integrifolia
Rhus ovata
Ribes speciosum
Salvia apiana
Salvia leucophylla
Salvia mellifera
Sambucus mexicana

It would be a terrible mistake to plant non-natives; now is a chance to start fresh. We have the opportunity to do a genuine restoration and, in some small part, bring back what was here prior to human intervention. Seeding the slopes after this fire is a huge mistake, which I hope city officials avoid like the plague. There are mounds of evidence that show seeding of non-native grasses, which has been commonplace for years, destroys the ecosystem of the hillside, crowds out the native plants that re-sprout after fire and leads to a cycle of erosion. Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita recommends, "Sandbags, check dams and making sure your grades and drains work . . . before the first rain."

I hope Rec and Parks are on the same page. Griffith Park needs help to defend against the invasive exotics that will begin to pop up over the next few months. If the folks in charge could also somehow mitigate voracious castor bean, mustard, non-native tobacco, etc., before it comes back with a vengeance, the park could be on it's way to breaking free of the stranglehold these invaders have had on it for so long. It's the least we could do for this precious space.

Then, from this point forward, our city has got to 100% restrict smoking in the park. I am perpetually confounded and outraged every time I pass by golfers on the green of Roosevelt Municipal Golf Course smoking like chimneys. This behavior is extremely dangerous. It puts us all at risk.

Perhaps if we can allow this tragedy to galvanize some positive change, we can help secure a safer Griffith Park for the future. That is my hope.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Time to Whack Weeds!

As I was walking in Griffith Park today with husband and dogs, I suddenly was overcome with the need to weed. I couldn't help myself - the mustard is just starting to sprout and, in some cases, bloom. At this stage, it's pretty easy to pull up by the roots. I grab it underneath the leaves and wiggle it out of the ground. I encourage anyone to whack as many weeds as they can by this method (ROOTS AND ALL, none of this cutting off the top stuff). Best to get them now, before they go to seed!

In your own garden, get pulling! Whenever you see a tuft of grass or some other green puff that you didn't plant, jiggle it from the base and extract the whole thing. Forget about Round-up. There is absoultuely NO GUARANTEE that it breaks down as the manufacturer claims. There are reports of it showing up in groundwater and in wildlife. It's poison and we have enough of that on this planet.

Take the pledge with me: no poisons in the garden! Good old fashioned manual weed removal is the ONLY 100% safe way to rid your garden of invasive plants.

When it comes to pests in the garden, look into integrated pest management. Pesticides are too dangerous. So, too, are other 'cides. They make their way into birds and wild mammals, often causing diseases that they wouldn't otherwise get, such as mange and cancer. We are the stewards of this planet; let's treat it with care. Our actions always have consequences. Everything is connected. We're all one big ecology. Everytime someone purchases a toxic product, it ends up in our environment.

Next time you see an aphid on your plant, get the hose and blast it. Or, put in plants that attract beneficial insects. Get this book: "Good Bugs for Your Garden" by Allison Mia Starcher. It has beautiful illustrations and tons of great info on how to bring in the good bugs that get rid of the ones you don't want.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

4th Annual Theodore Payne Garden Tour Showcases Beauty and Versatility of California Native Plants

Above: Santa Monica garden on Theodore Payne Garden Tour

If you’ve long considered using California native plants in your garden but weren’t sure how they’d measure up to the old stand bys available by the truckload at the local nursery, the annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour on April 28th & 29th may just be what you’ve been waiting for!

With 30 gardens throughout Los Angeles – in neighborhoods like Echo Park, Atwater Village, Glendale, Eagle Rock, Altadena and beyond – there is a design style and plant palette for people of all aesthetic tastes.

The Tour is a unique opportunity to go beyond the fences and walls of private homes and also to step into larger-scale non-private gardens that are generally not open to the public with the guidance of the garden hosts and knowledgeable docents.

Tickets to this wonderful self-guided garden journey are $20 and can be purchased at the Theodore Payne Web site, where you can also see photos of gardens on the Tour, or by phone at: 818-768-1802. The price of admission includes a free presentation on gardening for butterflies, given by Chris and Trish Meyer of Wildscaping.com the evening of Saturday, April 28th at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood.

Some of the highlights of the Tour include: a sloping hillside garden in Topanga with rambling trails and mature specimens of manzanita, toyon, pine and California lilac; a welcoming cottage-style garden beneath a large western sycamore in Westchester; an innovative, eclectic garden in Santa Monica with multiple artistic elements, including handmade grapevine fencing, one-of-a-kind fountains, a recycled concrete bench, antique manhole covers and a flowing stream next to a teepee for camping; a terraced garden of local plants abuzz with fluttering winged friends in Echo Park; a “California Natural” garden wrapping around an environmentally-sound Brentwood home that hugs a ridge overlooking the city; a hidden haven of habitat in Altadena and so much more!

There is no better way to learn the ropes of gardening with native and all the benefits that brings than to attend the Native Plant Garden Tour. Whether you’re the small space gardener or a large-scale landscaper, there is inspiration to be found in these botanical beauties. Call to get your tickets early so you will receive your guide well-enough in advance to plan your own Tour route. That way, you’ll get the most for your money. Enjoy!

Friday, February 23, 2007

March 2007 Native Harmony - “Perfect Plants for Hanging Pots”

Mimulus (species unknown) photo above.

If you’ve grown weary of the same old plant offerings at the nursery and are seeking something that will make a splash in a fabulous hanging pot, try one of these cascading California natives.

Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Bert Johnson’ or ‘Carmel Sur’ are two lovely low-growing manzanitas. ‘Bert Johnson’ has petite white flowers in spring, grows a bit slower and stays more compact (1’ high and 2’ wide) than ‘Carmel Sur’ (1-2’ high and 6’ wide), which has light pink flowers in the winter. Both are evergreen, attractive to hummingbirds and other birds, grow best in some shade around these parts and will put out adorable apple-looking fruits after flowering (hence the name manzanita, meaning little apple in Spanish). There are other manzanitas that will do well in hanging planters. Look for the ones that are classified as groundcovers; they will grow low and trail over the sides of pots.

Many of the Mimulus (monkeyflower) species are superbly-suited for suspension due to their habit of draping the area around where they grow. There are a wide variety of flower colors (white, yellow, hot pink, dark red, to name a few) from which to choose, making for fun plant selection. Most monkeyflowers need a little shade to flourish, especially when placed in a pot, and they are loved by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

Lessingia filanginifolia (California aster) ‘Silver Carpet’ (see a gorgeous photo of it here) is simply splendid spilling over the side of a hanging basket or other planter. Tolerating full sun during cool times of the year and needing a little shade in hot times, its silver, curled leaves sparkle in the sun and moon light. But they take a back seat in the spring and summer, when small daisy-like pale purple, yellow-centered flowers appear and are frequented by hummingbirds, bee and butterflies – all eager to gather the sweet nectar.

Last on this list but certainly not the last of the options is Epilobium/Zauschneria (California fuchsia), a feathery-leaved friend to the hummingbird with scarlet tubular blossoms in the late summer/early fall when there is little else in bloom. Like the others mentioned above, California fuchsia benefits from a partly shady exposure.

For all California native plants in hanging pots, use a standard potting soil, water when the soil is just about dry, fertilize once a year and transplant after a few years. Once the roots have maxed out their space in the pot, the plant will start to suffer. There’s not much else to do besides that. Just enjoy the sights these special specimens bring to your garden.

Monday, January 15, 2007

February 2007 Los Feliz Ledger Column, “Lawns That Give Back"

Bouteloua gracilis lawn at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

We’ve all become quite familiar with the sights and sounds of the Southern California landscape: gasoline-powered blowers and mowers bellowing through neighborhoods while disbursing dusty leaf debris and choking fumes into the air and powerful sprinklers shooting water into streets well beyond the area intended for irrigation.

What if we could change all that? And, better still, what if we could keep our lush patches of green in the process of improving our air quality and conserving our precious water supply?

With the right plants, we can take the traditional notion of a lawn and turn it on its head. In place of lifeless mats of turf consuming hundreds of gallons of water per week per house, imagine fluttering wings of butterflies and hummingbirds, re-programming the sprinkler system to only turn on once every two weeks or less, flowing mounds of green and more.

A whole new crop of lawns that give back are not only possible, they’re appearing all over the city in place of the common sod we’re used to seeing. These lush lawns are easy, rewarding and urgently needed.

In July 2006, the Public Policy Institute of California (www.ppic.org) published a report entitled “Lawns and Water Demand in California,” which revealed that single-family homes consume twice as much landscaping water as multi-family complexes. And, the report cautions, “without efforts aimed specifically at reducing outdoor urban water use, the demand will pose significant financial and environmental challenges for California.”

Here’s one immediate thing we as individuals can do to help solve this serious problem: say goodbye to the sod. With a pickax and some muscle, rip out the old grass and get the area ready for new life. Be careful to avoid damaging sprinkler pipes or any electrical conduit or wiring. Place all old material in your green bin.

Next, plant a native lawn. Most will flourish without any or very infrequent mowing with a human-powered push mower (quiet and pollution-free). Try one of the following plants by seed or 4-inch or 1-gallon pots (check with the nursery to see which method is preferable for the plant you choose): Achillea millefolium (perennial herb with white flowers, handles moderate foot traffic, needs full sun to part shade, rocky to sandy soil, water once a week or less in cool season, mow once a month or less), Carex pansa (perennial sedge, handles moderate foot traffic, needs full sun or part shade, sand to clay, water once a week or less in cool season, not necessary to mow), Bouteloua gracilis (perennial grass, handles moderate foot traffic, needs full sun, sand to clay soil, water twice a months or less in cool season, mow once a month or less), Festuca rubra molate (perennial grass, handles moderate foot traffic, sun to part sun, sand to clay, water twice a month or less in cool season, mow once a month or less), Deschampsia caespitosa holciformis (perennial grass, handles light foot traffic, needs sun to part sun, sand to clay, water once a week or less in cool season, mow once a month or less).

There are many more options, such as a wildflower lawn and other native grasses and groundcovers. An Internet search for California native lawn alternatives or a visit to the following Web sites will give you lots of great ideas: www.laspilitas.com, www.theodorepayne.org, www.treeoflifenursery.com.

Friday, December 22, 2006

January 2007 Los Feliz Ledger Column: A Plant Lover's Dream Vacation

Shots above from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Destination: Big Sur, two weeks before Christmas.

Heading north on Highway 1, stresses of city life fade as the views start to seriously wow while passing through San Simeon. In addition to revealing breathtaking cliffs, undulating mountains and the ocean’s impressive foamy caps and crashing waves, the first few major twists and turns of the road yielded some of the most beautiful, diverse and plentiful native plant life: California fuchsia, red buckwheat, toyon, California wild lilac, California sagebrush and more.

Sights for sore eyes to feast on.

Toyon is at its best this time of the year. Plump red berries are seemingly lit from within and placed in perfectly festive positions.

California fuchsia’s last blooms are still showy enough to woo hummingbirds and humans.

Climbing the coastal hillsides are myriad California wild lilacs covered in tiny buds that’ll soon be abuzz with bees clamoring for nectar from flowers in a range of cool blue hues.

California sagebrush is scattered about the road’s edge. Most wouldn’t think much of it but accidentally bump into its thin, soft, pale grey-green leaves and the scent will bring you back for more.

These were just the “appetizers.” The main course – majestic towers of coast redwoods with squishy soft bark and miniscule cones, stately stands of oaks, big leaf maples shedding golden foliage, herbal California bay trees, humbly simple and statuesque coffeeberry, coy bells of manzanita flowers gracing artfully twisted branches and dainty carpets of redwood sorrel dotting creek banks – awaited and captivated us in Big Sur.

After a few days of many meals amongst the lush native flora, time spent closely inspecting sand-dwelling plants in a hidden seaside cove, hikes through the dense, welcoming forests and hours of mindlessly marveling at Mother’s Nature’s landscape architecture, all cares seem to be forgotten.

What a way to celebrate the holidays and get ready to start a new year!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

December 2006 Los Feliz Ledger Column: "Easy Transitions"

Above photo of Fremontodendron by Mike Bauman

Shifting to gardening with natives doesn’t have to happen overnight. Gardeners can ease into it by removing a couple non-natives (exotics) in favor of more climactically correct choices and then continue the process at their own pace.

Walking around my neighborhood sparked this notion as I passed one house after another with gardens full of every plant from everywhere but here. I started to consider what would look similar but conserve water, bring in more native wildlife and not take over the neighborhood through invasive growth.

One typical Southern California garden favorite that stood out to me as having a striking native doppelganger was a yellow flowering hibiscus towering upwards of 10 feet tall. Hibiscus is popular here but is not meant for dry, hot climates. It requires regular water, hailing from Hawaii and tropical areas of Africa. Many of the specimens one sees around these parts have developed serious white fly infestations – a clue that something is out of balance.

Avoid this and other complications by replacing a golden-blossom hibiscus with Fremontodendron californicum. It reaches a similar height of 10-20 feet and wants virtual drought during the dry season. In fact, irrigating in the summer almost always results in death. Think of it as built-in protection from wasting our precious water supply.

It’s best to put Fremontodendron in the ground at this time of year. Post-winter installation can be problematic so if you want to give it a whirl, pick one out now and place in its new home as soon as possible.

A ubiquitous and, unfortunately, invasive (see the California Invasive Plants Council’s Web site for more info) landscape favorite, is fountain grass – purple and otherwise. It should be avoided at all costs in favor of natives, such as Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass), that will provide a similar shape and effect but not spread indiscriminately. Deer grass offers wildlife cover and nest building materials and is excellent for erosion control. Plant it in either a full sun or partly shady place. This native is easy to please; it can withstand drought once established or take regular garden water.

So, if a California native garden is something you long for but seems too overwhelming, take a little sojourn out into your yard and have a look around. Maybe there are a few exotics that can be sacrificed to get the ball rolling. Just keep this in mind: start small and the momentum will build over time.