Our western waterways

The Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena
The Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena in early April 2019

As you move further west in the country, water becomes all the more scarce, and thus its sources become all the more precious. Yet the relationship between water’s preciousness and how it has been treated through our infrastructure is really an inverse one – especially in California. While water is gold here, its sources, and the rivers and streams that carry it, have been treated like nothing more than garbage – the above photo a case in point, which we snapped while taking a hike through Nature Park in South Pasadena. While there are indeed many efforts to improve our stormwater retention, daylight channelized rivers, and expand rainwater harvesting efforts, we cannot stop there. It behooves us as a state to treat water as the precious giver of life that it ultimately is, on all levels and in all ways.

John Kamp

First landscape of 2019

Photo of Prairieform's work on its first landscape of 2019, for a front yard in Glendale, CA
Working on our first landscape of 2019, for a front yard in Glendale, CA

We are excited to announce our first new landscape of 2019, in Glendale, CA. It will be a front-yard lawn-to-landscape conversion involving drought-tolerant deliciousness, eye candy in spades, and habitat for a whole host of fantastic winged and four-legged friends (and humans too). While the landscape will have an irrigation system, we will be reducing the amount of water used over time, so that ultimately much of the landscape can thrive on its own, whatever may come its way. Stay tuned for more updates.

John Kamp

Snow falling on sedums

Sedum spectabile "Autumn Joy" in winter
Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ in winter

When it comes to plants in the landscape, there are tried but true and therefore played out and boring (and should be retired), and there are tried but true and thus indispensable. Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ falls into the latter camp, an indispensable plant for landscapes in those four-season climates that include a good dose of winter. Emerging early in spring, it provides structure and color with zero supplemental water, and its fat leaves offer a foil to smaller-leaved plants, which, packed in too closely and in too great of numbers, will resort in a landscape that suffers from what we call “small-leaf syndrome.” Then, in late summer, its flower-heads start to emerge, slowly opening in early fall to attract pollinators of all varieties, feasting on its nectar during a time of year when nectar is starting to run scarce. Finally, in winter, it retains its structure and fades to a lovely rust color, its spent flower heads offering the perfect platform for snow to sit atop. Aside from the short period of time in spring when you must chop the plant down to the ground and thus don’t see it, this plant is the very definition of year-round appeal – both for you and for the lovely pollinators that will seek it out come fall blooms.

Go forth and plant with aplomb!

John Kamp

Botanical wonders of Alcatraz

One of the endless plant oddities and delights growing wild on the island of Alcatraz
One of the endless plant oddities and delights growing wild on the island of Alcatraz

Hear the name “Alcatraz” and one most often thinks of criminals swimming across the San Francisco Bay to potential freedom after a horrid extended stay in one of the country’s most notorious prisons. While obviously the prison has long been closed and the island is now a national park and tourist destination, what many still don’t realize is that the island is positively brimming with plants and gardens.

When the prison was still functioning, both prisoners and workers alike tended to gardens around the island. Some of these gardens have been restored, while others have been allowed to become wild again. Yet, rather than try and restore the island back to what it had been pre-settler, the Park Service is allowing these plants to do what they want to do – creeping over crumbling walls, populating rugged hillsides, and in general fixing a toehold on an island of tough conditions and no source of fresh water. At this point, the plants are as much a part of the cultural history of the island as the buildings themselves and the waves of people and animals that have inhabited it.

To find out more about how you can go on a docent-led tour of the gardens and wild spaces of Alcatraz, click here.

On trees and what they say about us

Jared Farmer's book on the history of the trees that now signify "California" in the public imagination
Jared Farmer’s book on the history of the trees that now signify “California” in the public imagination

Trees say much about who we are as a culture – especially about what we want to be. In Northern California, redwoods are planted everywhere (including in places they dislike – such as in hot and dry roadsides). And they are planted to signify all the things that Northern California has long aspired so be – woodsy, a little rustic but still important, and decidedly not Southern California. Meanwhile in Southern California, the ubiquitous Mexican Fan Palm is almost synonymous with Los Angeles itself, spindly spires emanating tropical vibes above a low-slung landscape whose climate is, at its core, decidedly not tropical.

There has indeed always been an element of escape and fantasy to gardens and landscapes. They are idealized images of nature, and their makers oftentimes want their landscapes to offer us a respite from the modern world. It is little wonder then that all-native-plant gardens are a tough sell to many folks, as, well, they remind you of where you are, and perhaps you don’t always want to be where you are – a truism that has been seen throughout history in the trees we have chosen to populate our cities.

Case in point: California and the palm, the redwood, the eucalyptus, and citrus trees. These trees have come to signify “California” in the public imagination, and that is what Jared Farmer writes about in his book, Trees in Paradise. The prose is spritely and far from dry and the content is chock-full of tidbits of information you didn’t know. And once you’ve read it, you’ll never see California in the same way.