Heirloom DIY

The designs of PRAIRIEFORM very much seek to locate that intersection between aesthetics and resources, where the design packs in the biggest visual bang for the smallest natural resource buck. This never means a dogmatic “must plant native” approach. It means a design approach that is infinitely more nuanced and always varied. Occasionally, the designs, where requested, may include a vegetable bed here, a groovy chicken coop there. Even in the smallest vegetable plot tucked within a landscape, you can produce an amazing amount of stuff.

When I had a plot at the Manzanita Community Garden in Silver Lake (shown above), it was mildly insane to see how much you could produce in such a small amount of space (my plot measured probably no more than 4′ x 8′). The most fantastic part of the whole thing, however, may have been that I started growing all of my vegetables from heirloom seeds. I got mine from Seedsavers Exchange, whose seed catalog is extensive and full of stories behind each variety of vegetable. Tomatoes passed down from generations of Hungarian immigrants from a remote part of Hungary; varieties of squash unavailble in any grocery store, passed down from generations of French immigrants who insisted that this was the best squash ever.

Nowadays, everyone is jumping on the grow-it-yourself bandwagon (even Triscuit is promoting DIY gardening). The best part about this bandwagon, though, is that it seats everyone. One of the coolest people pursuing her own grow-it-yourself endeavors is Dig-It-Yourself’s (the new DIY!) Jessica Rinks, who has transformed her little Chicago backyard into a veritable agricultural hotbed of DIY goodness.

Rinks grows so much in her small space that she is now bringing her bounty to Chicago diners around the city. In no small help to her newly patented “vegetable bounty resume” she has begun working with restaurants who are seeking to purchase their produce from as close to the Loop as possible, so as to serve the freshest, tastiest dishes around, with minimal impact on the environment. This is a trend that deserves to become not simply a trend but a lasting approach to living and eating. Here’s to 21st Century Heirloom DIY.

Jail time for the drought-tolerant, or maybe not

A couple in Orange, CA had been set to be taken to court, with a possible six-month jail sentence, for ripping out their lawn and going low-water. The yard does look like a bit of a tragical botanical mess-up at the moment, but jail time + $1000, really?

KTLA reports

As it turns out, the City of Orange may have had a change of heart, as post-hearing they have considered dropping the charges.

See story

Plant of the week

SCHIZACHYRIUM SCOPARIUM ‘BLAZE’ / LITTLE BLUESTEM ‘BLAZE’

PRAIRIEFORM loves plants that, when planted in a mass planting, can create swaths of color, movement, and form. Little Bluestem ‘Blaze’ is very much such a plant. A cultivar of the native prairie grass Schizachyrium Scoparium (LIttle Bluestem), we love it for its subtle color evolution as summer fades into fall and the grass flickers from green to blue-green to a rust-red to tawny gold. It is hyper cold-hardy (down to Zone 3), spectacularly drough-tolerant (in Minnesota, once established it really doesn’t need supplemental water save for the driest of dry years (and too much water will cause it to flop over); in Los Angeles, it will need a watering every couple of weeks in summer to keep it looking strong – but it could probably survive on less), clump-forming (won’t spread and take over your landscape), and it attracts many a bird to feast on its seeds in late summer and into fall. ‘Blaze’ is a warm-season grass and thus new growth won’t appear until temperatures warm up in late spring, at which point it should be cut back to an inch above the ground, to make way for a new season of growth.

LITTLE BLUESTEM ‘BLAZE’ PAIRED WITH FLOWERING PERENNIALS (from Grace Pete)

Form trumps flower

VIEW OF THE LA COUNTY ARBORETUM: Form, texture, color

One of the best ways to figure out what plants to use in your garden or landscape is simply to go to your local arboretum one season, take photos and notes of the plants that catch your eye, and then to return each subsequent season to see how the particular plants evolve over time. The benefit of this approach is that you will know what your plant will truly look like once it’s found a fixed spot in your landscape. Sounds exceedingly obvious, but the year-round form and evolution of a plant is rarely one of the criteria people use when figuring out what to use in their landscape.

Too often, we are seduced by close-up photos of brilliant flowers (this recent Arroyo Monthly article a case in point), never to actually see what the overall form of the plant is and what the plant looks like when not in bloom. California Poppies make a wonderful display in spring, but post-bloom, they take on a horrendously ratty look and must be pruned back ad nauseum until the following spring. Nonetheless, PRAIRIEFORM has seen all too many a landscape that consists of little more than perennials that take on a none-too-delightful weedy pose when not in bloom.

PRAIRIEFORM, as the name implies, is interested first and foremost in form – the form of the overall landscape, but also the form of each indvidual plant (such as these Karl Foerster grasses growing in the Zenith Avenue Landscape). We favor plants whose form will provide lasting interest throughout the seasons. Form, texture, and foliage color are the muscles of a landscape, the flowers merely fleeting highlights and accents. Think about how you can use plants with strong form and foliage to provide these muscles, and how the more ephemeral perennials can be tucked in to pop out intermittently as temporary accents but never as the dominant element of the landscape.