Plant of the week


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.


Form trumps flower


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.

The story behind a near-postcard-perfect streetscape. . .


This tiny one-block stretch of verdant goodness in the heart of Downtown LA is a rare find in this city. At one time in the not-too-distant past, this street was set to be widened, the row of trees within the parkway (or, “boulevard,” if you are from Minnesota) to be removed. I am still a bit incredulous that it wasn’t widened, given the cards stacked against it. Street trees are not under the jurisdiction of LA City Planning, nor are streets and sidewalks in general. In the City’s General Plan, City Planning simply set all Los Angeles streets to desired widths, and DOT and Public Works have since then enforced these designations by requiring road widenings to match the required street widths. Any attempt at narrowing a street or not widening a road now causes quite the kerfuffle, as DOT and Public Works are simply not keen on giving up their power of enforcement.

The good news is that LA City Planning, in conjunction with the CRA, and a host of urban design and transportation consultants, have been working to revise Downtown’s street standards so that future road widenings don’t occur, and, in some instances, so that over-widened roads can be narrowed, as is the case along Grand Avenue at Olympic, where a future park might be placed.

Godspeed, narrow street.