Bug hotel and habitat for solitary bees in the Netherlands.
A bug hotel in Hoofddorp, Netherlands

We like to think of how bug hotels might become contemporary artifacts. If many generations from now someone came upon this structure, in the middle of a clearing – or perhaps amidst woods, if we know anything about plant succession – it would be in some state of decay, with plants growing within and out of it, and they would have to deduce what it meant and what it was for. If they did their sleuthing well, they would surmise that despite a propensity for humans at that time to work against the forces of nature, there were perhaps a small few who in their own odd and idealistic ways tried to push the tide in the other direction, and so they created these structures, to house the little critters being crowded out by so many greater forces. Or perhaps by that time these critters had won, and thus this bug hotel was only a remnant, a thing they no longer needed, as the world had once again become theirs?

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Photo from the LA Times of less-than-aesthetically-appealing rain barrel

One of the simplest ways to reduce irrigation costs and conserve water is to install a rain barrel (or two or three) on site. The barrels can then capture a portion of the rainwater that runs through your downspouts. While we think the trend is fantastic and impeccably simple (namely because it is old technology revived after 80 years of thinking freshwater supplies were infinite), we do not buy into the belief that because one is doing good by installing a rain barrel that you should just accept that the barrels are ugly. This is the lazy line of reasoning that leads to scrubby native-plant-only gardens (re: you should overlook the fact that the garden is a botanical hot-mess-up because it is ALL NATIVE. Repeat: ALL NATIVE), and that leads to bad vegan desserts (re: you should overlook the rubbery texture of this brownie becase it is VEGAN. Repeat: VEGAN).

Rain barrel by CFC Rain Barrels of Minneapolis; observe: paint matches house

Doing good should not require taking a hit in the aesthetic or taste department. Thus, if the client wishes to capture some of their rainwater on site, then it is our job to integrate that wish into a cohesive design solution for the site and not cop out and respond that you will have to settle for an obtrusive black plastic barrel on the side of your house. And fortunately, there are places like CFC Rain Barrels of Minneapolis that have devised seemless designs that house each barrel in a mini wooden shed, whose paint color and style match those of the house or building it is adjacent to. A few of these on one’s property and you reduce your need for irrigation, reduce your water bills, and no one notices the barrels one bit.

On capturing rainwater in an arid climate such as LA’s: click here.

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Monarchs flock to the Liatris ligulistylis in the Pine Hill Road landscape

The number of monarchs migrating from Mexico to Canada this past year has increased, after several years of somewhat alarming decline. Theories have abounded as to why their numbers were dwindling – climate change and habitat loss being primary suspects – but the verdict is still out as to why the increase. In any case, we wanted to take the opportunity to give a plug for one of the simplest, sure-fire ways to attract monarchs to your urban or suburban landscape (no matter how big the size), and as a way to improve the likelihood of monarch populations persisting into the future: plant Liatris ligulistylis (aka Meadow Blazing Star). Without fail, the electric-purple flowers of this prairie perennial open up and the monarchs do not skip a beat, and they will visit your landscape every day until all the flowers have faded. The flowers actually emit a pheromone to attract monarchs in particular. Additionally, the form of the plant is cultivated-looking enough that it does not look out of place in a front-yard planting tucked within and between some sturdier shrubs or grasses. In other words, it won’t give your landscape that weedy-hot-mess aesthetic that plagues many a front-yard perennial garden these days. So, go forth and plant your Liatris ligulistylis; it’s one of the easiest, feel-good things you can do this spring to help give the monarch population the boost it needs.

For more on the decline and rise of the North American monarch population, click here.

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