When maintenance becomes butchery

Hacked-up Liquidambar styraciflua

For those who aren’t familiar with the territory of landscape in Southern California, we will let you know this: Almost every landscape is tended to by hired gardeners. Some know a thing or two about plants; many do not. What for newcomers comes initially as a godsend – the opportunity to have a green landscape year-round – quickly becomes a burden. And so enters the hired gardener. That the gardeners are generally underpaid and without any sort of horitcultural background translates into a very limited plant palatte that can look good and survive under their care. And when it comes to trees, the cardinal rule of never lopping off the leader trunk (as this is essentially the spine along which the tree grows) is broken every day, by the hour.

PRAIRIEFORM is not in the business of forcing people to take an interest in tending to their own landscapes; it is, however, in the business of working with skilled gardeners who can ensure that your landscape is cared for properly. An exquisite landscape design means nothing if the subsequent maintenance on it is shoddy at best, especially because one of the most rewarding, soul-satisfying aspects of a landscape is watching it evolve across the seasons and through the years.

Shades of green

The number of landscapes in Tucson that consist only of low-water and desert species is impressive. Increasingly gone are the days of a Kelly green lawn and a few (depressing) Hawthorne shrubs hugging the house or building. The same unfortunately cannot be said of the LA Region. While the new Los Angeles Water Ordinance is a step in the right direction, the Southern California Region has a long, long ways to go in regards to water conservation and landscapes. The prevailing theme is still the Bermuda Grass lawn, and perennial borders consisting primarily of water-thirsty perennials borrowed from East Coast and English landscapes. In short, Kelly Green still dominates the landscape discourse.

Potted Agave at the Tohono Chul Botanical Garden

While PRAIRIEFORM is ever-weary of the dogmatic “must-plant-native” approach (particularly in regions where the native plant palate is limiting at best), a serious, collective landscape rethink is in order. There is a wide, wide world of low-water plants out there that can look full and lush virtually year-round, and can survive on very, very little water. A trip to the Sonoran Desert and Tucson and a visit to any of the numerous desert and low-water landscapes that exist here is a perfect start to see just how possible it is.