Rethinking the magnolia

Two dead magnolia trees in Alhambra, California. Victims of drought and a lack of foresight.
Two dead magnolia trees in Alhambra, California. Victims of drought and a lack of foresight.

While past peak, the years-long drought in California is showing its effects in slo-mo delay, coming on in the form of many a street tree stressed to the point of just not being able to take it anymore. Nowhere can this phenomenon be seen more than in Southern Calfifornia, where one of the street trees hardest hit has been the southern magnolia / Magnolia grandiflora. A tree native to the rain-abundant American South, it probably never should have been planted in Southern California at all, where rainfall is typically a scant 12 – 15″ during a good year. But, alas, like so many consumer goods, trees come in and out of fashion, regardless of what practical considerations there may be. So in the ’50s and ’60s street upon street were planted with magnolias in places like Hollywood, and Beverly Hills, and Alhambra – all arid regions and all requiring that the magnolias be irrigated generously in order to survive and thrive. So when the watering bans then hit a few years ago and folks were told to let their lawns and parkways go brown, the trees were never ready for the suddenly parched conditions. Many became stressed, and now, some years later, many are dying. As a result, the cooling shade and outdoor-room-creating canopies will be lost, and we will be left with wide streets and excessive sunlight and heat.

A jacaranda, cactus, and yuccas growing and thriving in hot Riverside County.
A jacaranda, cactus, and yuccas growing and thriving in hot Riverside County.

While devastating for the character of so many neighborhoods and the quality of life of our cities, we need to view this loss of trees as an opportunity to rethink what we plant and how. Even before the drought and worsening global warming, LA was a dry place. This simple truism is not going to change in the foreseeable future, and thus we must start planting trees that can handle these hotter and drier conditions – and that can handle them for the long haul. All it takes is a little observation to see which trees are still pushing on and looking good. In the photo above, you can see that this jacaranda – a tree actually not considered one of the most drought tolerant – and its surrounding plants are doing just fine – more than fine – and this is in hot hot Riverside County, in a parkway space surrounded by heat-absorbing asphalt and concrete. What other trees do you see still doing well? What other trees that you haven’t seen could be invited in, to create amazing tree-lined boulevards for the 21st century? Mesquites, acacias, jacarandas, palo verdes, tristanias – and the list goes on. We cannot keep doing what we’ve always done; it’s simply not working, and we’re seeing our lack of foresight in the form of sadly dying trees and sunbaked parkways. Let’s do better this time around.

We are now licensed landscape contractors

Photo of new Prairieform business cards featuring their new California Landscape Contractor license number.
New Prairieform business cards, complete with fancy license number

It’s o-fish, we have passed our exams, are fully bonded and insured, and are now licensed landscape contractors in the state of California. We started out mega-small in Minneapolis, working on my parents’ landscape, and from there things have grown and evolved and led to this. Our goal is to make irrigation-free a reality in California. People say it cannot be done, but we know it can, and the plants and water supplies will thank us for it.

-John Kamp

Tragic Topiary: Then and Now

People constantly wonder what those stars of yore – Kate Bush, Corey Feldman, Pauly Shore, the entire band Cinderella – now look like (Have they aged well? Gracefully? Tragically?). So it should come as no surprise that the more botanically minded of you out there have also asked and wondered how the tragic topiary of yore has aged through the years, including during times of drought. Well, we recently had a chance to revisit some of our favorite tragic topiary, and our answer: quite well. In fact, the topiary has neither grown nor evolved, its signs of aging wholly imperceptible. Let us start with the Cousin It Topes from sunny Alhambra, CA:

Tragic topiary from 2009 taken by John Kamp of Prairieform, in Alhambra, California

Cousin It topes from 2015, taken by John Kamp of Prairieform, in Alhambra, CA

Graceful aging at its finest, and not a tuft out of place.

Stay tuned for more.

John Kamp

Weeds

prairieform, project weeds, new work
Plants emerging through concrete. Photo courtesy of Ugly Angel.

Our newest landscape-installation project will be focusing on weeds and will seek to involve anyone and everyone in the project’s evolution and data-collection process. You may follow the progress of the project on Twitter via hashtag projectweeds. We are partnering up with two Swedes and one Minneapolitan on the project in order to create a robust multidisciplinary team. The team thus far consists of Bj√∂rn Wallsten, Anna Maria Larson, Shannon Farrell, and, of course, us.

In other big and exciting news, we are moving to San Francisco and the Bay Area starting this May.