The Container Landscape

PRAIRIEFORM-designed container landscape

We much prefer compositions to one show-stopper plant placed haphazardly with other show-stopping plants. Form and texture are equally as important as the fleeting blooms a plant might produce. These same principles apply to the container landscapes we have begun designing in Los Angeles. Rather than favor three decorative pots fillled to the brim with plants of every color and shape under the sun, we take a more compositional approach. Containers tend to be simple, plants and colors repeated throughout, and the landscape’s three-dimensional form is always designed as a compliment to the horizontal and vertical planes it sits on and against. As always, the plants we choose are low-water and tough, so a trip out of town never requires finding someone to water; these plants like a little neglect. Stay tuned for more photos of others.

Another view

And another

The green that will never be

A Wallace Neff home in Pasadena within its thirsty landscape

Los Angeles has long been touted as a place you come to plant the garden of your dreams, a garden that is green year-round and fed by an endless supply of cheap water. Arid Mediterranean climate no matter, you dig verdant English Garden complete with topiary? No problem. Lush tropical, sure. You’d like to bring all of the plants you used to plant in New England over hither, and maybe mix them in with a Moroccan theme? Feel free. And feel free we have; the average SoCal landscape uses 80 inches of water annually. Average annual rainfall in SoCal is 13 inches.

Despite the copious amounts of water we have lavished our fantasy landscapes with, they still never achieve the electric verdance of early summer in the Midwest or New England. The tropical-themed landscapes never achieve the eye-swooning green of a Hawaiian rainforest. The English ones, well, never look English. We have created a region of landscapes whose evolution across the seasons is virtually nonexistent, and whose color palatte consists of various shades of dull greens desperately trying to emulate the fresh greens of the landscapes they are borrowed from. It all amounts to an impression that we have a landscape inferiority complex and are unwilling to celebrate the mild Mediterranean climate we live in.

Truth be told, many a gardener in the world would kill to be able to plant the range of Lavenders we can, the Echeverias we can, the Aloes, Fountain Grasses, Cistuses, and Euphorbias. They would kill to have the option of planting this huge diversity of plants that only exists in a few regions of the world. Meanwhile we are content to just plant some more Azaleas and try to emulate the look and feel of a landscape we can never call our own. It is high time that we gloated a bit, dove head-long into the wide, wide world of Mediterranean, desert, and prairie plants, whose water needs, colors, and textures will firmly ground the landscape in its place, in Southern California. These would be landscapes to show off.

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.