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.