Thursday, September 22, 2011

Musings on watershed-friendly landscaping...

This is one of those times where I am using my blog as just that, a log of my thoughts for the day. No photos, just my verbal ramblings about residential and commercial landscape practices and how they might become more supportive rather than detrimental to local watersheds.

Today I attended the first meeting of (working name) "Santa Monica Mountains Watersheds Council." The objective of the meeting was to begin a visionary process, using consensus-building techniques, to brainstorm and to identify potential projects to which the Council should commit itself.

I suggested professional education for landscapers in the area might help the Council toward its goals of 1) improving water conservation, 2) improving water quality, and 3) restoring ecosystems within the watersheds, by promoting sustainable landscaping. When it was mentioned that potential projects also seeking to mitigate energy use and air pollution might be more easily funded, I hastened to reiterate that traditional landscape practices also cause air pollution and consume a lot of energy. Thus, to promote through education more sustainable methods of designing, implementing, and maintaining landscapes also seeks to mitigate energy use and air pollution.

The following stream (pun intended... sorry!) of consciousness is excerpted from a follow up note I sent to the meeting coordinator:

My point in recommending education of landscape professionals in "watershed-friendly" landscaping is motivated by observation. 1) Landscape practices can, and I believe do, have a huge negative impact on the environment... water quality, noise pollution, air pollution, and downstream habitats. 2) Owners of landscapes (residential as well as commercial) tend to abdicate responsibility for how landscapes are managed to their "gardeners" or "maintenance firms." While the "point source" in this case is geographically general, the practices that lead to negative impacts are specific and correctible.

Public education is very important, but as far as landscape practices and related matters, it currently only reaches the small percentage of folks who manage their own landscapes as well as professionals who are predisposed to favor the environment.

Keep pushing with public education, though. Connect homeowners as "employers" with responsibility for what work they hire done, and its impact on the environment. Teaching kids about environmentally-friendly landscape practices, those that
aren't, and how to tell the difference will make them better informed future consumers.

"Out of the box" thinking will be needed to engage the majority of landscape professionals. Engaging them in large numbers could have dramatic results, but like anyone, they'll be largely motivated by "what is in it for me?"

There is a interdependent network of businesses and people whose success and livelihood depends on business as usual. That is, chemically dependent, gas guzzling, lawn-based monocultures that hurt the environment but are the hallmark of status within our urban/suburban culture. Finding ways to build consensus with these people will be key. And, incremental change can be better than no change at all.

CLCA [California Landscape Contractors' Association], and their CEUs and seminars at industry shows might be a starting point.

To engage para-professionals (i.e., "mow and blow" guys) who are managing most small/mid-size residential gardens will take even more creativity, perhaps reaching out to them where they live and socialize.

Alternative landscape equipment needs to target broad audience of professionals. However, it isn't in great demand (yet!) That, of course, limits R&D and supply. Existing options are weak in design and/or pricey. A colleague is promoting professional use of homeowner-owned [dedicated] maintenance equipment. Challenges are cost, storage space, and access to equipment.

Legislation has its place. However, "bans" are difficult to enforce. Promoting sustainable alternatives will be more palatable, especially when professionals come to realize economic and health benefits to themselves.

To reiterate, finding ways to build consensus even with those viewed traditionally as adversaries will be key. And, incremental change can be better than no change at all.

Later, I added this post script...

I believe addressing/mitigating landscape impacts on the environment can help create a more hospitable environment within the ecosystems for other mitigations to have greater success and longer-lasting [positive effects.] E.g., won't [reintroduced] salmon and other endangered species have a better chance to thrive in less polluted water? [Actually, here, I'd meant to refer to indigenous trout rather than salmon. I guess my rumbling stomach was invoking its preference for salmon.]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Garden party... arthropod style!

Recently, I went out to the garden to take a few photos. I had an idea in mind to take close ups of interesting foliage combinations, thinking not much is blooming this time of year. Pleasantly surprised, I got a little, well actually quite a lot, side-tracked. There was a party going on in my garden. As I walked through the garden, I found...

Two bees and a couple of other quite tiny insects vying for position in a squash blossom.

A now deceased grasshopper posing on the stem of a Roger's Red grape I've yet to decide where to plant. While the texture of the grasshopper's shell mimics a leaf, it is hard to disguise oneself when the leaf color changes from green to bright red... gotcha!

An elaborate mega-commune for wasps. Guess I'm going to need to perform a delicate eviction before I can finish painting my house...

Wasn't enough for them to develop a waspene McMansion right outside my patio door. Now, they've gone and built separate mother-in-law's quarters several feet away!

Lady beetle nymphs(?) on Bladderpod pods. Not sure what they were, but I left them to do their job.

And, guess who? When I crouched down to get a different angle on the blossoms of this Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat, whom do you suppose I found lurking beneath?

Trying to look for all the world like a stem and leaves...

... she even mugged for the camera!

Finally, her possibly elusive lover lying in the Palo Verde tree.

As I haven't used any pesticides in my garden for a couple of decades, it just teems with life of the six-legged variety. (Eight-legged, too!) My theory is, there really are no "bad bugs." There are just some that you would rather find dead than alive! If they eat bugs, I leave them alone. If they eat plants, I'm not so forgiving. For the most part, they just party on, whether I am around or not!

Monday, September 5, 2011

On your mark, get set, grow... little Ginkgos, GROW!

This past spring, I planted this tiny little Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold' in the parking strip in front of my home.

And, I planted this one, too, on the other side of the driveway apron.

They are the hopeful replacements for a Eucalyptus tree that succumbed to psyllid infestation and was removed several years ago. And, on the other side, a Bottle Tree (we call them popcorn trees owing to the sticky flowers that resemble popcorn when they fall to the ground) that rotted and met its demise during a winter storm nearly twenty years ago. Okay, so I'm not too swift about making up my mind when it comes to planting new trees.

Still, I hope it isn't another twenty years before my trees achieve the picturesque stature of this tree I've admired several blocks away...

Even with its crossing limbs...

and its included bark...

I think it is a lovely sight, especially when the leaves turn autumn gold.

Keeping my eye on the tops of my little trees, which is not too difficult as they haven't even reached eye level! If any twigs dare to cross, I'll have my No. 8 Felco pruners ready to do surgery.

So far, you are looking pretty good, Ginkgos. Grow, babies, grow!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pet-Friendly Planting

As a Garden Designer, often I am asked to make sure that my clients' new garden will not contain any plants potentially harmful to their pets. I do my best, and fortunately my clients' expectations have been reasonable.

While I don't have domestic pets of my own, my neighbor's cat, "Wheels" (because her owner is a self-admitted "car guy"), is a frequent visitor...

... along with several not so domestic creatures...

Funny, I have no squirrel photos. Quite abundant in my neighborhood, I enjoy their cute, fluffiness, even if I don't take too kindly to what messy eaters they can be!

Various winged wonders whiz by. Only very occasionally do they stop to pose for a photo op.

A flock of these was flitting about one morning a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately, I don't have the best camera for this. There is a woodpecker about halfway up this pole. Can you see it?

Can you find at least three finches feeding on my lettuce, which had gone to seed?

I love bugs, but I don't know much about them. This butterfly(?) was resting on my kitchen window one morning in January.

Other, more earth-bound acquaintances want to share my space, sometimes indoors and out!

This baby lizard appeared in my house last September, perhaps learning to hide from the neighbor's cat. Could be quite provocative, posed in front of the picture window!

Finally, this mother possum was ambling along the block wall, while her progeny tried to maintain their grip... a white knuckle ride to be sure!

Most of these friends have good instincts and do a fine job of looking after themselves, but sometimes what we put into our gardens are not very appropriate for their diet. Domestic animals, like dogs and cats, can to a degree I suppose be trained to behave according to their owners' wishes. It seems that as with people, boredom can lead to inappropriate behavior, such as digging up and chewing on ornamental plants.

Perhaps the best way to ensure your pet and your garden get along well is to keep your pet entertained, lively, fit, and socially well-adjusted. As for entertainment, your garden can provide this for your pet as well as for you. Especially if you include in your garden flowering plants, shrubs under which to take cover, and in the lazy gardener's way, you are not too hasty about cutting off spent flowers or removing from your vegetable garden plants that have gone to seed, your pets can have endless fun watching the parade of critters passing through.

Oh, how can I miss an opportunity to encourage lawn-less gardening?! Clumping, native bunch grasses that don't need a lot of chemicals to maintain also are far more interesting for your furry pets -- safer too -- than mown turf grass. Just ask "Wheels." I think that fairly well takes care of the entertainment part.

The lively, fit, and socially well-adjusted part is primarily up to you and your pet's veterinarian and/or therapist! However, if you provide your pet some open space in which to romp, perhaps covered in playground chips rather than lawn, won't (s)he be less likely to trample through your lettuce patch?

Linked here is a document describing the way the "business" side of me intends to handle the issue of pets and gardens. For more information about dog-friendly gardens, in particular, you may want to read an excellent article from Sunset Magazine, linked here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What would you call this breakfast?

"Pilaf", "porridge", or "mash"... whatever you'd call it, I find it tasty, satisfying, and nutritious.

A friend who visited me recently requested my breakfast "mash" recipe. Recall I'd posted about it some time ago, though I see I'd not given recipe details in the earlier post. Here they are:
  • Total cooking time is 30 minutes (plus the time to bring water to boil.)
  • Begin with a 3-quart saucepan approximately half full of boiling water. See notes.
  • Then, slowly add 1-1/3 cups of steel cut oats. Bring again to a boil, being careful it doesn't boil over!
  • Reduce heat to simmer.
  • While continuing to stir, have kettle full of boiling water at the ready.
  • After 10 minutes, add 1-1/3 cups of bulgur wheat.
  • Adding more boiling water as needed, continue stirring.
  • After another 5 to 10 minutes, add 1-1/3 cups of wheat bran.
  • Adding more boiling water as needed, continue stirring. (At this point, usually I bring the water level to within 1 inch or less of the top of the pan.)
  • Finally, I mix together about 1 cup of flax meal with ground cinnamon and ground ginger (to taste.) I like these spices, so I'm a bit heavy-handed with them!... a teaspoon or more of ginger, half again as much of cinnamon.
  • Then, approximately 5 minutes before the timer goes off, I add the flax meal mixture, continuing to stir!
1) If your pan size differs, just adjust quantities accordingly. It is essentially 1 part oats, 1 part bulgur wheat, 1 part wheat bran, 3/4s of a part flax-spice mixture.
2) Once fully cooked, I let the breakfast pilaf rest, covered for about five minutes.
3) Leftovers, when cool, may be stored in containers in the refrigerator. With additional moisture from berries and/or applesauce, it is easy to reheat a portion at a time in the microwave oven.

Above is a photo of the summertime version. Mix ins: thawed, frozen raspberries and a couple of tablespoons each of applesauce and raisins. Toppings: a sliced fresh peach, walnuts, pecans or sliced almonds, and plain non-fat yogurt. Generally, sweet enough as is for me. My visitor enjoyed a sprinkle of brown sugar with hers. Allow myself a drizzle of maple syrup or agave nectar for a special treat. When stone fruits are not in season, I add blueberries to the mix ins. This is a healthful, hearty breakfast to send me out for a day of gardening. Yum!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

When the going gets tough... the not so tough...

... well, sit down on a rock and have a couple of pictures taken!

This day and place exemplify my penchant for taking "wrong turns" or going the "wrong direction", and finding something even better. In January, my sister, Faith, and I went on a lovely hike at a place different than where we originally headed, and the exact opposite direction from where we were "supposed to be." (Hmm... says who?)

By chance, last month we ended up at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, a National Park Service property located in Newbury Park, California. During a brief hike in which we got just a little "lost", magically, a Park Ranger appeared to give us guidance at just the right moment. Later, we spent some time at the Visitor's Center. While I spent quite a bit of time looking around the small but diverse native plant garden outside, Faith, a teacher, was keen to go inside and browse the children's literature. Her third grade class was to begin a section studying local Native American people the very next school day! We both were satisfied with a productive time of study, following exhilarating exercise in the fresh air. Below are a few photos of plants in the garden, with signs giving their common and botanical names as well as descriptions of their uses by Chumash people:

The interpretive area at Satwiwa ("the bluffs") includes this replica of a traditional Chumash tribal or communal home, called an 'ap, with the top portion of the layered tule mat siding omitted to expose the support structure:

This type of siding (when complete, of course) provides natural water repellency during rain. Tule made of rush or wiregrass, such as Juncus effusus (Soft Rush), expands when wet. When dry it contracts, allowing ventilation.

After enjoying our January visit to Satwiwa, and having learned of a short hike to a waterfall, we decided to return soon, figuring we'd get the best view of the falls during the wet season. Were we wrong, or what?!

This morning, we initially followed my hunch and headed down a very narrow, slippery, muddy trail... obviously not the right path to the waterfall. We turned back and made our way to the Visitor Center to ask directions. The Ranger set us on the right path, and agreed that we should have a good time to see the falls.

Well, this is as far as I got...

The trail appearing behind me over my right shoulder in the above photo, fairly disappeared into the rushing stream. The crossing would have been too wet and cold for this slightly timid soul!

Faith made it about thirty feet further along, and snapped the pictures of me sitting down. I told her I would not come to her rescue, so she decided not to attempt the crossing either.

On this perfect day, we saw many lovely views...

And, we witnessed the courtship and mating of a pair of White-tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus.) Privacy puh-lease, sorry, no photos!

Stay tuned for our continuing adventures at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa... We have an excuse, now, to try another visit next month, hoping finally to see the alleged waterfall!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It isn’t too late… until the chain saws have whined…

Was off line on Friday attending to some personal matters, and then late evening learned of a blogger solidarity day, working to save “Arcadia Woodlands.”

“Arcadia Woodlands” is the informal name used to refer to an approximately 11-acre parcel of public land within the jurisdiction of the County of Los Angeles. I understand it is located within the City of Arcadia. Today it is habitat for some 179 native oak trees (many estimated to be over 100 years old) and other native flora and fauna. Unless the current moratorium is extended, as early as Wednesday, January 12, it will be cleared and it will become a dumping ground for sediment from the Big Santa Anita Dam and other dams.

Here I am, late to the keyboard and this blog post, doing a very small part to raise awareness for this issue. Having no firsthand knowledge, I defer to local colleagues who have been actively engaged. In particular, for more information see several recent posts in Barbara Eisenstein’s blog, linked here.

On Barbara’s blog post of Friday, titled “30-Day Moratorium Ends” (here), she links the sites of others blogging in support.

And, a recent article from The Arcadia Patch:

I believe it isn’t a matter of just saving a beautiful place with pretty trees, although far too few places like this remain in our increasingly urban environment. I believe it is linked to sustaining the right balance of natural resources so this planet can continue to sustain life as we know it. Here are a few intriguing bits of information Bob Perry, Professor Emeritus -- Cal Poly Pomona shared in his lecture titled “The Alchemy of Native Plants”:

Life sustaining benefits of (trees):

1) One pound of bio-mass produced stores ½ lb. of carbon

2) One pound of bio-mass produced releases 1 lb. of oxygen

3) One pound of bio-mass produced contains enough energy to sustain one person for one day


1) One gallon of gasoline releases 6 and ½ lbs. of carbon into the atmosphere

2) One gallon of gasoline consumes 13 lbs. of oxygen

3) One gallon of gasoline (only) provides transportation for an average range of 18 to 28 miles

Think about this for a moment… Gasoline may be necessary to sustain one’s lifestyle. Only trees (and other plants) can sustain one’s life. Save a tree, save a life.

If you are in the County of Los Angeles, I urge you to call Supervisor Mike Antonovich requesting to put the “Santa Anita Dam Sediment Project” on the Supplemental Agenda for Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting. It may be the last chance to save these trees.