Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Into the future

Though San Marino and South Pasadena do not seem a bit different from before, York Boulevard in Highland Park has changed dramatically since the first seeding in 2007. New businesses line the streets. A newly striped half-of-a-bikelane and our famous local bike corral are a civilizing influence. 16 street trees were planted last spring and more will be planted next winter. Huizar's New York initiative has the community discussing ways to improve the pedestrian streetscape. Farmer Dave's guerilla garden continues to thrive and looks better every year. We are expecting an expensive French restaurant to open a stone's throw away.... and in a few scattered Highland Park locations, poppies' nodding orange heads have become part of the York Boulevard streetscape from winter til spring.

The poppies that remain in South Pasadena are less conspicuous. But every day I drive to work I pass by a small dry median scattered with tiny poppies no more than 4" tall. Even now, in the heat of late July, when poppies elsewhere have long finished their cycle, the plants on this inhospitable median manage to bloom. Most cars whizzing by probably do not notice these tiny spots of orange, a fraction of the height of ordinary poppies. They have endured in this hostile spot for three years, despite an active weed maintenance schedule.

But there additional is good news from afar. I was very happy to hear of this anonymous report of poppies in Los Feliz.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Farmer Dave's Garden

Everything is still growing

I love rainy season. That’s the growing season in Southern California. Poppies sown three winters ago have been blooming for almost a month it seems, on York Boulevard, and parts of South Pasadena, but not always where you’d expect.

Most of the poppies that remain are in window boxes and areas with high reflected heat (sidewalk cracks) on the north side (South facing side) of the street. In areas where they’ve survived with no input from myself or other gardeners, introduced annuals such as sowthistle and mallow, may eventually squeeze them out. But it’s hard to say. In some areas where they’ve always been outnumbered by fast-growing grasses, they’ve held their ground.

In the regularly maintained planter boxes of the Foursquare Church “The Rock” on York, the gardener has accepted them and now weeds around them.

At York Boulevard Post Office, my favorite location, someone beat me to installing a complete landscape. They came in and took out every piece of the red apple succulent that once covered those planters. They laid down a thick layer of mulch and planted a variety of fun drought tolerant things: lavender, rosemary, pelargonium, perovskia, aloe, and native salvia. This gardener laid down a calling card in the form of a big rock painted with this address:

Dave is regularly maintaining the plot, and is allowing some of the poppies and cornflower that have reseeded last year to remain in the garden. It looks great and I couldn’t help but to smile at all the colors and textures when I went to buy stamps this morning. The stamps I bought said “C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-E”… I will think of our lovely York Boulevard “community garden” when I use those stamps.

In the slide show above (on the right hand side bar) are a couple pictures of the York Boulevard local government branch "community garden" from 2007. Since 2003, it had been nothing but one rhaphiolepis and red apple succulent. I learned the latter had been originally planted by a postoffice worker just to improve the neglected space. In 2006, I approached the postoffice with a proposal to install a native design by Orchid Black, and other permaculture- inspired furniture. Though we got a positive response, we could not get final official approval. In 2007 some friends helped clear out modest patches of the succulent for an experimental seeding in poppies. Spring 2008 was the peak of the planting which I called “Everything is Still Alive”, and poppies bloomed for blocks in any open dirt space where residents and business owners allowed them to bloom. In 2009, I stopped the input of labor except for sprinkling in a diverse mix of wildflower seed at the postoffice and across the street to add color—all things which would bloom profusely with no input but what the sky offers: Cornflowers, clarkia, tidytips. Later that year, Farmer Dave took out the succulents and rhaphiolepis and is now promoting it as a permaculture design. This is going to be it’s best spring ever!

When I started planting poppies in 2007, just about everyone I talked to on York encouraged me, but also warned me that the flowers would likely be stolen, stepped on, or otherwise vandalized. To the contrary, the calling card stone Dave installed looks as good as on day one. And the vulnerable newly planted shrubs are gaining strength during the rainy season.

I’ve added a cutting of Dave’s zonal pelargonium to the Pelargonium Exchange project. This is a garden for sharing pelargonium cuttings and their stories. It doesn’t have a permanent home in Los Angeles yet, but as Robert likes to quote from the Karate Kid, “Buddha will provide.”

For the Pelargonium Project, see:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


While I'll continue to post updates about the poppies of York and Monterey Roads on this blog, you can also read more about the project at:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Year Two and the Multi-Continental Wildflower mix

I've not made regular trips to look after the poppies this year. I wanted to see how the poppies would do on their own. Could they hold their own against the weeds? Might anyone else in the neighborhood intervene on their behalf?

Poppy season on York began earlier than last year. Generally speaking, it went from January to April. The most floriferous sites this year included the empty lot on Nolden, and the flower boxes at Childs' and the Church, where the orange of the poppies perfectly echoed the color of the boxes of oranges set out daily in front of the corner grocery store. 

In just a couple spots the show this year was greater than last year. But lack of weeding made a big difference almost everywhere. Weed competition reduced the vigor and visibility of the blooms.

Other than a couple strays, poppy season on York is over, former spots of brilliant orange superseded by a monotone shag of dried grasses. Several former poppy sites have been concreted over or razed for other purposes. The fresh bare dirt just screams for replanting.

In South Pasadena, there were quite a few poppies in March and April. For a brief week or so there was a pretty good show on two South Pasadena traffic islands. Poppies appeared out of a crack in the asphalt on a major intersection. The other traffic island had no blooms last year. But miraculously, there appeared an even sprinkling of tiny tiny orange poppies on the island this second year, even amongst dense growth of grasses and erodium.

Chemical spraying reduced what had been a dramatic show of orange in front of South Pasadena Nature Park last year to only a very light show this year.

Ironically, chemical spraying often does nothing to decrease the number of weeds, because the people who spray typically are not paying attention to the lifecycle of plants. Since they often spray after the weeds have already dispersed their seeds, there will be just as many new weeds next year.

As for our elite estate community of San Marino- the street maintenance people in that neighborhood are skillful and thorough! There was not a single repeat bloom in that neighborhood.


A couple people, not from the immediate neighborhood, offered to help water the poppies. This made me think of how in our culture we are taught from very early on to associate the image of the watering can with the tending of plants and the idea of caring for living things.

Yet it's not water that the poppies really need-- they are happy to subsist on rain alone. Extra irrigation merely helps them get bigger and extends their bloom time. What they really need is protection from weed competition.

If not the watering can, what kind of image could symbolize the tending of plants that were actually designed to grow in our environment? If not for our interventions (the importing of livestock, building of houses, roads and lawns), such plants might still be prevalent in our city.


This year, in a couple choice locations on York Boulevard, I sprinkled a wildflower seed mix, hoping for slow waves of color as spring progresses, in true old-California style. Both these locations benefit from some extra watering, the first because of Nanette, who keeps the street beautiful, and in the other location, because of the occasional watering of people I've not met yet.

The only mix at Home Depot was labeled "Southwest Desert Wildflower Mix and was predominantly composed of California natives. I did get a nice sprinkling of yellow tidytips and blue phacelia, even a pink clarkia or two to complement the poppies. But unexpectedly I also got flowers that were not native to California or even to the US.

Unbeknownst to me when I grabbed the packet in the store, the mix included all sorts of other things which the Stover Seed company considers suitable to the climate of the Southwest. Exceedingly prolific in this mix were blue cornflowers and red flax, both European wildflowers. Another Old World favorite, the red poppy, papaver rhoeas, is about to bloom on York!

The mix also includes Dimorphotheca sinuata, an African daisy. I fear African daisies are becoming a California native pretender in my neighborhood. On a hill south of Eagle Rock, which has benefited from native plant restoration efforts, someone has sown African daisies for the last several years. The first year, the bold colors and markings of the flowers left no doubt as to their identity as African flowers. They were colorful in a cheery way, but added a touch of free-way to what I wanted to think of as a "natural" area. This year, climbing up the hill to the same spot, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a whole field of poppies where there had not been poppies before. Upon closer inspection, I discovered only a field of African pretenders in the exact orange hue. A cruel joke!

The combination of colors and forms in this multicultural Southwestern Desert mix don't have the same charm as native wildflowers. Next year I'll drive the ten extra miles to get a wildflower mix from Theodore Payne Foundation, instead of Home Depot.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rogue blooms

It's summer now. Or fall. I mean middle of winter, but the temperature during the day is hot enough for summer clothes. Perpetual spring, or a harbinger of summer? For about a month, poppies have been blooming as if it were April on two separate lots on the corner of York and Nolden, holding their orange heads up high over neat expanses of closely clipped grass. Who would have thought that California poppies and lawns could be so compatible? Could it be possible that a judiciously timed mowing might have induced bloom for poppies interspersed with lawn grasses? Subject to further research, from the York Boulevard Poppy Lab.

It's been over a year since the first poppies were sown, and I've chosen to tend the poppies only minimally this year, if at all. Let the poppies tell us themselves where they are meant to grow.

Friday, July 25, 2008


It's hot and dry. The spring flowers are long gone. The poppies were showy for several months. At first, their floating orange petals held up on lush green foliage. Toward the beginning of June, several heat spells later (and no more rain), the orange still blazingly bright, but the foliage darker, browner, wiry.

Where seedheads were allowed to mature and disperse, there will be seeds waiting for the next winter rains...

In May, as the Childs box had peaked, I went by with a pair of trimmers and cut the plants close to the ground.

In the next weeks, a heat wave arrived. The window box began to flower anew, but in a more sedate and mature sort of way. 

As I sat at my desk, occasionally, I was startled by small black pellets raining down on me. Living in an old house is constant work. Things are constantly falling apart, paint peeling, water dripping, bugs eating.... I asked my family whether they knew what was falling from the ceiling. We saw no leaks, no chipping paint, no wierd bugs... 

Then it occurred to me that the small black pellets were simply poppy seeds--seedheads I had saved from the Childs window box were literally exploding as the temperature rose. The curved shape that the seedheads twist into as they dry turns each one into a coiled up spring. When it's just dry enough, the spring shoots tens of little black pellets bouncing off the walls with incredible energy. They would make the sound of tens of little pins dropped to the ground-- but more exuberant.

I packaged up some of these seeds, and distributed them at the Farmlab talk. 

"These seeds are from first generation urban poppies grown in the planter of Child's Moving Company on York Boulevard. According to Judith Larner Lowry, chronicler of native plant gardening, one botanist counted 70 different subspecies of California poppies existing in the wild. At one time, it's possible that there were even more subspecies than that: each type adapted to locally specific conditions of water, soil, etc.

"Right now, we can only guess at what the subspecies that grew near your own neighborhood was like. Plant these seeds, and allow the poppies to reseed year after year. Before you move on, pass on the love of wildflowers to a trusted neighborhood to look after the plot. Make sure that before they pass on, they find another neighborhood to tend the plot. In several hundred years, maybe a new locally specific subspecies might start to develop... one perfectly adapted to the urban soil and cultural milieu you have chosen for it..."