Saturday Linkages: Comfrey, a Parking Rock Star and Voracious Worms


Russian comfrey in flower. Image: Wikipedia.

Does comfrey really improve soil? …

Soviet Russia’s answer to the Monsanto house of the future: …

No, your pot doesn’t come from enviromentally conscious hippies …

Voracious Worm Evolves to Eat Biotech Corn Engineered to Kill It – Wired Science …

Adapting to Climate by Being a Nomad within your own House 

Rock Star or Comedian? Donald Shoup Takes His Parking Show to Berkeley …

Residents Fume Over Lead Contamination of Soil in their Neighborhoods …

How to Age Wood Tutorial – …

Dog Portrait from Corrugated Cardboard by Ali Golzad …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

The Theme of a Great Garden


Today we toured one of the finest gardens in California, the new garden at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. The occasion was the opening of the new pollinator habitat. Head gardener Richard Hayden showed us around, taking us to the edible area as well as the new pollinator and Nature Gardens. This garden gave us so many ideas that we’re going to do several posts about it. One important design lesson I learned today is that great gardens have a theme.


Designed by the landscape architecture firm of Mia Lehrer and Associates, the Natural History Museum’s garden subtly suggests the contents inside the museum: dinosaurs, prehistory and the passage of time. There are no animatronic dinosaurs to be found in the garden. Instead, the theme is suggested through dramatic, rough stonework and the use of California native plants. The garden feels as if exists in a time before humans.

It got me wondering how thematics would play out in a more modest home landscape. Perhaps, when it comes time to design a garden it would be useful to toss around a few abstract words and ideas to help unify the design vocabulary of the garden. Picking a theme or several related themes could make it easier when it comes to making plant and hardscpaping choices.

Of course, the current theme of our garden is “Skunk Encounters.” We’re going to have a bunch of stinky school groups this spring . . .

How to Get Skunks Out of Your Basement and Yard


Basements and crawl spaces under houses make idea dens for urban critters. If we could charge rent for all the skunks, raccoons and feral cats that have taken up residence under the house we’d have paid off the mortgage by now. Our particular crawl space critter B&B was opened by virtue of a flimsy access door. Some animal, most likely a raccoon, pried it open. The problem with this situation is that you can’t just close up the door. Some poor creature would die a horrible death and then stink up the house for months. The answer is to create a one-way critter exit.

Continue reading…

In Defense of the Paper Wasp

Paper wasp building a nest. Image: Wikimedia.

Paper wasp building a nest. Image: Wikimedia.

I really don’t like gardening advice that divides the natural world into lists of good and bad bugs. From nature’s perspective all creatures have a role, even the much despised paper wasp.

Paper Wasp Biology 101
Wasps perform important duties: some wasps eat other insects, other wasps are scavengers, acting as nature’s garbage disposers. That’s not to say that wasps don’t earn some of their bad reputation. I’ve found that, unlike honey bees, they can sting without much warning. And their sting is sharper, reminiscent of the unpleasant after-burn of cheap booze.

The wasps I see the most around our house are paper wasps (family Vespidae and probably of the genus Polistes, though there are many different kinds of paper wasps). Paper wasps like to build their small nests under the eaves of the house. Their diet consists of caterpillars, flies and beetles—anything that eats those kinds of bugs are a friend of mine. Nests consist of around 30 to 40 wasps–workers, queens and drones. They are much less aggressive than hornets and yellowjackets.

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the paper wasp
Of course, sometimes paper wasps build nests where we don’t want them. A neighbor was having her house painted a few years ago and called me over to remove a nest of paper wasps. I put on my beekeeping suit and pulled the nest off the eave of the house only to discover that you can’t move paper wasps. They just flew back immediately to where their nest had been.

Wasps don’t like scented products such as perfume, cologne, aftershave or hairspray. Come to think of it, if I were a wasp I’d sting people over this stinky stuff, particularly at the gym. But I digress.

Concluding rant
I suppose there are legitimate reasons to kill the occasional nest, but I wish more people knew the important role wasps play in our gardens.

And we really need teach everyone to tell the difference between wasps, honeybees, yellowjackets, hornets and bumblebees. You wouldn’t confuse an iPhone with and Android.

Fortunately, UC Davis has a video:

Savoring the Fruits of Your Labor Panel Discussion


I’m honored to be on a panel discussion with some of my favorite LA gardeners and food preservation freaks. Please join me at the Santa Monica Public Library on May 1st for a panel discussion on backyard gardening and food preservation:

Santa Monica Farmers Market 2014 QUARTERLY PANEL SERIES

When:  Thursday, May 01, 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Free and open to the public

Where:  Santa Monica Public Library
601 Santa Monica Blvd.
MLK Auditorium


Gardening and preserving stories and strategies to improve your quality of life and your bottom line.

Backyard gardening and food preservation are growing popular trends, but in the real world, what can these practices do for you individually, and for the community around you? Do we create a wider consciousness of community when we grow, preserve and share the products of our own labor and that of local producers?  How does it affect the household bottom line and your overall quality of life?  Join the conversation with local practitioners, professionals and community organizers about their experiences.


Paul Buchanan
Chef-Owner | Primal Alchemy

Erik Knutzen
Blogger | Author |

Florence Nishida
Master Gardener | Natural History Museum | Los Angeles Green Grounds

Susan Proffitt (Mrs. Josh Wattles)
Founder & Administrator | Nichols Canyon Co-op


Sarah Spitz
KCRW | Master Gardener | Master Preserver