How Can We Fix Our Public Landscaping?

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Yesterday Kelly blogged about the appalling landscaping in front of an Los Angeles Department of Water and Power facility. When Kelly first showed me the photo of that purple gravel and artificial turf I thought it might be some kind of conceptual art project.

Unfortunately, this poor attempt at a drought tolerant landscape is just another example of an attitude of indifference towards public space that’s all too prevalent in Los Angeles and many other cities. Sahra Sulaiman at LA Streetsblog has done a great job covering the many ways this indifference manifests in big piles of trash on LA’s sidewalks and horrible conditions for bus commuters.

This indifference is also apparent in the lackluster landscaping of most of our public spaces. This egregious LADWP “garden” is the last straw for me. It’s time we do something about it.

Two California based organizations come to mind: Daily Acts in Petaluma and the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. Daily Acts has landscaped public spaces such as libraries and schools as well as private homes. These gardens provide an example that others can follow. The Ecology Center has a spectacular garden that shows do simple water harvesting to create a beautiful landscape with drought tolerant plants that attracts beneficial wildlife.

We need similar organizations in Los Angeles. We have an immense pool of talent here that could fix that terrible purple gravel and artificial turf atrocity and go on to do so much more. Who’s in?

And to those of you reading this elsewhere in the word, feel free to leave a comment about how you changed your public space for the better.

Our Grape Arbor

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Several years ago I demolished a crumbling addition to the house (a room you had to go through the back bedroom to get to) and replaced it with an arbor. Our neighbor generously gave us the columns that used to be on her front porch and I added a plinth to make them taller. In the background are two apple trees that provide some privacy.

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It’s taken a couple of years for the grapes to cover the structure. One reason is that we lost two vines to Pierce’s disease. Now we have two resistant varieties: Vitus Californica “Rogers Red” and Vitis vinifera x V. lambrusca “Pearl River” from LA’s most quirky nursery, Papaya Tree. The Pearl River grapes are tasty and show no signs of Pierce’s.

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The adobe oven was the last addition. Pizza parties are a frequent occurrence underneath the arbor.

Do you have an arbor? What have you planted on it and how do you use the space underneath?

Kintsugi: Creating Art out of Loss

Many thanks to reader Maribeth for turning us on to this subject, and sharing a great video. I liked it so much I had to share it with you all in turn.  She sent us this nice short article on Colossal, which has an overview, more photos and some good links to explore, as well as the video I’m embedding here.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with gold or silver lacquer patching which emphasizes rather than hides the break patterns. The resulting piece is often more beautiful than the original, an embodiment of wabi-sabi, and an invitation for meditation on beauty, loss, transformation, wounding, scars, entropy…  The responses, I suspect, would be as individual as the viewer.

This art-of-mending seems related, somehow, to the “oh no, it’s the end times!” stuff Erik and I were blogging about last week (here and here). Kintsugi is such a subtle, wise practice. It’s not about fixing something good as new, as if it had never broken, but acknowledging that breakage, and making something new and beautiful out of disaster, via the practice of mindfulness. Perhaps we can learn something from this.

Please do check out the video–it’s short and beautiful. In it, a young craftsman explains the rising popularity of this 400 year-old art form in Japan, says, ” …people are realizing that chasing after money and new stuff and new technology will not make us rich in (s) spiritual way.”

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image: Wikipedia

Village Homes: A Model for Sustainable Suburbs

I’ve recently discovered a truly inspiring housing development in Davis, California. This is not new news–it was built in the 1980’s, but it’s new to me and worth sharing.

Village Homes is the brainchild of architect/developer Michael Corbett. It encompasses 70 acres and 200-some homes. It has all the space and privacy that brings people to the suburbs, but it’s designed with considerable intelligence. For instance, the homes are all designed according to passive solar principles, so their heating and cooling bills are considerably reduced. Some have even have green roofs. But more interesting is the landscaping, the massive network of bike/walking paths and the creative use of public space.

The entire development is essentially a big food forest. All of the rainfall is captured and instead of being directed to the sewer system, it runs to swales between the houses, to nourish fruit trees. The resulting space is a lush park full of edibles, from exotic jujubee trees to grapes to almonds. Residents can stroll around in the abundant shade and pick fruit at will. Only the almond crop is off limits–the almond crop is harvested every year and sold to support the the gardening services for the entire development. There are also community garden space available for those who wish to raise more food crops than their own yard space allows.  The lush growth coupled with the reduced asphalt surfaces makes the whole development 10 degrees Farhenhiet cooler in the summer than the surrounding suburbs.

I could go on and on, but perhaps the best way to get a feel for it is to watch the 10 minute video above. It’s hosted by Permaculture guru Bill Mollison, who’s a big fan of the development.  It’s well worth the time to watch it all the way through.

Also, here’s a short paper on the development, which gives all the pertinent facts, friendly for quick skimming: Village Homes: A model solar community proves its worth.

And finally, here is a video someone took during a site tour given by Michael Corbett, the developer. It doesn’t have as many visuals as Mollison’s video, but has some good insider tidbits in it, as well as discussion of some of the other features of the development, like office rental space and day care.

Land Shark!

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This stunning garden sculpture is by an Australian artist, Brett Martin. I love the way it hovers over the grass and, best of all, swivels in the wind. Martin says,

I try to use as much recycled materials as possible. I used salvaged timber from building sites, a swivel chair, old table base, many hundreds of tin cans collected from neighbours and 5000 pot rivets. I live at Congo, the south coast of New South Wales and based this 3.5m beauty on a sighting about 4 months ago. I just had to immortalize it.

You can like the artist in Facebook and see some of his other pieces here.

Analysis Paralysis

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If you’re reading this blog, there’s no doubt that you’ve suffered from analysis paralysis. You’ve got to build that chicken coop, but you’re spending hours pouring over books, Pinterest boards and how-to websites. Add endless debates with your spouse and you’ve got a recipe for inaction. “Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” is the way Shakespeare describes this condition in Hamlet.

The re-design of our backyard lead to the worst analysis paralysis I’ve ever experienced. Weeks went by with no progress. Ideas came and went. The internet made it worse by providing way too many possibilities.

A quote in a book finally broke my analysis paralysis spell. The gist of that quote was that we are all called by a higher power to build. I realized that I needed to set a deadline, get off my ass and construct the raised beds that I had spend endless hours researching, planning and discussing. I told Mrs. Homegrown that this Saturday I was buying lumber and cutting wood. I quickly drew up plans in SketchUp and started working.

The first hexagonal raised bed attempt came out a bit too small so I went back to SketchUp and re-sized the plans.  My self imposed deadline worked. Within a few hours I had the beds that I wanted and was very pleased with the results. The analysis paralysis spell was broken. What had been a concept on a computer screen become reality in short order. It felt good.

Sometimes life is a struggle, but increasingly I feel the need to build more and struggle less. No more neighborhood council meetings. I’m fatigued reading about the latest political outrage, petitions and pleas in Facebook. At this point in my life I just want to build.

What was your worst case of analysis paralysis? How do you deal with it?

Garden Design: Working With Pre-existing Conditions

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Behold my abominable raised bed design that evolved out of a misguided Sketchup session. Yes, that is Princess Leia standing in for Mrs. Homegrown. I guess that makes me Jabba the Hut, which I resemble while blogging on the couch. But I digress. I emailed this rendering to our architect pal John Zapf for review. He responded in two words, “April Fools?”

I didn’t admit that I was kinda serious.

I called Mrs. Homegrown in to look at my rendering and to her credit she didn’t dismiss it immediately (she knows that I’m crazy). But we both realized that my hexagonal raised bed fantasy would be better off never leaving its conceptual stage. Sometimes Sketchup is a handy tool for figuring out what not to do.

The problem with this bed design? It has no relation to what’s around it. It would look as out of place as a UFO on the White House lawn.

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Let’s take a look at one of the plans Zapf doodled out last week. He worked with what’s there already: a square house, square shed and square yard. Wouldn’t it make sense to work with that squareness, to not try and put a round peg in a square hole? What I like about Zapf’s plans is that he extends the lines of the house and shed. Maybe that puts the kibosh on the geodesic Princess Leia Biodome folly, but that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes jarring contrast works, but in the case of our fuddy-duddy old house I think it’s best to go with what’s there already.

On Shoddy Workmanship

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An engraving by William Morris. Note the skunk proofing.

You’re in a hurry. You’re frustrated and impatient. You say to yourself, “I don’t really need to secure this skunk proofing, my vegetables will be fine.” You might call it shoddy workmanship. I call it half-ass-itis. I’d say it’s the number one sin of the DIYer and I always know when I’m doing it.

There are those whose personality tends towards careful and elegant craftsmanship. You’ve probably met such a person. They craft their own musical instruments and win the blue ribbon at the county fair for their perfectly textured quince jam. I’m not that person (I’m more like this NSFW video). But we have freedom of choice. That’s what makes us human. We can change.

I had a rude reminder of my shoddy workmanship the other night when skunks breached poorly secured bird netting that protected a newly planted bed of vegetables. But at least I can do a better job of securing my skunk proofing as a start. Step by step, I vow to pay more attention to details. Otherwise they’ll be no home grown vegetables this winter.

Craftsmanship is not to be confused with perfectionism. A craftsperson is not afraid to make mistakes, to fail and to learn from setbacks. But to cut corners and know you’re taking an easy shortcut is to fall into halfassitis mode.

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Morris’ craftsmanship was a reaction to the newly industrialized world. I can’t think of a better role model for countering halfassitis thinking.

Do you suffer from halfassitis or are you a detail person? Comments!