#StopFakeBrickRed

fakebrickred

How long, fake red brick color will you continue to abuse our patience?

Go ahead and call me a color snob, but we just have to retire this ugly red tinted concrete color from our landscapes. I don’t think this color has a name so let’s just roll with the hip kids and give it a hashtag: #FakeBrickRed. While we’re at it let’s go ahead and start the movement to #StopFakeBrickRed.

#FakeBrickRed has its ancestry in the unholy family of fake masonry products, chunks of concrete that try to masquerade as something they are not. Real bricks are made by firing a combination of sand, clay, lime, iron oxide and magnesia. The iron oxide and lime give bricks their distinctive red hues. Fake bricks are simply molded concrete with a bit of tint added in to hide the gray. Fake bricks are related to their ugly cousins, the cinder block or concrete masonry unit, ironically the construction material of choice for the big box stores that peddle #FakeBrickRed. #FakeBrickRed was probably arrived at by some unholy combination of market research and raw materials accounting back during the lowest point in architectural history, the 1950s and 60s.

IMG_2259Unfortunately for us all, #FakeBrickRed has metastasized from the masonry department and spread throughout the Big Box Store. Why were these wood products #FakeBrickRed?

Image source: Wikipedia.

Image source: Wikipedia.

And why, for the love of Zeus, does mulch end up this color?

Yes, there may be more urgent hashtags to agitate about such as #envelopegate and #FewerFeatures. But things that try to look like other things always end up looking like, well, things that try to look like other things. #StopFakeBrickRed!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Atomic Gardening

vintage-ad-300x451
The always entertaining podcast 99% Invisible has a new episode, “Atom in the Garden” about the forgotten 1950s fad of gardening with radiation. Essentially, it was a crude form of genetic engineering. Plants were zapped with radiation in the hopes of creating useful mutations.

atomic-poppies

While it didn’t work well, it did produce several varieties grown to this day including Rio Star Grapefruit. There was also a strong amateur interest in irradiated seeds supported by the Atomic Gardening Society.

The 1950s “gamma gardening” craze feels credulous today but it’s not like there’s no uncritical scientism in 2017 (Elon Musk solving LA traffic with tunnels, perhaps?).

Three California Natives that Double as Culinary Herbs

IMG_7471

In my perfect world we Southern Californians would cast off our topiaried Home Depot shrubbery in favor of California natives and a few carefully chosen Mediterranean plants. No more petunias, leaf blowers or fake lawns either. Imagine if all our residential, government and commercial spaces had climate appropriate landscaping? Native insects, birds and other critters would explode in population. It would be a paradise.

It would also be a huge culinary resource. Grow these plants in your garden and you can dodge the controversies of foraging in the wild. Towards that end, I thought I’d look at three easy to grow California natives that look great in a garden and double as culinary herbs.

White sage (Salvia apiana)
If you can grow this one you should. Like most California natives, when used as a culinary herb, it’s much stronger tasting than its cultivated cousins. You need to use it sparingly when cooking with it. Our neighbor has one that made it through our multi-year drought without a drop of water. When you grow it in a garden it’s best to prune it back every year to prevent it from getting rangy looking. You can use the cuttings as smudge sticks or dry them for use in the kitchen. White sage is over-harvested in the wild for the crystal shop smudge stick market which is another reason you should grow this one in your garden.

IMG_7472

Black sage (Salvia melifera)
Our black sage plant has become a giant blob that threatens to take over the backyard. The Chumash people made a tea out of it that functioned as a pain reliever. Like white sage, you can use it in cooking (again, sparingly because of the strong taste).

IMG_7479

California sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
When I imagine of the scent of our local mountains it’s this plant that I think of most. It was the Cahuilla people’s DayQuil. Using it as a culinary herb brings the taste of California to your food. Bees love it too.

You can make a tea with all of these plants and you can dry them for use as a spice herbs. And a reminder that if you’re in a hurry you can dry herbs in a microwave by putting the leaves in one layer between two paper towels. Microwave for one minute and let the leaves cool. If they aren’t brittle, microwave for another minute.

Pascal Baudar (a guest on episode 89 of the Root Simple Podcast) has a phenomenal spice herb blend that uses all three of these herbs combined with some garlic salt. I made a batch last week and have already used it on salmon and popcorn. You can find that recipe on page 158 of his amazing book The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir. I also strongly suggest taking one of Pascal’s classes.

Save

RIP Toby Hemenway

hemenway_vargas
Update: I’m very sorry to say that I just heard that Toby Hemenway has passed. He had a talent for explaining permaculture with clarity and elegance. His book Gaia’s Garden adapted Bill Mollison’s concepts for those of us with small spaces to tend. In his last book he merged permaculture with the City Repair movement and looked at ways we can improve our communities. We desperately need voices like Hemenway’s in this moment of crisis. He will be missed. 

Someone I greatly admire, Toby Hemenway needs our help. Hemenway is a permaculturalist and a gifted author of books such as Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City. In 2015 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has signed up for home hospice care. He and his wife need support to pay for living expenses and caregiving. Please consider clicking on this link and donating: https://www.youcaring.com/tobyhemenway-718641. The campaign goal has already been met, but home health care is very expensive and I’m sure that more money would help greatly.

Save

Save

How to kill your palm tree

img_0385

Erik and I have been enjoying Dr. Jerry Turney’s Tree Identification classes at the Los Angeles Arborteum. Talk about high tree geekery! The last one was all about palms, and though I know that most of our readers probably don’t live in palm-friendly climates, I’m putting this out there for those of you who do, and for all you random Googlers.

My take away from the talk is that most of the horticulture problems involving palms rise from poor practice and bad information. If a palm gets enough water, doesn’t freeze, and doesn’t get hacked up by us in misguided attempts to prune them, they are stately, beautiful, easy care trees.

So these are 4 good ways to try to kill your tree:

  1. Never Water It.  Palm trees grow in the desert, yes, but they are oasis plants. They grow by open water, or above underground water. They are tough, but tough is not the same as invincible, and they don’t show stress as clearly as other trees do, so you may not know that it is thirsty until it is too late. If it gets no water, one day your palm may just droop over, like a spent flower, and that is that. As the drought in Southern California continues, I’m beginning to worry about our iconic street palms. We tend to give them no thought whatsoever, but it may be time to start watering them if we want to keep them.
  2. Over Prune. If you imagine a clock face overlaid on the crown of a palm, never cut above 9 and 3 o’clock. And never, ever, opt for the heinous and misguided extreme pruning called the pineapple or hurricane or candle style cut, which leaves just a few fronds poking out at the top. Pruning a palm this way will only stress the palm and stands a good chance of killing it. Here’s a quick photo reference.
  3. Prune your palm with dirty tools. Diseases are carried on chainsaws and the like. Poor pruning hygiene has infected the stately 100 year old Canary Island Date palms in our local Elysian Park with deadly Fusarium wilt. Simple carelessness destroyed this beloved local landmark.
  4. Climb the palm with spikes. Those spikes leave holes which do not heal. They become portals for various sorts of fungal infections. These infections can be as dangerous to you as the plant, because if the crown rots from the middle, you may not notice it is even sick until the entire crown just falls off and plummeting down, all two tons of it. Falling palm crowns smash cars and kill people.

All in all, most of the problems palms suffer come from us pruning them. The simple solution is to leave them alone. Don’t prune it if you don’t have to. Don’t be fetishistic about tidyiness. Let the palm be its natural self. It knows how to grow, it knows where it wants its fronds and boots– after all, palms are much, much, much older than us as a species. They know what they’re doing. You’ll save money and the palm will thank you if you leave it alone. If you do prune your palm, hire a company that knows what they’re doing, or research the topic well before doing it yourself.

One final fascinating fact: you can read the history of a palm in its trunk.  When it undergoes stress from extreme drought or bad pruning, the trunk contracts. If you see a trunk which has pinched areas, you know that something bad happened at that time.

Save