The Theme of a Great Garden

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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.

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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

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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

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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

SAVORING THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR

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.

Featuring:

Paul Buchanan
Chef-Owner | Primal Alchemy

Erik Knutzen
Blogger | Author | Rootsimple.com

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

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

Moderator:

Sarah Spitz
KCRW | Master Gardener | Master Preserver

Seminar on Tending our Vegetable Gardens in a Drought

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Update: This event has been canceled. Hopefully we can put another one together soon.

California is in the midst of a frightening drought, which is why I’m happy to be participating in a one day seminar on Sunday, March 23 on the topic, “Tending Our Vegetable Gardens in a Drought.” Here’ the 411:

Los Angeles is in a severe drought condition and spring planting is just beginning. As stewards of our gardens how can we be respectful of this drought and still have our favorite veggies and fruits this year? Many of our old summer favorites are summer water guzzlers.

And what do we do about our lawns, the biggest water guzzler of all?

With 95% of our state in drought conditions and 91% of which is severe, this rainstorm has done very little to prevent the water shortages we will have this year. What techniques can we use in the urban setting to utilize city water for our gardens without wasting this precious resource? How can we support the health of the soil while respecting the drought?

Step out of your comfort zone and come and join sustainability experts author and blogger Erik Knutzen and Master Gardeners Ken and Jeanne Berry for a discussion on all of this and more. Drought conditions are as old as the Earth and there are cultures that have developed efficient water management techniques for their own environments. There are fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs that have adapted to more drought tolerant conditions than their temperate climate cousins.

Let’s not be reactive to the drought, but be proactive to tending our gardens based on our climate. We will have seeds for spring and summer planting and will have hands on activities.

We are pleased to have seeds for the participants from SeedsNow.com and Bountiful Gardens.

Date: Sunday, March 23, 2014

Time: 10-4


Place: The Berry Urban Farm, Woodland Hills, CA.


Price: $35.00


Contact information: [email protected] or 818-884-6118 or 818-599-5636. Make check payable to Ken Berry, 3506 W Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. Payment is only confirmation of registration in class. Details of class including address will be sent upon confirmation of registration.

Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook Giveaway

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You probably know Terry Golson from her addictive website hencam.com. We were lucky to meet Terry when she was on a book tour here in Los Angeles a few years ago. She’s got a new cookbook out, The Farmstead Egg Guide & CookbookThe book begins with a purchasing guide to eggs followed by a brief introduction to what’s involved in keeping chickens. Recipes–everything from omelettes to deserts–make up the majority of the book.

Terry is on a blog tour, and has dropped by Root Simple to share a recipe and give away a copy of The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook. To win the book, all you have to do is leave a comment an this post. Tells us something about your own chickens, or tells us whether you’d ever consider keeping chickens. We’ll draw a winner at random.

Here’s one of the recipes from the book:

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Zucchini and Mint Frittata
Mint is not just for iced tea and garnishes on plates! Used in a frittata, it adds just the right savory and herbal note to the vegetables. A frittata can be finished in the oven, or it can be flipped over in the pan and finished on the stove. This recipe gives directions for the stovetop version, but you can also finish it in a hot oven as in the previous frittata recipes.

Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sliced onion
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 pound zucchini, sliced
8 large eggs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet. Sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft and golden. Take your time on this step to fully develop the sweet flavors of these vegetables. Stir in the zucchini and continue to cook over low heat until the edges begin to brown. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan, the mint, salt, and pepper.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the skillet. Pour in the eggs and then distribute the vegetables on top. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until the eggs are set but not yet firm on top. Several times while the eggs are cooking, take a flexible spatula and run it along the edge and under the frittata to make sure the eggs are not sticking to the pan.

4. Take the skillet off the heat. Put a dinner plate over it and flip the frittata onto the plate. Then slip the frittata back into the pan, now with the bottom side up. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan.

Cook for a few minutes more, until the eggs are fully cooked.

Saturday Linkages: Goat Wars, Dinites and a Sanitary Pad Revolution

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Newspaper issues correction concerning human-goat war: http://boingboing.net/2014/03/12/newspaper-issues-correction-co.html …

How The Dunites created a secret utopia in the Oceano Dunes http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2014/03/10/36375/how-the-dunites-created-a-secret-utopia-in-the-oce/ …

Pay phone booth re-purposed as a tiny library – Unconsumption http://disq.us/8hkfz6 

Avoiding pollution, drought’s evil twin http://chanceofrain.com/2014/02/avoiding-pollution-droughts-evil-twin/ …

A Simple Solar Water Heating System for the Tropics… http://www.builditsolarblog.com/2014/03/a-simple-solar-water-heating-system-for.html?spref=tw …

A Solar Heated Loo http://www.builditsolarblog.com/2014/02/a-solar-heated-loo.html?spref=tw …

A rat map that shows NYC’s restaurant rodent takeover http://barfblog.com/2014/02/a-rat-map-that-shows-nycs-restaurant-rodent-takeover/ …

Is hot water more effective for washing hands? No!  http://barfblog.com/2014/03/no-is-hot-water-more-effective-for-washing-hands/ …

Red house with salvaged doors in Liverpool http://www.recyclart.org/2014/03/red-house-salvaged-doors-liverpool/ …

BBC News – Why do people wear a monocle? http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-26482529 …

The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26260978 … Eye-opening, crazy, sorta sweet and inspiring.

A $10 bucket washing machine set-up for your tiny … http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-10-bucket-washing-machine-set-up-for.html?spref=tw …

Q & A with a Natural Beekeeper: How does natural comb impact production of honey? http://disq.us/8hhx7b 

Raspberry Pi 101: What is the Pi Anyway?: http://makezine.com/magazine/raspberry-pi-101-what-is-the-pi-anyway/ …

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

Los Angeles Interior Earthen Plaster Workshop

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We’re proud to be co-hosting an interior earthen plaster workshop by adobe masters Kurt Gardella and Ben Loescher. The workshop will take place at the home of John Zapf and will thus be your chance to meet the architect of our chicken run and yet to be built man cave. Here’s the info on the workshop–hope to see some of you there:

Date: Thursday, May 1, 2014, 9am to 5pm

Location: The class will be conducted in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles and will be hosted by John Zapf and Root Simple. Coffee and nibbles will be provided at the beginning of the day; lunch is included.

Workshop Description: Earthen plasters are a great way to finish just about any wall substrate in the home. They create a soft, breathable final plaster layer which regulates humidity, odors and sounds like no other wall finish can. This May, Kurt Gardella returns to California for a one-day intensive workshop to teach you how to finish your existing wall substrate (red brick, poured concrete, concrete block, drywall, old plaster finishes) with an earthen plaster mix using affordable, off-the-shelf bagged clays and sands. Attendees will leave the class with the knowledge necessary to finish their own walls using inexpensive materials that can be easily found at any pottery supply store. The class is suitable for homeowners, building professionals and do-it-your-selfers. No prior experience is necessary.

Topics Include:

  • clay sourcing, testing and preparation (bagged clay screening & soaking)
  • sand sourcing, testing and preparation (bagged silica sand screening)
  • importance of aggregate grain variation in plasters
  • finish coat straw selection and preparation (fine chop)
  • finish plaster tool overview and usage
  • strength additive overview, preparation and mixing (wheat paste)
  • earthen plaster finish coat mixing, application with hawk and trowel
  • earthen plaster finish coat surface finishing techniques (sponge, hard metal trowel, plastic trowel)

Instruction Type: This is a hands-on class. Attendees will have the opportunity to get dirty and use tools and equipment typical of earthen finishing. Due to the course format, enrollment will be limited to 10 individuals. Instruction will occur primarily indoors.

Instructors: Kurt Gardella teaches adobe construction at Santa Fe Community College, is Director of Education for Adobe in Action, and is certified as an earth-building specialist by the German Dachverband Lehm. Ben Loescher is a licensed architect, founder of adobeisnotsoftware and principal of golem|la, an architecture firm specializing in adobe construction.

Registration: $50 per person (click here to pre-register online)

Questions: Please do not hesitate to contact Ben by email at [email protected] or by phone at (760) 820-5326.