Lessons from the 2018 Theodore Payne Garden Tour

The gardening equivalent of Beyoncé’s triumphant 2018 Coachella performance took place on the very same weekend. Theodore Payne’s annual garden tour reunited pollinator friendly plantings, low water use and great design in a sort of horticultural equivalent of the return of Destiny’s Child. Lush and traditional garden design even made a Jay-Z like cameo appearance at the stunning stunning Wilson/Leach garden in Altadena (seen above). Native plants gardens in Southern California don’t have to look like a desert!

An ad in the back of the tour brochure neatly summed up the vibe:

In: Architecture-Enhancing Designs Out: Boring Expanses of Lawn
In: Vibrant Climate-Compatible Blooms Out: Stuffy Rows of Annuals
In: Lush, Leafy Native Foliage Out: Heat-Amplifying Gravelscape
In: Materials that Go with the Flow Out: Stiff, Straight Patios/Drives
In: Taking Design Appeal to the Curb Out: Conformist Parkways
In: Enjoying your garden

The big takeaway for me from the garden tour this year was that sometimes you’ve got to call in a garden design professional unless you have a knack for design (and I don’t). Our ticket contest winner (who gave us the most beautiful basket of home grown fruits and preserves ever–thank you Donna!) came to the same conclusion.

We’ve hired a designer, which is why our backyard looks like a strip mine:

A crew took out an ugly concrete patio last week and has been digging down to lower the level of the new patio they will install. The old patio was above the level of the sill plate and was causing the back part of the house to rot. I’ll post more in-progress photos over the next few months. We’re also working on the inside of the house. When all is done we hope to have some events here and open up the house for idling and entertaining.

If you can’t afford a crew to do the work you can, at the very least, hire a designer to do a consultation and offer some suggestions. I really wish we had done this 20 years ago when we bought this place!

Saturday Tweets: Touch Your Opuntia

What You Can Do to Make Our Streets Safer

Frederick Frazier and the accident scene where he lost his life.

On Tuesday of this week, 22 year old Frederick Frazier was riding his bike with a group of friends in the middle of the day. He was struck and killed by a motorist who left the scene and has yet to be apprehended. The next day Frazier’s friends held a vigil at the site of the accident. While they stood in the intersection an angry motorist deliberately drove into the group hitting and injuring one of Frazier’s friends. This motorist also drove off without stopping.

I’ve been hit by cars twice while cycling and Kelly was hit by a car while walking. Thankfully, neither of us suffered serious injuries. Many of our fellow Angelinos, like Frazier, were not so lucky. Two hundred and forty-four people died in traffic crashes in the city of Los Angeles in 2017. Unfortunately, our elected officials here in Los Angeles don’t take this public health crisis seriously enough. Rather than make our streets safer they spend their time pondering presidential runs and virtue signaling on issues they have no legislative authority over. When my own councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s hypocrisy was pointed out to him (he halted a road diet on Temple street where 5 people have died and 34 have been seriously injured between 2009 and 2017), he responded with this terse and arrogant Tweet:

Between Frazier’s death and my own councilman’s intemperate tweeting, I’ve been too angry to write or work on the podcast this week. The week’s bad news (an acquaintance of mine also broke 11 ribs in a bike vs. car crash) brought up bad memories of the bike and pedestrian advocacy that I was a part of years ago. I especially remember two frustrating situations, when a group of us unsuccessfully attempted to stop Hollywood lobbyists from taking way bike lanes as well as the time we dared to suggest that speed limits should be lowered. In both cases we were treated condescendingly and, in the case of the Hollywood bike lane incident, not even allowed to speak.

I’m reluctant to bring up these issues on Root Simple because I strive to keep the blog positive and practical. But I can think of at least two simple things you can do to begin the process of making our cities more livable and safe, especially for our children and elders.

Burn Your AAA Card
The Automobile Club likes to hide behind the cheery road trip facade epitomized by their magazines and free travel advice. But behind the scenes they are a lobbying group as powerful and nefarious as the tobacco industry. They’ve never seen a road they don’t like and have spent the past hundred years making our cities into dangerous traffic sewers (see this article). Their lobbyists have a seat on municipal traffic commissions and they have the ear of our politicians. Thankfully there’s an alternative. If you want roadside assistance you can sign up for the Better World Club or just use the towing service offered by your insurance company. The tow trucks all come from the same source so you don’t need AAA.

Find Out Your Neighborhood’s Crash Hot Spots
If you live in California you have free access to a powerful map-based database, the Transportation Injury Mapping System. Once you sign up for a free account you can search your neighborhood by type of accident or go to their map which shows pedestrian and cycling crash “hot spots.” Armed with this information you can ask your elected officials for help by, at least, writing a letter. Or, if you’re a parent, look up the intersections around their school and share this information with your PTA and elected officials.

A better world is possible. In Walter Benjamin’s thinking the Messiah returns and just makes a bunch of small changes. We don’t need grand schemes like Elon Musk’s car tubes or Uber’s flying drone cars. We human beings, before the age of the automobile, used to make human-scaled cities. Those cities can still be visited and learned from (treat yourself to a vacation in Sienna or Venice). The changes we need to make are simple, inexpensive and don’t rely on any new technology.

Free Egg Testing for California Backyard Chicken Keepers


If you keep a backyard chicken flock and are concerned about contaminants in your eggs, UC Davis is offering free egg testing for California residents. Specifically they are testing for fire contaminants and heavy metals.

Fire Contaminant Testing
Due to the recent fires, there is concern about backyard chickens ingesting contaminants from the ground and transmitting these to their eggs. UCD SVM is interested in testing eggs from these backyard flocks for various contaminants such as heavy metals, building materials, chemicals, etc.

Heavy Metal Contaminant Testing
Due to observation of high environmental lead levels in parts of California, there is concern that backyard chickens are being exposed to a level that could pose a public health risk. UCD SVM is interested in testing eggs from these birds for various contaminants such as Pb, PCBs, and PBDEs.

I know that our soil has lead in it and have always been curious to see if our chickens are passing any of this lead into their eggs. I sent off eggs for testing last Friday and will report back on the test results.

The New York Times reported on the issue of contaminants in eggs from backyard flocks back in 2012. If you’re a California resident and would like to send in some eggs for testing, check the UC Davis egg study website for a form to fill out as well as shipping directions. They will even assist with shipping costs if needed. Not only is this a great opportunity for backyard flock owners, but it’s also a way to advance the cause of environmental science.

Saturday Tweets: Beet Raisins, Seed Libraries and a Pepperoni Disaster