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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Our Final Field Trip: Atwater Creek

When trying to find this on a map - search for North Atwater Park and you'll get the right directions.

We are meeting at 1:00 PM.  We are hopeful you will make it and enjoy this opportunity to learn about this ecosystem and how it has been created to clean water before it flows into the Los Angeles River.

We'll see you there!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

David's List: Low maintenance and Low water Trees not Native to California

First off – avoid 'fast-growing' not only does it mean higher maintenance, but also higher water needs.

Secondly – check non-native plants against an up to date 'invasive species'list.  Select “Species Type” = Plants 

Mobile Apps on Invasive Species

What's invasive appWhat's Invasive! (free)The what's Invasive app displays local lists of top invasive plants and/or animals (with images and short descriptions to remind you of what they look like) that have been identified by the National Park Service or other invasive management authorities.
Calflora appCalflora Observer (free)The Calflora Observer is a smart phone app that allows you to quickly and efficiently report wild plant occurrences. This application makes it easy for you to report the species name, date and location of over 10,000 California native and non-native plant taxa.
Invasive Plants appInvasive Plants in Southern Forests: Identification and Management (free)  This app provides information on accurate identification of the 56 nonnative plants and groups that are currently invading the forests of the 13 Southern States.

This will be a list of mostly small trees (usually under 30'tall) – it is not inclusive, but it is a start and these trees will mostly not do you wrong. Always, always, always MULCH under your trees and when watering strive to get water down into the 18” root zone – if in doubt, use a soil probe. No freshly planted ANYTHING is drought resistant – even trees. In the first five or more years, special attention would be best until they get established.

Slide #s
Malus pumila Check for proper fruiting in our area and use a medium to dwarfing root stock to keep the tree from overtaking you. Apple is one of the best for a home garden because you can make the apples last longer with proper storage
Prunus dulcis Only a few will fruit in Southern California – make sure you have that covered (chill hours vary around here from 150 to 300 hours – anything with a higher value of chill hours must be avoided) - all of the fruit trees I've listed have a gorgeous floral display at some point in the year.
Chaste Tree
(Vitex agnus-castus) Produces lavender-purple flowers in early or mid-spring. The flowers give off a spicy aroma and the leaves smell faintly of sage. Shape by pruning; flowers are borne on new wood. Not extremely drought tolerant, give it some water in dry times.

Cotton Tree
Gossypium arboreum To about 15 feet, these are interesting trees that, with some pruning, make a delightful multiple interest tree in any front yard. Flowers that open yellow, slowly turn to red then black as the boll begins to grow, eventually opening up into puffs of white cotton. Also not so drought proof – a little summer water is appreciated.
Malus spp. Useful for producing pectin if you are in to homemade jams. White, pink or red flowers, self-pollinating and slow growing. Hardy without much care and a show in spring.
Crape Myrtle
(Lagerstroemia) This is a small tree of remarkable appearance when in bloom, early to mid-summer and attractive foliage come fall. The patchy attractive bark is reason enough alone to plant this tree – flowers in red, purple, white and is extremely heat resistant, not your most drought proof tree, and keep out of high winds.
Crataegus  sp.
There are species from Mexico, Europe and China, all are called hawthornes in common parlance. Flowers from magenta to white, they are attractive hedges and can make a good fence on their own with their deadly long spines. Berries make forage for birds and other species.

Jacaranda mimosifolia the common blue/purple flowered tree around LA. Not so small, one of the large on this list,the prolific flowers are beautiful or messy depending on viewpoint. Drought resistant as a mature tree, it needs plenty of water to establish. If planted as a community street tree the effect is magical or messy, depending on viewpoint.
Ziziphus jujuba, the Chinese Date Tree is a delightful small tree with pinnately compound leaves and small brown fruit that tastes similar to apples and can be dried. You must have two trees to get fruit,the commercial varieties are almost always Li and Lang.
Magnolia spp. Some species are barely more than shrubs – not to be confused with some that are quite large trees. Choose from: Star magnolia is a smaller variety of magnolia that produces beautiful, white, star-shaped flowers in early spring. The flowers are fragrant and long lasting. Grows up to 20' tall with similar spread. Cold and heat tolerant. Plant in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Saucer magnolia  (var Little Star) only grows about 16' tall and 20' wide, producing large pinkish-purple flowers in early spring. Plant this magnolia in a sheltered area in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
Acer palmatum is a slow-growing small tree with beautiful, intricate, delicate leaves make this tree a real focal point in a garden. Foliage ranges from green to deep red; some leaves are light green, edged in red. Plant in partial shade in moist, acidic, well-drained soil. Protect from harsh afternoon sun
Olive Tree
Olea europaea
Melaleuca linariifolia Well cared for to 100' but usually closer to 30' (Melaleuca linariifolia) Tea tree grows up to 20' tall and 12' wide. Native to Australia, the tea tree has aromatic, evergreen leaves and produces tiny white, pink, or red flowers from late winter into summer. Enjoys western coastal areas and is drought tolerant when mature. Plant in full sun. The pealing bark make this tree much more interesting than a lot of other trees.

Asimina triloba Needing more water than the other plants on this list, the American pawpaw is a 15' - 30' fruit tree, with a tropical appearance. Purple mid-spring blooms give way to green fruits that ripen to black with a pear/banana taste. Leaves turn gold in fall. Plant at least two trees for pollination. Prune off low-growing branches to give this shrubby tree a more tree-like appearance. Plant in partial shade in loose soil' full sun in CA will toast it..
Prunus persica Peach trees grow 15' - 25' with dark green leaves that provide a beautiful contrast with the attractive mid-spring flowers and brilliant mid- to late summer fruit. Plant in full sun, in moist, well-drained soil. Mulch to protect the shallow roots. Prune in late winter. Most peaches are not self-fertile, depending on the variety you choose, you may need to plant more than one.

Prunus spp. Many plums do wonderfully in our area – they are prolific and of all the fruit trees require the most effort in pruning and keeping them to size. They are not horribly drought tolerant and will need summer water – especially in their first 10 years in order to get established. They can be extremely showy with their dark purple leaves.

Cydonia oblonga Quince grows 6' - 10' tall and wide, producing bright scarlet, pink, or white blossoms in spring. Some varieties bloom again in fall, but at the expense of fruitfulness. Tangled branches and sharp spines may detract from its usefulness in small spaces but make it a first-class barrier plant!. Fall-ripened fruit can be used to make jelly or jam. Prune after flowering to maintain shape.  Some scholars believe quince to be the forbidden fruit Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden.
Hymenosporum flavum, Australian relative of pittosporum. Besides the great dark green foliage and the sweet (honey) scent of it's flowers, it is the narrowness of this tree (to 6') that makes it useful in odd spots.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2nd Field Trip - The Lyle Center

Note:  The drive out there always takes longer than you think it will - this trip will be further congested by the fact the Dodgers are playing a home game at 1:00 PM  Try to avoid downtown LA however you can!  

For a preview of the Lyle Center, you can go here.


After we finish our tour of the site, we will go down the hill to the "Farm Store" and get a bite to eat before heading back.  This has always been a point for some good conversation and sometimes even some "off the record" instructor talk.

On our way out, the Dodger game is scheduled to start at 1:00.  LA Dodger fans are known for being late (and leaving early) which means, downtown LA might be something you ought to consider avoiding. 

The way I'd suggest to do that, is to go north into the Valley (on the 405N) and take the 101 E to the 134 E to the 210 E and exit to the 57 S. Going south to the 60 or the 105, I have found to be deadly slow. 

Coming from Orange County, if the 57 is close to you, take that all way to our site.

Please note that depending on the game, the Dodgers might just be letting out so continue to avoid downtown LA. Unless we hear otherwise.  Reverse the above directions to get home. 

Remember our final field trip is next week!  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Soil Triangle

Using the Soil Texture Triangle

Follow these steps to determine the name of your soil texture:

1. Place the edge of a ruler or other straight edge at the point along the base of the triangle that represents the percent of sand in your sample. Position the ruler on or parallel to the lines which slant toward the base of the triangle.
2. Place the edge of a second ruler at the point along the right side of the triangle that represents the percent of silt in your sample. Position the ruler on or parallel to the lines which slant toward the base of the triangle.
3. Place the point of a pencil or pen at the point where the two lines meet. Place the top edge of one of the rulers on the mark, and hold the ruler parallel to the horizontal lines. The number on the left should be the percent of clay in the sample.

The descriptive name of the soil sample is written in the shaded area where the mark is located. If the mark should fall directly on a line between two descriptions, record both names.

Sand will feel "gritty", while silt will feel like powder or flour. Clay will feel "sticky" and hard to squeeze, and will probably stick to your hand. Looking at the textural triangle, try to estimate how much sand, silt, or clay is in the sample. Find the name of the texture that this soil corresponds to.

Practice Exercises

Use the following numbers to determine the soil texture name using the textural triangle. When a number is missing, fill in the blanks (the sum of % sand, silt and clay should always add up to 100%) - the last line has been left blank for you to fill in the numbers you assign to your own soil sample.

sandy loam












A Bibliography for Studying Soils

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil; ©1992 University of California Press, Hillel, Daniel. Hillel has written one of the most beautiful books on soil that has ever been published. This book introduces a little of soil science to the reader, but more than that, it fosters a love of the soil and an understanding about the magnitude and gravity of misuse and degradation; civilizations have paid little heed to the soil underfoot and it has cost them dearly. A delightful read! Highly recommended!!  

Soils and Men, Yearbook of Agriculture 1938, © 1938, United States Department of Agriculture, The Committee on Soils. A government publication, no sane person will read from beginning to end! It is referenced here because it clearly shows the US government knew about the soil food web as early as 1938 and chose to ignore that information in favor of more commerce in chemical based fertilizers. We are at a point where ignoring the soil food web is too costly to continue.  A solid book, but if you are not making soil your primary career choice, this is a bit, um, overwhelming.

Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition, © 2010 Timber Press, Lowenfels, Jeff and Lewis, Wayne. This is the second edition of the book that blew my eyes open on the biology of the soil and how we cannot ignore that biology plays at least as big a part of soil fertility as chemistry. We ignore biology to our own detriment and destroy our soils. A fantastic basic book to working with soil in a garden.

The Rodale Book of Composting, ©1992 Rodale Press, Martin, Deborah and Gershuny, Grace Editors. This is the only book to read on composting. Everything else is compostable.

The Soul of Soil; A Guide to Ecological Soil Management, 2nd Edition, ©1986; Gaia Services, Gershuny, Grace. This fabulous and passionate book is injured by being targeted to farmers (only) and therefore all recommendations are written in “pound per acre,” when we need ounces per 100 square feet. When I used this book, I wrote up a formula in Excel to convert all these into a usable figure.

The Worst Hard Time, The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dustbowl © 2006; Mariner Reprint Edition, Egan, Timothy. Not strictly a soils book, but a real eye opener that shows how we are repeating many of the same mistakes today as what lead to the disaster we call the Dustbowl. This book is gripping reading and is not fiction. It really happened and it happened on a scale unprecedented in modern times. We can do it again if we fail to heed these words. A VERY good read on soils and man's relationship to them.

Friday, July 7, 2017


(Instructions and maps for the field trip to both garden garden and The Learning Garden are just beneath this post. This post is quite long.)

This article originally appeared in Pacific Horticulture magazine, Winter 1998. Reprinted by permission.


Imagine a garden that rarely needs pruning, watering or fertilizing. One where natural controls usually take care of pest problems before the gardener even becomes aware of them. A peaceful garden where the sound of blowers, power mowers or chain saws never intrudes. Imagine a garden that also serves as a climate control for the house, keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter, a garden that traps rainwater in an attractive streambed to deeply irrigate the trees and recharge the ground water, one that provides habitat for wildlife and food for people. Imagine a garden that truly works. This is the sustainable garden, not barren or sacrificial, but as lush and beautiful as any other without all the struggle and waste. Yes, it is just that simple.

Southern California landscape consultant Randall Ismay has calculated that 80 percent of the total cost of a garden over its lifespan is maintenance labor and materials. Only 20 percent, then, goes into its design and construction. That is often partially attributable to unrealistic limitations on the designer’s time and corner-cutting on the installation, but for the most part, that 80/20 split is due to poor design that creates a permanent maintenance burden far greater than is necessary. It is through ignorance and carelessness that we create gardens that are needlessly needy.

On another front, most of the materials that go into the initial construction of the landscape -- the concrete, lumber, stone and gravel, and all the rest -- are either non-renewable or severely damaging to their environment of origin. Consider decomposed granite, a popular granular paving material that is attractive, inexpensive, easy to install and permeable to rainwater. On those counts it is a sustainable material. Yet, it is a soil type that is strip-mined from once-pristine mountains.

It is unfortunate that even proponents of sustainable landscaping have for the most part ignored these off-site impacts and satisfied themselves with creating gardens that, while they may be internally more sustainable than conventional ones, pillage nature in the course of their development and so are mere symbols of sustainability. Indeed, their hypocrisy does violence to the idea of sustainability.

So, what’s a better way? How does a sustainable garden actually work? Here are some of the nuts and bolts of this evolving approach to gardens...BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

In the old xeriscape days, some people were afraid that the government was going to come and take out their lawn and replace it with cactus and rocks. Similarly, sometimes the idea of a sustainable garden conjures up the image of a barren, sad place that bears little relationship to the gardens we know and love. What will you have to give up to gain all these benefits? And what will it look like?

Well, the truth is that a sustainable garden can look pretty much like any other garden. Sustainability is independent of style. A Japanese garden can be sustainable. So can an English border, a desert garden, you name it. About the only thing you might have to forsake is that acre of bluegrass in the front yard, but even that could be more sustainable if it were replaced with a yarrow lawn that uses half the water and requires mowing only a few times a year.

Design your garden in whatever style you want, applying the principles of sustainability as you go.


THE GARDEN AS A SYSTEM. First and foremost, a sustainable garden is a system, just as nature is a system, just as the human body is a system, or for that matter a computer or an automobile or a toaster oven. It consists of a complex of interrelated parts that work together to create a functioning whole. Just as your body remains alive and healthy due to the combined and harmonious workings of the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the endocrine system and all the rest, so a well-designed garden will thrive when the insect system, the soil system, the water system, the plant system, the drainage system and many others are united in the common task of preserving the integrity of the whole. Until the garden is designed and managed as a system, our relationship to it will be primarily reactive -- pulling weeds here, cutting back overgrown plants there, watering when rainfall is insufficient for proper growth, fertilizing when the native soil cannot bear the demands for nutrition placed upon it by hungry exotic plants.

RELATIONSHIP TO PLACE. No system that is placed in an unfavorable environment will ever function successfully. Imagine a car in a world with no gasoline. For the garden to work well, it must have a finely-honed relationship to place. This means using plants from appropriate climates that will survive for the most part on what nature offers here and now, without subsidies from outside. The natural soil will be hospitable to these plants without the need for amendments and fertilizers. The natural rainfall will be adequate to meet their water needs. The temperatures will be agreeable to them without artificial modifications of the microclimate. In other words, the garden will be adapted to the carrying capacity of the land.

The hardscape elements -- patios, walkways and the like -- will be placed to take advantage of natural site features and microclimates and will be built of simple materials, preserved in a state of nature or nearly so, and that come from on site or nearby.

In the ancient days of Japanese gardens, the designer would spend a year on the site, watching the sun come up and go down again, every day for a complete cycle of seasons. In this way, he was able finally to understand the site well enough to make propitious decisions in creating the garden. Today, we expect drive-by design and we get the results we deserve.

HOMEOSTASIS. Nobody gardens nature. Have you ever wondered how that works? A natural ecosystem exists in a state of active balance, remaining stable until a triggering event changes the rules for a time. A hillside of 20 year-old chaparral is an example of what botanists call a "climax plant community." That is, one that has reached its mature state and will remain quiescent until it is disturbed, typically by wildfire. In the climax condition, natural processes go on at a languid pace -- weeds are shaded out by the dense canopy of Ceanothus and toyon and sage, animal burrows are undisturbed by land movement, plants gradually grow larger, insect populations remain stable. Biologists define "homeostasis" as "tending to maintain a relatively stable internal environment." By designing a garden in which the plants are given a favorable environment and room to grow, it is possible to create a homeostatic condition that will serve the garden and the gardener well for decades to come. In ignoring this principle. we create gardens that are sub-climax plant communities, always in a state of instability and therefore demanding of much care and many resources.

INPUTS AND OUTPUTS: A properly designed garden brings in fewer materials for its construction and later for its care, and generates little in the way of greenwaste, air pollution and other flows to the outside world. Let’s think for a moment about what comes and goes in the garden and how we might use less without giving up any of the things we want.

INPUTS: BUILDING MATERIALS: Consider first what is on the site that might be utilized to advantage. Boulders can be rearranged into an attractive retaining wall or dry streambed, for instance. Soil can be molded into adobe blocks and those can be used to build walls and other structures. Poles cut from that stand of weedy Eucalyptus trees can be used as lumber for arbors, fences and other garden woodwork. Similarly, whips pruned from fruit trees can be woven together into an attractive fence or trellis. The more you can use from on site, the less damage you do to other places, the less pollution is caused by trucking things in from far away, and the more money you save.

In many cases, materials of some kind will need to be brought in, especially where structures and paving are involved. Turn to re-used materials like railroad ties and broken concrete for your first choice. If they don’t satisfy, select from materials such as wood that come from renewable sources rather than things like concrete that, though abundant, is non-renewable. Also consider the "embodied energy" of the material: the total energy that is required to produce and deliver the material to you. Minimally-processed materials like lumber and decomposed granite and gravel have a low embodied energy, while things like brick, tile and concrete have a high embodied energy. Don’t forget recycled materials -- plastic lumber made from soda bottles and wood waste for example. There are even ways to treat ordinary soil so that it will solidify into a solid surface for walkways and roads. Finally, ask where things come from and consider the impact your purchase will have at the source.

INPUTS: WATER: Conserve water by selecting plants that are native to a climate similar to yours and that are known to be drought-tolerant. Then provide a high-efficiency irrigation system such as drip and learn to manage it properly, applying only enough water to replace what is used up. Mulch all your plantings to reduce evaporative losses from the soil, which can be significant. Keep weeds down; they use water too. Consider planting less densely to match the biomass to the carrying capacity of the land. And of course, reduce lawn areas to only that which you will use functionally, not ornamentally. Finally, where it is appropriate and safe to do so, grade the site (and perhaps build a dry streambed or percolation basins) to keep valuable rainwater on the site. You might even consider installing a cistern or other rainwater storage system to hold water for use during the dry season. It is possible to have a full, attractive planting with little or no supplemental watering during normal rainfall years. Remember, nobody waters nature.

INPUTS: FERTILIZERS: Minimize the importation of fertilizers by selecting plants that have low nutrient requirements and by fertilizing less often at lower application rates. The best fertilizer is compost that has been made from the very plants you’re fertilizing, plugging another leak to the outside world. If you do have a lawn, use a mulching mower that finely cuts the clippings and blows them back down into the lawn, possibly the world’s shortest trip to the compost pile. This is called "grasscycling" and it really works.

INPUTS: PESTICIDES: Similarly, reduce the need for pesticides by planting pest-resistant varieties and giving them satisfactory growing conditions. Just as a person thrives with a good diet and plenty of exercise and sickens in the absence of these things, so it is with plants.

When pests do show up, practice a little benign neglect first. Think of insects as co-inhabitants of the garden and remember that for most pests there will be one or more kinds of predators that can show up to keep the situation under control, at no cost to you. If a pest problem begins to get out of hand, import an appropriate ben-eficial insect as your first line of defense. Beneficials are efficient and voracious and never take a day off. Besides, learning about the relationships between insects is as much fun as learning about plants. Only if the beneficials don’t work (and please give them time to do their job) then you might consider using a least-toxic pesticide like insecticidal soap to knock down the population.

If a plant suffers from chronic, disfiguring pest damage, consider replacing it with a more appropriate species. Remember that of the hundreds of garden chemicals, only a handful have ever been tested for their effects on people, animals and the environment. Besides, volatilization of garden chemicals contributes to air quality problems.

There’s one other secret about avoiding pest problems and that is to build diversity into your plant palette. A mono-culture is much more vulnerable to pests and diseases than a more complex blend of things from many plant families.

INPUTS: HERBICIDES: Rather than applying herbicides, keep weeds down by avoiding large expanses of low-growing ground covers that provide newly-germinated weed seeds with a perfect environment for their development. Use a drip irrigation system to keep the soil dry and therefore unwelcoming to weeds. And mulch! Apply 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as shredded bark or tree chips in all planted areas. (Avoid letting mulch pile up around the trunks of plants, and watch out for tree chips that contain lots of live seeds or come from diseased trees.) Hand pull weeds when they’re young, remembering the old gardener’s adage, "One years’ seeds is nine years’ weeds."

INPUTS: FOSSIL FUELS: Fossil fuels are used in the garden in some sneaky ways. Of course, trucking materials from afar and making trips to the landfill burns gasoline, but do you realize that many chemical fertilizers and pesticides are made primarily from petroleum byproducts? And of course, all that gas-driven equipment uses petroleum, too. By planting right-sized plants that don’t need cutting back so often, and by keeping their growth steady with a lean diet of organic fertilizer and water, you’ll be reducing the need to use all that equipment to cut them back and haul them to the dump. (And don’t forget that the soft new growth stimulated by fertilizers and water and constant pruning makes the plants more susceptible to pest infestations.) If you do need to prune, use hand tools rather than power tools to eliminate one more source of fossil fuel use.

INPUTS: TIME: A sustainably designed and managed garden will require much less time to care for, because it is inherently stable. By taking our cues from nature, we adopt the self-maintaining character of the natural environment. A plant with room to grow is one that doesn’t need to be pruned. A healthy plant is one that doesn’t need to be sprayed. A building material that is at or close to a state of nature (such as a boulder) doesn’t need to be cared for like many highly-refined materials systems (painted wood, for instance). And build things to last so that you don’t have to replace or repair them for a long time.

INPUTS: MONEY: A garden that uses so few materials and requires so little care has just got to be less expensive, right? Right. Even if the design and installation were to cost more (which probably won’t be the case) the garden will still be much cheaper to live with because there’s not much to do but enjoy it. You’ll start getting a return right away and it will continue for the life of the garden. In fact, one of the best things about a sustainable garden is that it gets easier and easier to live with, because it grows more and more stable as it matures. Compare that with a traditional garden that demands more and more time and money as the trees and shrubs get too big and need to be cut back oftener and oftener, as the thirsty plants grow larger and need more water, and as the poorly-built structures need constant tinkering to keep them from falling apart. With a sustainable garden, you time and your money are yours to enjoy.

OUTPUTS: GREENWASTE: The biggest item on the output side of the ledger is the trimmings that leave your garden and go to the dump. Why have we accepted this for so long? By and large, the only reason for trips to the dump is that the plants don’t have enough room to grow. Why plant a 20 foot tall plant when you want a 6 foot hedge? Why plant a 100 foot tall tree in a small patio? And why, please tell me, put Juniperus tamariscifolia, which grows up to 20 feet in diameter (you could look this up) into a 5 foot wide parking strip? Yet these things are done all the time, and not just by naive amateurs either. Yes, you might have to wait an extra year for a right-sized plant to grow to the size you want, but you’ll be saving yourself a lifetime of cutting and hauling and looking like a fool.

So plant the right size plants and then allow them to grow naturally, pruning only to remove crossing or damaged branches. By fertilizing and watering less, you also generate less greenwaste. Then, recognize that greenwaste isn’t really waste at all, but a valuable element in the garden system -- feedstock for your composting operation. Chop it into small pieces, pile it up (half green stuff and half brown stuff), squirt some water on it and you’re on your way to a supply of compost that can be returned to the garden to supply valuable nutrients and beneficial soil microorganisms. Throwing away garden trimmings is like burning dollar bills.

OUTPUTS: POLLUTED RUNOFF: Fertilizers and pesticides leach out of the soil with each irrigation and find their way into the groundwater, streams and the ocean. If you don’t use them in the first place, you won’t have to worry about this problem. And if you grade the site to retain water, any bad stuff you do have around will stay around.

OUTPUTS: AIR POLLUTION: Similarly, the volatilization of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides into the atmosphere won’t be a concern if you don’t introduce them into the garden in the first place.

According to the New York Times, a lawnmower operated for an hour emits as much pollution as driving a car 50 miles. Far worse, in two hours, a chain saw emits as many hydrocarbons as a new car driven 3,000 miles! That’s not a typo. When the California Air Resources Board added up the pollution from all the power equipment used by the landscape industry, loggers and arborists, it equaled that produced by 3.5 million cars driven 16,000 miles each. That doesn’t even count equipment used by homeowners. Reduce this problem by cutting way back on your use of gas-driven garden equipment, especially two-cycle engines that power chainsaws, weed whackers, blowers and hedge trimmers. Use hand tools or electric tools instead. And remember that because your garden is designed to require little pruning, you’ll be needing this equipment less anyway.


HARVESTING FROM THE WASTE STREAM: We can go beyond merely minimizing our consumption and waste. The garden can actually reduce overall waste by harvesting materials from the waste stream. Here are a few suggestions; with a little imagination you can come up with more. Glean feedstock for your compost pile from restaurants and grocery stores. Try coffee grounds and discarded produce, for instance. Use chips from tree trimming operations in the neighborhood to mulch your beds; tree companies are usually happy to drop off chips for free or for a modest fee. Better yet, use the wood as lumber for garden projects such as benches, fences, etc. Broken concrete can be stained with ferrous sulfate fertilizer to look like stone and then stacked to make retaining walls or set in a bed of sand to make stepping stones or a patio. Waste of many kinds from construction projects can be turned into small structures or garden art. One of the nicest planters I’ve ever seen was a discarded brake drum from a large truck; these can be obtained for very little money from a heavy-equipment mechanic or a junkyard. There’s a mountain of interesting material going right by your house every day on its way to the landfill. Use your imagination and make use of some of it.

PROBLEMS NO ONE HAS SOLVED YET: Until they learn to make pipe out of soybeans (not so wild an idea as you might think), we’re stuck with PVC pipe and all its drawbacks. For now, use drip tubing where you can; it’s made from non-reactive polyethylene that doesn’t contain dioxins and doesn’t require solvents for assembly.

Many recycled mulches are made from construction waste that may contain lead and other contaminants, or from chipped trees that may inoculate your soil with oak root fungus and other diseases. Plus, some of these materials can be very flammable, especially during hot weather. For now, I recommend using caution when purchasing these materials and if there is any doubt, use shredded redwood or fir bark instead.

As far as I know, no one has come up with a durable, hard paving material that’s also sustainable. For now, we’re stuck with concrete. In fact, paving materials in general tend to be destructive at their source. Use mulches in pathways where there is minimal traffic and save the hard stuff for the front walk and other public areas. If you must use concrete, specify a high-flyash content mix that uses waste from coal-burning power plants, and is much stronger and more durable than conventional concrete.

GO BEYOND SUSTAINABILITY: Unlike buildings, gardens are naturally solar-powered. They are also capable of producing food for people. Plant an orchard and a vegetable garden. Make use of the productivity of your land to grow food instead of just flowers. It’s sure to be superior in every respect to those supermarket tomatoes that we all like to belittle. If you produce more than you can eat or preserve, give the rest away to a homeless shelter or rescue mission. Or to the neighbors; they like ripe tomatoes and juicy plums, too.

Don’t forget the wildlife. Provide shelter, nesting materials and food for birds, mammals and other critters. Grow plants that attract beneficial insects and they will reward you by patrolling the garden for you.

It’s time that gardens began to give back rather than take, to become part of the solution to our problems rather than part of the problem.

Field Trip To garden garden and The Learning Garden

1724 Pearl Street, garden garden

garden garden is a project of Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability and the Environment since 2012.  Visit the website for some more background information, including expenses and plant lists.

garden garden is at 1718 and 1724 Pearl Street, Santa Monica, California 90405

Image may contain: one or more people, text and outdoor
The Learning Garden sign awaits you at the intersection
of Venice Blvd and Walgrove Avenue - the garden
is behind this sign.
Leaving garden garden, proceed east down Pearl Street (ie the numbers are getting larger) to 23rd Street (one of many stop signs) and turn right.  After you cross Ocean Park Blvd, the street's name will change to Walgrove Avenue and do a little rabbit leg jump to the left.  Continue south on Walgrove for a ways and finally come to the light at Venice Blvd.  Go straight thru the light (we prefer when it's green as we don't like having to replace students).  The Learning Garden gate will be the first gate on your left.  Please find parking on Walgrove and then meet us inside The Learning Garden.  A map for the Learning Garden is found here.

Any problems finding either site, please call me.  I apologize for the lateness of these posts - I had promised for the morning but the internet was not working at the Garden this AM making it impossible to post from there.

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