Helianthus annuus, now and then

SUNFLOWERS are the true American beauty. They have it all: stamina, fast growth, architecture, fecundity, attitude and, above all, color. The proportions twixt stem and head are so sweetly comical that all it takes is the sight of a sunflower display at Trader Joe’s to defuse the rage that brews daily in its parking lots.

In the wild, sunflowers are so stunning that driving down the 110 past Dodger Stadium, it is hard not to crash as one catches sight of a freeway verge studded with gold. As L.A.’s hillsides turn brown in late summer heat, somehow wild sunflowers still glow from the brush.

Click here to keep reading about how the only thing different from the sunflowers that you buy in Trader Joe’s and the wild type that you see to the freeway (and in the photos, left), is 4,000 years of cultivation. It’s not a recent Dry Garden

The Dry Garden: Hillside wonder

Illustration: E. O. Murman / Margo Murman, from "Cacti, Agaves, and Yuccas of California and Nevada"

This is the time of year when even those hostile to the idea of water rationing in the garden have their heads turned by what nature has created without sprinklers. Rising from the untended hills of Southern California are spires of ethereal white flowers. They’re so big that you can see them from hundreds of feet away. If they’re backlit, double that distance.

There’s no right name for the plant that produces these arresting plumes. Common terms vary from Quixote yucca to Spanish bayonet to even the reverent Our Lord’s Candle. Science has no straight answer either. As genetic analysis continues to shake up traditional taxonomy, the botanical name is slipping from Yucca whipplei to Hesperoyucca whipplei.

Click here to keep reading about chaparral yucca in the Los Angeles Times and the wonderful

The Dry Garden: Gambling on a cool summer

This week’s Dry Garden posts early because of May rain. After brief chivvying of So Cal gardeners to weed and sow, I get to the dark art of forecasting. For help assessing the odds of a cool summer as opposed to a hot one, and an early summer as opposed to late one, I contacted Jet Propulsion Laboratory oceanographer Bill Patzert. Some of you may remember that in September he put 80% to 90% odds on a strong cooling of equatorial waters in the Pacific, a system known as La Niña, producing winter drought for Southern California.

After nearly record rains in December, and a Christmas dinner of crow instead of turkey, he knew that Southern California ended up on the lucky side of La Niña’s traditional cutoff somewhere between San Diego and the Oregon border. This system tends to drive rain north and keep the south dry, but we

And May brings… rain

Late spring rain forecast for Los Angeles, CA for May 17-18, 2011

The Dry Garden: Old tiers, new layout

Don't understand the water price tier system of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power? Cheer up. Neither does the department's graphic artist. The tier shown on this dummy bill created to promote the new bill is wrong. If I understand it, and I'm not sure that I do, a Tier 1 allotment for a hot climate area would be 24 HCFs/mo or higher. It's still a better-looking bill that makes water use more clear. The real shame is that the prices are so low, too low to discourage pools and lawns or to raise enough money to step up replacement of aging city water mains. Click on the image above to be taken to this week's Dry Garden column in the Los Angeles Times, which looks at the bill.

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    Emily Green by e-mail at emily.green [at] mac.com
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