Three days in Seattle

Posted on | November 20, 2013 | No Comments

Madison Valley Stormwater Project

An Angeleno giving a talk on landscape solutions for stormwater pollution in Seattle is a case of taking coal to Newcastle, but I did it anyway in an October 2013 address to the Northwest Horticultural Society. It was a revelation when hosts Gregory Graves and Ann LeVasseur of the NHS took me around the greater Seattle area to visit a number of gardens, including four stormwater projects. This Flickr set contains photos of a remarkable green street grid in the Broadview area, the “Growing Vine Street” project downtown, the “Swale on Yale” in the South Lake Union neighborhood and the madly impressive Madison Valley Stormwater Project near the Washington Park Arboretum.



In praise of Bart O’Brien

Posted on | November 14, 2013 | 7 Comments

Bart O'Brien

Rancho Santa Ana horticulturist Bart O’Brien spots a Humboldt lily during a hike in La Tuna Canyon, Los Angeles County.

Humboldt lily

Humboldt lily in La Tuna Canyon detail. Photos: Emily Green

Expecting a generous reaction to the news that Bart O’Brien is taking over directorship of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in the Bay Area’s Tilden Park asks too much of an Angeleno. Berkeley’s gain is a staggering loss for Southern California, specifically for the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, where O’Brien has worked for more than 20 years. As Rancho’s director of horticulture, and later leader of its special projects, O’Brien introduced generations of homeowners and no few directors of water companies to plants perfectly adapted to our dry climate. The importance of this work cannot be overstated. These stoic plants and not squelching lawn will green our cities as more people are faced with getting along on less water.

Click here to keep reading


The lion of Longboat Key

Posted on | October 24, 2013 | No Comments

Marcella Hazan sketch

Marcella Hazan, the Italian cookbook writer who died in late September, age 89, must have been young once. Yet in the last 40 years, as she produced six seminal cookbooks and a memoir, she always seemed as old as Europe, as admired and as misunderstood by the emerging American food world.

Click here to keep reading in the LA Weekly about how the much feared Hazan only looked leonine, all mane and sleepily watchful eyes. She was in fact profoundly kind and as likely to maul as the marble lions out front of the New York Public Library.


When shorelines denote dust bowls

Posted on | September 9, 2013 | No Comments

DWP_gravel spreading in Owens Valley. Photo: Emily Green

On January 28, 2013 the Owens Lake Master Plan Committee gathered in the Tallman Pavilion at the Bishop fairgrounds in Inyo County, California. Its roughly three-dozen members—representatives from a smattering of agencies, environmental non-profits, tribes, and local activist groups—were there to see schematic renderings of habitat restoration proposals for the Owens  Dry Lakebed. They’d spent the last two years sweating the details of how strategically managed wetlands, boardwalks, and other amenities might be incorporated into more than 40 square miles of dust control work being done by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Three of the most respected landscape architecture firms in Southern California had been brought in to consult on the plans.

However, walking in hopeful was no guarantee of walking out that way.

Click here to keep reading about how Los Angeles is holding ambitious plans for Owens Dry Lake hostage as the city demands a limit to its responsibilities to quell dust on land dried out by LA water diversions. The story is part of the autumn issue of the journal Arid and was made possible by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation Metabolic Studio.

On another front, the monthly posting about the elevation of Lake Mead will return in October. However, in brief, the largest storage reservoir in the country closed August at 1,106.13, less than three dozen feet above a marker that will trigger water shortages in Arizona and Nevada. To understand how bad nerves are in Southern Nevada, do read this piece by Henry Brean in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.


No place for a turtle

Posted on | August 5, 2013 | 1 Comment


Since the 1989 listing of the Mojave population of the desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act, the animal has been protected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of the tortoise’s habitat across the Mojave Desert falls on federal land. This should have made federal protection of a federally listed species easier. But, after a quarter century of protection, tortoise numbers have steadily fallen. How far and how irretrievably is by no means clear. The USFWS only began censusing the turtles in 2001.

Meanwhile the Mojave Desert has been steadily industrialized. Compare the top map showing key tortoise habitat areas in dark green and tan with lower ones demarcating roads, recreation areas, cities, military bases and renewable energy zones, and it is vivid that the Mojave Desert’s signature animal is steadily being extirpated from its home range.

Since the early 1990s, in cases where the USFWS couldn’t save the tortoise’s land, say the entire Las Vegas Valley, the agency started licensing developers to move the turtles. The process is called “translocation.” Whether this ten dollar term for moving an animal from where it lives to where we would prefer that it live is a way to save tortoises in the wild, or whether we are managing the desert tortoise into extinction, is something the UFWS has not measured. No long-term survival studies of translocated tortoises have been done. Colloquially, they will admit that thousands of tortoises moved during the Vegas boom have made a large scale translocation site near Jean, Nevada a great place to find dead tortoise shells. This hasn’t stopped translocation from becoming the USFWS’s de facto tortoise management policy. High Country News has the story and KPCC has an interview with reporter Emily Green.

For those of you without a High Country News subscription, use this story for a free trial, then please support the best environment report in the West.

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