Boston ferns and birds of paradise

Posted on | April 20, 2010 | 4 Comments

As a somber Mayor of Los Angeles delivered his State of the City address this afternoon, the set dressing said as much as the speech. Los Angeles is a place flagging as much from failure of imagination as from a monetary crisis. Fluffing out the rim of the podium were a mix of Boston ferns and birds of paradise. Behind the Mayor were crumpled-looking American flags.

This is not the stage set worthy of our Mayor, our city or our region. There is no reason for gratuitous greenery when announcing painful budget cuts, or any other occasion. Better no plants than the wrong ones. Better no flags than rumpled ones.

But, if we must decorate, then let’s decorate with our best asset, our natural beauty. Let’s fly our city flag for State of the City addresses. When our Mayor speaks of stalwartness, let’s surround him with rugged agaves instead of ferns. And let’s not just do it as stage setting. Let’s follow suit by landscaping all public property in Los Angeles, starting with City Hall, with our glorious indigenous plants. Let’s build a vernacular of hope built on what we have, not mismatched flora from New Zealand and South Africa. When we talk about conservation, let’s do so from a city that is a living example of it. The best part? The city would be able to, say, restore cut library hours on what it would save on mowing and blowing turfgrass, a plant that is as unsuited to this region as a Boston fern is at a Los Angeles State of the City speech.


4 Responses to “Boston ferns and birds of paradise”

  1. Gayle
    April 20th, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

    Outstanding post… a big story told via the small details.

  2. EmilyGreen
    April 24th, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    A very smart horticulturist wrote in by e-mail asking: “Are you aware that the bird of paradise is the city fleur of Los Angeles?(The city is tree is Erythrina caffra, also from South Africa).”

    The post invites that all too valid question, and it probably shouldn’t, but yes, I am aware of that. For those interested in the story of how the bird became our emblem, go here:

    But it was the partnering of them with Boston ferns, and I suppose the choice of the bird back in the day, that I would argue are iconographic parts of our identity crisis and therefore failure to find common strength when we need it.

  3. theparsley
    April 27th, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    At the ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Annual Meeting they have now started doing something interesting – instead of the usual rent-a-plants dressing up the stage for the general sessions, they get a plant nursery to sponsor and provide some native shrubs and so forth in containers, which sit there for the four days of the conference and then go on to be planted somewhere local.

    A nice take on extended producer responsibility; and undoubtably much more complicated and expensive to deal with in the short term than standard rent-a-plants. But we don’t get long term benefits like that without accepting some hassle and expense in the short term.

  4. cassy aoyagi
    January 24th, 2012 @ 10:51 pm

    Emily, wow so well said and thank you for sending. Funny that you reference city hall almost 2 years before the discussion became public.

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