The Dry Garden: Speak now or forever hold your peace

Posted on | February 18, 2011 | 1 Comment

Sprinkler run-off streams down Baldwin Avenue from Los Angeles County Arboretum street plantings past the county's public works office until it is plated into a sewer system that takes it to the Pacific Ocean. This is water from a reserve that is largely imported from the Colorado River and San Francisco Bay tributaries, pumped to Southern California at huge cost to the environment, treated to potability at great expense to us, then sprayed on inappropriate hedges with inappropriate irrigation equipment so that it is quickly turned into a ribbon of polluted urban slobber. And it is the County of Los Angeles doing it in a place where residents are supposed to learn the best garden practices.

Since arriving at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden more than a year and a half ago, Chief Executive Richard Schulhof has been listening.

The region’s leading horticultural figures have been invited for brainstorming sessions about how to remake the Arcadia garden and its programs. A consultant has been called in to direct discussion. Recently the public was invited to complete an online questionnaire. The arboretum wants anyone with an Internet connection and 10 minutes to spare to suggest improvements for the 127 acres.

Anyone who cares about the future of Southern California should summon up their inner optimist and fill out the form, because the arboretum has the potential to be more than a pretty place where people can recreate. It could set the bar for our region’s horticultural standards and the way Southern California gardens. What we say now could improve our environment for years to come.

Set on land carved from the estate of Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin, the arboretum was formed in the late 1940s as a collaboration between Los Angeles County and the region’s horticultural movers and shakers. By all accounts, a physician named Samuel Ayres Jr. did most to see it formed and then set its agenda. After a trip to Hawaii, Ayres dreamed of exotic flowering trees festooning the more muted California landscape. Among thousands of plants that eventually came into California through the arboretum were coral, floss silk and golden trumpet trees. When Ayres died in 1987, the headline on his Times obituary said, in part: “He Put Color in L.A. Landscape.”

The problem? The color craved by Ayres often came from plants native to the tropics, where rainfall is measured in feet. Rainfall in California’s Mediterranean climate zone is counted in inches, on a good year maybe 15 of them.

To continue reading this week’s column “The Dry Garden” in the Los Angeles Times, click here.


One Response to “The Dry Garden: Speak now or forever hold your peace”

  1. Zurda
    February 20th, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    I’m so glad that you shared this link. I stopped visiting the Arboretum about twenty years ago largely because it had less and less to do with the way I lived. I was glad to fill out the questionnaire.

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