By Laura Shepard Townsend
While it is essential that we must all do our best to instigate drought strategies here in Southern California, it seems the answers, especially here in Venice, are bordering on a simplistic formula: the systematic destruction of plantings. Unfortunately this seems to be simultaneous with the destruction of so many of our small cottages and bungalows that once graced Venetian lots, replaced with contemporary boxes built right out to the property lines, leaving very little space for verdancy.
If there is a garden for these contemporary box houses, the celebrated plants are those ‘just in’, architecturals from Australia or the desert. The new style of gardens is now akin to a power point presentation, eyes skipping over the terrain rapidly to glean its design, rather than a space within which to immerse one’s being.
As a child, I learned that gardens were my natural sanctuaries. For solitude, I climbed way up high into the grandness of my strong maple tree; when disappointed by love I sought the comfort of its strong limbs. I meandered about in profuse juxtapositions of scents and hues in gardens around my home. Watching wildlife taught me about the glory of life’s renewal.
Perhaps people have lost the art of just sitting in a garden to watch a hummingbird dart about from blossom to blossom.
Perhaps they do not know the joy of the cycle of a mockingbird — singing its heart out to attract a mate, the careful selection of materials for a nest; the strenuous demands of the young birds for food; the teaching of flight to the clumsy feather ball, and finally the launch.
Perhaps they do not know about aromatics in nature as a means to smooth out the intensities and stresses of the day, and rely instead on candles or what has been bought somewhere. I, as an artist and naturalist, stubbornly cannot believe it. Or let’s say I am hopeful that the soul of mankind will gravitate to meditative immersions.
For me, more critical perhaps than soothing stress levels is the nurturing of wildlife in urbanscapes. Studies indicate that U.S. cities and suburbs house 2/3 of all North America wild bird species; a diverse native bird population indicates that the ecosystem as a whole is healthy. While pondering what kind of hardscape to implement in your garden, know that a study on the bees in California has found that pavement and structures are key factors in the bee’s nesting decline. But it is clear that every single creature is in trouble, and we can all plant to assist their survival and thriving. As an example, the May 2014 Beachhead article by Krista Schwimmer urges the planting of milkweeds for the larva of the Monarch butterfly and to aid in the Monarch’s survival.
Mixing varieties of plants (especially the native plants) is key to achieve the above components. There are now conclusive studies showing that bees are attracted to species-rich patches of garden than to dense patches of a few species such as in architectural plantings. The planet is in a pollinator crisis, and since annual pollination is estimated to be worth more than $200 billion, it would be great to contribute in some simple ways to some solutions…to ensure the survival of bees and perhaps even that of our species.
Landscaping is a big topic. However, here are a few ideas to create an oasis that will balance: the utilization of little supplemental water; the nurturing of wildlife; color all year around; fruit and flowers (and maybe some herbs) for your table and cooking. It is vital to mix many components to create a glory of a garden, one that is a delight to the senses and to the heart.
A quick overview: the use of certain fruit trees, that once established, requires little water and easily thrives with drip systems. An essential is the dwarf Meyer’s lemon tree, which will supply lemons year round. Besides yielding fruit and lovely scents, the blossoms attract bees and hummingbirds. I am also very partial to vines loaded with berries.
Native Plants are the best to nurture Native Wildlife. Unfortunately they are often thought to be dull as dishwater. Look again! The showstopper is the Matilija poppy, which graces the curves of canyon landscapes.
Go to a native plant nursery and marvel at the salvias, the sages—one of my favorite is Cleveland sage with its tufts of periwinkle florals. And mix the natives with plants from other regions.
So, if you are joining the Venice community, I would urge you to do your part to nurture wildlife, rather than to plant soulless monochromatic corporate planting. Leave that to the shopping centers…
By Laura Shepard Townsend