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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Community Based Water-Harvesting Update

View of planter circa May 9th (top) and circa June 25th (below).
I posted about a small, raised planter / stormwater management cell a local group installed in a parkway last month, and here are some updated photos of it.  The vegetation continues to grow in, adding a spark of green to the street along with the promise of some vegetables (Tomatoes, Kale, and more) by the end of summer. 
 View of planter circa May 9th (left) and June 25th (right)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Green Walls, SoCal Style #2 - Au Natural

  A local pub is even more "Cozy" with a vine wall.
In a continuing look at green facades and green walls in Los Angeles, I had to include the tried and trued method of just letting nature do its thing.  Vine-covered walls (or masonry walls on which self-climbing vines have attached themselves to) have been a long-loved part of LA for many years, and they come in many different forms based on the type of vine used, maintenance practices employed, and overall project type.

Much like plant-use in a traditional landscape, plant selection and horticultural practices dictate different aesthetic outcomes, presenting interesting opportunities for reworking building facades and little-used spaces into greener niches of the urban fabric.  Vine walls soften what would otherwise be a painted or barren masonry wall, and, when used en masse, can transform an entire building into a green shell of Algerian Ivy or Creeping Fig.  Each transformation is unique and compelling, providing texture, varied colors, and graphic qualities to urban form.. While vine walls require time to fill in, that time provides a strength to their character because it engenders a sense of time, history, and perhaps even a touch of romanticism.  You know this plant has been here for awhile, which in a place of constant change like LA, is meaningful.  What is also great about vine walls in LA is how varied the types of establishments are that have embraced them.  Whether a 5-star restaurant or a local dive bar, or whether in Beverly Hills or Culver City, vine walls flourish.   Here are a few images of some different vine walls near my house in LA, with more sure to come.    
  The sheared green facade creates a clean, architectural look.
  Another wall transformed through the mass and void of the creeping vine.
   Full vines provide screening and a softer, more naturalistic look.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My (Okay, just Lions . . . Mountain Lions that is)

Lion1 (Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.)
So, after a busy couple of weeks away from the blog, what better way to return than with a great story about nature persisting, and hopefully enduring in the midst of our urban context.  The LA Times reported that a litter of three mountain lions was discovered in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area! 
The Santa Monica Mountains welcomed a litter of three mountain lions, officials announced today.

According to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the kittens were discovered on May 26 near Peter Strauss Ranch. Two are female and one is male, according to a news release.

"Each mountain lion kitten has been implanted with a tracking device that will allow researchers to follow the kittens’ movement," according to the recreation area. "This is the first urban mountain lion study that has had the opportunity to track mountain lion kittens from such a young age. National Park Service researchers will study the new litter to see if the male mountain lion kitten will attempt to disperse to more expansive habitat when he matures, and if the females will have litters of their own in the future."

Officials say it marks only the second time officials have documented a litter of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. The first was in the summer of 2004.
Great news, and an incredible opportunity to learn more about the migration patterns of mountain lions.  Like many large range predators, mountain lions have suffered a lot of negative consequences due to expanding urban areas throughout the southwest.  Hopefully this discovery provides both a positive sign for mountain lion populations, and a chance to improve our ability to protect and accommodate mountain lion habitat more successfully.  And, baby mountain lion pictures in the daily news cycle are always a good thing.
 (Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Woolly Pocket Update

Quick correction on my last post - Woolly Pockets are actually now made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, all sourced and produced in the USA.  So, they are even better environmentally.  Thanks to Aurora James from Woolly Pocket for the correction! And, thanks to them for the cool product line. 

Green Walls, SoCal Style #1 - Woolly Pocket

As part of living in a semi-arid or arid environment, the question has always arisen about whether green technologies that are so successful in other regions make sense in ours. What type of green technologies  work, and what form might those green technologies take in our environment?  Do green roofs make water sense?  What about green walls?  And, what aesthetic opportunities exist for designers looking to incorporate these technologies into our environment? 

This post is the beginning of a running series showcasing the various forms of green walls that exist or are being introduced into Los Angeles. Each post will provide a brief overview of the system and show some images of each type of green wall.  All of them provide an interesting, and unique, aesthetic solution to regreening the urban environment, although some might be more water sensitive than others. 

This post looks at the Woolly Pocket (a recent post also discussed the system's application in school gardens).  The Woolly Pocket is self-described as:
Woolly Pockets are flexible, breathable, and modular gardening containers. They`come in two styles: those designed to be placed on horizontal surfaces, and those designed to be hung on walls for vertical gardening. You can use Woolly Pockets both indoors and out; they have built-in moisture barriers to help protect furniture, and they're equally at home outside in the elements. They're perfect for creating urban gardens where you have space to garden but no land to garden in.
The system is a modular concept based on individual, sewn pouches that provide a durable, lightweight planting container that can be repeated multiple times to cover a larger area.  Originally the product used a felt-like material, but now it is made out of a more durable nylon-like material that breathes for proper oxygen exchange.  Each pouch includes a moisture barrier to protect adjacent surfaces.
Detail of system from Woolly Pocket.  All Rights Reserved.
The system has been advertised as both an indoors and outdoors solution. The one example I have seen firsthand is on La Cienega Blvd. between Washington Blvd. and Venice Blvd.  It wraps across the front facade of a car repair business.  This installation incorporates the older, felt-like product line, and has a few additional components, including irrigation, and plastic sheeting to protect the masonry wall.  The plastic sheeting was installed initially to form a base behind the pockets, and then the pockets were installed in an overlapping pattern to cover the majority of the facade.  Main irrigation lines were installed at the top of the wall to gravity feed lateral lines running along each row of pouches.  Below are some images of the system.
 View of facade of Woolly Pocket installation on La Cienega Blvd.
  Additional view of facade of Woolly Pocket installation on La Cienega Blvd.
 Additional view of facade of Woolly Pocket installation on La Cienega Blvd.
  Detail of installation showing plastic sheeting behind overlapped pockets.
  Image of main line (see white pipe at top) protruding from wall
 Detail shot of irrigation lateral feeding a bubbler to an individual pocket
All in all, the effect of the system is pretty impressive, both at masking the facade of the building, but also in the diversity of plant materials that have been successfully grown in them.  I do wonder about how much irrigation is devoted to this particular installation, but given the simplicity of the installation on what appears to be an existing industrial-use building, this is a pretty cool, retrofit system that could hold a lot of regreening potential, and a lot of aesthetic opportunity based on plant selection and patterning of installation. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Woolly Woolly

Wooly_600(Images from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved)
Woolly Pocket is an LA-based green wall system designed to make it easy for all of us to grow plants on our indoor and outdoor surfaces.  Designed by a Venice-based sculptor, the product is gaining a lot of attention in LA.  Perhaps more importantly, the company has a strong commitment to making their product available to schools to promote economical, and space saving, school garden programs.  The LA Times provided a great overview this week of the program, including images from a recent installation at Frida Kahlo High School. 
I’ve been smitten with Woolly Pockets ever since they came on the market in the spring of 2009. The fuzzy, brightly colored planters create an instant vertical garden without any complicated construction. Just fill the pockets with dirt, pop in a seedling or some seeds, and water. They're simple, they look great and they're green -- made of recycled plastic bottles.
You'd expect to see them at homes, restaurants, hotels and even certain stores, but I was surprised to learn that over the last year the pockets have also been installed in more than 200 schools across the country.

Miguel Nelson, the sculptor who invented Woolly Pockets, was inspired to create the Woolly School Garden program after hearing Alice Waters in the summer of 2009. The concept is simple: For $1,000 a school can order a complete Woolly School Garden with 50 pockets, vouchers for Gardener’s Gold potting soil, seeds and curriculum ideas. Nelson said a teacher and students should need just a few hours to install a Woolly School Garden, and because the pockets can be hung on any wall or chain-link fence, there are no additional costs.

“It’s not like you need a lot of land or to bulldoze concrete,” Nelson said. “A lot of school gardens can cost over $100,000 to put in.”

This week Nelson was helping to install the Woolly School Garden at Santee and Frida Kahlo high schools, two adjacent campuses in downtown L.A. Nelson and his team aren’t usually on hand for installations, but this was a special occasion: They had been invited to put in these gardens by the city's Million Trees L.A. program. By the time I arrived, the pockets were already filled with herbs, squash, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions and nasturtium, and kids had already had a tutorial on how to take care of the plants.

Nelson wants to have 11,000 Woolly School Gardens installed by 2011, serving as an outdoor classroom to teach science, health, even mathematics. Regardless of whether the students learn anything from having the pockets on campus, they looked fabulous.

Bring on the Corpse . . . Flower that is!

 (Image from The Huntington Gardens.  All Rights Reserved.)
Exciting news for LA plant enthusiasts and fans of the macabre alike.  The Huntington Garden reported today that their Amorphophallus titanum, or corpse flower, has opened and is now blooming!  Depending on nature's whims, LA residents have another day or two to run out and catch a whiff of the foul smell that the plant uses to attract pollinators in its native rainforest ecosystem.  Perfect timing for a weekend visit for those so inclined. 

On The Hungtington's stinkyblog (their name, not mine), you can find out more about the plant, and see time lapse images of the bloom. Lisa Boone and the LA Times also provided a nice overview of the plant on Thursday:
Thursday afternoon the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino posted a coy message on its Twitter account: "A fly has been spotted buzzing around the Corpse Flower bud. Does he know something?"

Officials later released a statement declaring that Amorphophallus titanum, the so-called corpse flower nicknamed for its pungent odor, "will likely open in the next 2 to 4 days -- subject to nature's whims, of course."

Huntington curator Dylan P. Hannon added that healthy adult plants can flower every three to five years, "but that is not to say they will follow any pattern."

This year's corpse flower is smaller than its predecessors, making it difficult for curators to predict when it will bloom. The plant, shown at right, measured 3 feet, 8 inches high on Thursday. Regardless of size, it's expected to smell equally rotten. According to the Huntington, the odor gives rainforest insects a heads-up that the plant is ready for pollination.

As reported earlier,
the flower appears infrequently and lasts for only about a day. To see and smell the flower is still considered a rare event, as you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Corpse groupies can get up-to-date information on  the Huntington's website, on Facebook or on Twitter. The garden even has created the Stinky blog.