California native plants on Prairie Ave - part trois

Part deux. Part un.

In my job, it turns out that when you want the straight skinny you're often best off talking to someone on the factory floor rather than the CEO. This is also true in many other aspects of life. In this case I spoke with the City's construction supervisor about the plants that they were planning for Prairie Avenue.

He pulled out a sheaf of printouts and showed me pictures: He demands photos from landscapers since he doesn't trust the common names of plants. (This is, by the way, a great reason to get familiar with the horticulturalists' use of binomial dog latin nomenclature, one of my personal goals). In the stack of pictures there were several of the California natives that I had previously recommended and none of the agapanthus or pittosporum (though bird of paradise and roses were still on the list). I conclude that, either the story changed since I last wrote (see part deux) in which case I managed to exert influence or I got the wrong information in the first place. Either one is a good outcome.

Edit 4/4/07: Turns out that I had influence.


Attic access and light added; porch rail fixed

My life is all about bonus chores, of course - the kind that you have to do because you've discovered that they are a necessary requirement to get the real chore done. Sometimes, I feel that I invent these chores - sort of a different version of the procrastination game everyone plays. You know, "Oh, I think I'd better write this very important letter the editor instead of working on my income taxes or writing that final report." On the other hand, there's a logical flow to my chores this weekend and I don't feel that I'm avoiding the tougher tasks like writing a large check to the electrician or prepping for demolition.

In this case the real chore is removing the wall between kitchen and living room so that I can start my kitchen renovation. There is a whole cascade of bonus chores: The kitchen remodel requires that I move gas and electricity services and upgrade the electrical service. Therefore I need a new higher amperage electrical panel, which Edison requires that I locate differently than my current panel. Electrical panels always provide a ground for the house water system therefore I have to locate a hose spigot in the wall nearby. That means I have to run new water pipe in that wall. If I'm doing that, I might as well run all new copper pipe to solve that low flow problem in my 54 year old galvanized pipes. My services are all in the sauna^H^H^H^H^H attic (slab foundation) so I have to provide easy access for the materials and myself as well as light to work by. Oh, and the house has to be habitable for an adult and an eight year old all the while. This brings me to this weekend's chores.

I took Friday off work because I had the opportunity to be child free for the weekend and really get some stuff done. I beavered away and installed an attic light in the garage attic, installed an attic access stairway, and got the porch railing about 75% installed.

I've already stricken them from my list.

The porch rail was one of the other kind of bonus chores - The kind that are collateral or secondary chores from MUST DO NOW types of activities. Often these are unplanned. In this case, I earlier discovered heart-stopping amounts of rot in the porch posts, to which the (ugly) old railing was attached. The posts were replaced on the spot but only now can I really call the task complete. (Of course there's tertiary bonus chores like having to paint the new posts and railing, but I can rationalize those as a completely different and new chore with its own independent origin, so I don't feel so chastened about it.)

On the native plant front, I visited the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden in Polliwog Park with Juli and she was actually won over by their wildflower plantings. They're much, much sparser than my almost forest-like meadow. She's suggested that I need to accelerate the pace at which I'm thinning the wildflower herds.

On a related topic, I noticed that a neighbor only a couple blocks away has converted their front lawn to bunch grasses and other natives. I'll have to make contact.


How quickly bunch grass turns to agapanthus

Bunch grasses in Hawthorne update. Redacted excerpts from actual emails.

From: Mr. Somebody
To: Me
Subject: FW: RE: Marine Ave. / Prairie
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2007 17:48:46 -0800

These are the plants.

Strelitzia Reginae “Bird of Paradise”
Agapanthus Africanus “Lily of Nile”
Raphiolepis “Ballerinas”
Pittosporum tobira “Wheelers” dwarf
Pittosporum Tobira Variegated
Trachelosperum Jasminoides “Star Jasmine”
Ice Berg Roses
Gazenies Ground cover

Thank you for your time and please call me if you have any questions.

My response:

I noticed that many of these don't meet your previous request for low water usage. I'm concerned, too, that there are many plants listed: In order to keep a sense of continuity I'd limit the selections to fewer plants, no matter what plants you go with. Otherwise I think that the planting will risk looking choppy.

Is it too late to ask for a couple substitutes? None of these below will require large amounts of water after they get established in the first or second year.

For Gazania (I think there may be a typo in your memo) I would substitute Blue-eyed grass, Douglas Iris, or ceanothus "Yankee Point", all low water plants once established and all flowering plants.

For Agapanthus I would substitute Leymus condensatus, "Canyon Prince" (giant wild rye) or deer grass (muhlenbergia rigens)

For the Wheeler's Dwarf Pittosporum I'd substitute another appropriately sized ceanothus, perhaps Ceanothus impressus x papillosus "Joyce Coulter"

For the variegated Pittosporum I'd substitute the Yankee Point ceanothus, if you didn't use it in earlier or maybe even a salvia - perhaps Salvia clevelandi (nice blue blooms) or the nearly indestructable Mexican sage.

I know the iceberg roses tie in with other plantings of iceberg roses in the City, so I'd leave those, maybe grouped together to make a bold statement as you cross the City limit. Maybe use a tight grouping of bird of paradise between the roses and the other plants or maybe drop it. I'd drop the star Jasmine altogether - ceanothus will get the job done and make a more cohesive statement.

signed, Me

The reply:

From: Mr. Somebody
Subject: RE: Marine Ave. / Prairie

This was a landscape architect that came up with this design I was told.
-Mr. Somebody

I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry. What sort of landscape architect uses agapanthus and Wheeler's dwarf pittosporum in this day and age? Aren't those so 10 years ago, even for exotics?

At least they're using the Ca Sycamores.


Weekend doings; lawn meadow; rainfall

I started the weekend on Saturday with a brief three hour neighborhood cleanup, organized through my neighborhood association and the local elementary school. The City of Hawthorne provided heavy lifting. There's definitely room for improvement in some of the areas adjacent to my neighborhood but I'm proud to say that my city is doing quite well in terms of keeping itself clean. Next fall I'm tempted to do some flower bombing in dirt areas that I spied while cleaning - back alleys with multiple abandoned mattresses, broken old furniture, and liquor store detritus.

Because we're on the border with LA County and Lawndale there's the inevitable lack of accountability in those areas. However, Hawthorne does a good job of keeping up even the areas that they're not responsible for. As a result of my conversations and email Hawthorne will pick up the street cleaning on a short cul-de-sac that falls in the County, but is surrounded by Hawthorne on three sides. This was accomplished very casually through conversations with the appropriate people. It's interesting to accomplish real progress that way, something I've grown better at over the years. Call me ignorant, but years ago I would have expected a formal process for any dealings with the City or any institution. I've learned since then that many things get accomplished relying on the strength of established relationships. I could have read any number of books that explained this, but I wouldn't have found them believable.

While working on the cleanup in a blighted area closer to Crenshaw, I was reminded of an idea I had a while back: People locally refer to our nearby concrete channel as "the drainage ditch" but I suspect that it was once a seasonal stream. It could be again, I suspect, if the idea to rejuvenate it a la the LA River catches hold. This weekend I floated that idea to a few people who can make things happen and I didn't get laughed at, so maybe it has a chance of happening in my lifetime. It starts from underground at 120th and Crenshaw and flows on the surface to the LA Harbor. Seems like an ideal candidate for wilding, though some people might like it just the way it is. The official name for the "drainage ditch" is the Dominguez Channel. Here's a virtual tour. The LA River Project has a bit of info too.

The front yard meadow is doing well but I think the plants will struggle against one another later unless I do something now so I continue to thin the herd gradually by pulling up some of the very dense plantings. There's a ton of spurge in there - my former lawn didn't have that much so it's a bit surprising. Hopefully it's not a native that I'm not recognizing. The remainder of the front yard is coming into bloom.

Red Monkeyflower (Mimulus puniceus variety unknown) in my garden.

Later Saturday, I had intentions to take a first look at the work to be done in my attic: re-plumbing and rerouting the gas lines. If some of it looked easy, then I'd go ahead. However, I got the bug to put in a larger attic access (existing access is 1.5' on a side and doesn't let you get even a half sheet of plywood up) and some attic lights so that I wouldn't have to work by headlamp. Because Sunday was the first (and record-breaking) hot day of the year, the attic was a stifling, sauna-like, 110 degrees and ultimately only the twin banks of dual 4' fluorescent lights got put in (they work great, though I'll expect early failures due to the high heat in there). I now have a steel attic ladder in my living room and the front porch railing is still waiting for a free half day. I'm updating my list - adding the attic access door and lights bonus chore.

The rainfall total in my backyard now stands at just over 1.4 inches (about 3.6 cm in case I have a European reader). That's low. I was one of the early harbingers of drought. I suppose I should stay away from predictions of famine, pestilence, and disease.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) in my garden.


Sophisticated Ladies

We saw Sophisticated Ladies tonight at the South Bay Civic Light Opera. The 8 year old in attendance was a bit tired and put out by all the singing. At the end of the evening, he didn't want to admit that any of it was fun, thought we exchanged several grins during hot tap numbers and during a nice scat+sax number. Unfortunately I thought I'd ordered the matinee, but ended up with the night time tickets, so he was a bit tired. As a benchmark, he loved the musical numbers in Chicago, which I shared with him the other day (skipping the sordid plot details). The adult in attendance enjoyed all of it. The LA Times did too.

Meadow update

The butterflies were sunning themselves in my front yard today and the bumble bees were buzzing. Spring felt like it had sprung and it wasn't any coincidence that I could be found busy doing spring maintenance tasks like mowing the lawn (even with our scant <2" of rain it needed it after weeks without a cut), weeding, prepping the fire pit, planting, etc. The potted plants were organized: Lemon grass was organized into the trash, our acorns (retrieved from a hike out of Azuza) had sprouted and we have three new oak trees (don't know where I'll use them). I found a likely spot for the Stachys bullata "Rocky Point" purchased last fall that was showing signs of new growth. Along with it in the pot came a volunteer penstemon, now part of my potted collection as well. Two for one isn't bad.

The start of spring always comes with a thaw, metaphorically here in coastal California, and thus it was that I found myself in conversation with the neighbor who has given me the silent treatment for at least five years now. It started with her (hopeful?) question about whether I was moving given the recent work I've done on the house. We then discussed the front yard meadow. She thought it was all weeds. I gently corrected and pointed out the goldfields that had started to bloom as early as a week or two ago. I promised flowers all summer. I hope I'm not wrong. She pointed out that I might have over planted and I agreed that I probably had put too much seed down. I had already thinned some of the most abundant plants but later I pulled another several handfuls. You can hardly see where I've done so.

Here's the current incarnation of the front yard meadow. You can see the goldfields in the foreground - they've shown preference for the street-side facing slopes of the swale, most likely because there's more sun. There's very abundant soft-wooded plants with spade shaped leaves and red veins that I'm calling clarkia until I learn differently, an abundant underpinning of yarrow, some poppies, and even a little red fescue that I think I've identified growing up, hair-like, between the others. There's plenty of turf grasses (weeds) as well. If you make a 2' high hummock out of your old lawn you have to expect that sort of stuff to pop up, despite your best efforts to draw out the bad actors with water in the fall. They have an innate sense of spring and will bide their time until they can creep in under cover of the other plant. The good news is that the natives are definitely the dominant species here and seem to have out competed all but the earliest of turf grass sprouts.


New blog name?

I've found a different rut than I thought I'd be in when I first started (and named) this blog. A change of name seems in order. I've gone from "Breathing Treatment" to the "The Treatment" (sounds like a David E. Kelly production) to "California Treatment" (perhaps a bit grandiose - I'd prefer to under promise and over deliver). All options are under consideration. Suggestions?


I've had one vote to keep it the same, including the brief tag line. "It's not a treat and it's not a mint."

Edit2 (8 Mar 2007): I'm back to the original, obviously. It has its advantages: sufficiently vague that I can tackle any topic without going astray. Distinctive (for a blog). A google search on "breathing treatment" turns up all sorts of asthma-related pages, but the blogs are thin on the ground. I had considered "Bread and Circus" once upon a time as a blog title, but there's plenty of competition in that namespace and I'm not really cynical in a sustained enough manner to back it up, despite appearances.

A recent suggestion from my other reader was, "The native grass curmudgeon." I think that's a bit limiting, as are the obvious variants, "The native plant cumudgeon" or simply "Curmudgeon", etc. Apt, perhaps, but limiting.

The real power of the name, "breathing treatment" is that aside from the whole connotation of ill health that it's vague enough to mean anything: A breath of curmudgeonly fresh air? A metaphor for taking stock of your life? A place I can channel some pent up energies and come back refreshed?

LA Times roast pork recipe

I made a slow-roasted pork recipe, following the one below, last weekend. It wasn't all that great and I'm not sure why. I have a couple theories that I'll try when I next make the recipe. Unfortunately, the pork shoulder that I got was 9 lbs, so it'll be a while before I can eat it all up, rinse the disappointment from my mouth, and try again.

Here it is, straight from the Times food section.

Recipe: Slow-roasted shoulder of pork with salsa verde.

We developed the recipe for this succulent roast in 2005 and we still dream about it.
Times Staff Writers

Total time: 20 minutes plus 8 1/2 to 10 1/2 hours roasting time

Servings: 8 to 10
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fennel seeds
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 to 6 small dried red chiles, crumbled, with seeds
1 boneless pork shoulder butt (about 6 to 7 pounds)
1/2 cup hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salsa verde (recipe follows)

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic and fennel seeds and mix them together. Add the salt, pepper and chiles and combine.

2. Cut 1-inch wide slits all over the surface including top and bottom of meat. Rub the garlic-seed mixture into the slits.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven. Sear the meat on all sides over medium-low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to burn.

4. Remove the roast from the pot, add the hot water, stirring and scraping the bottom to deglaze the pan. Place a rack in the bottom of the pan, add the meat, fatty side up, and roast in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes.

5. Pour the lemon juice and the chicken broth over the meat. Brush with the remaining olive oil.

6. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees, cover the pan and roast the meat 8 to 10 hours, occasionally basting with pan juices. The roast will be done when the meat is falls apart when barely touched with a fork.

7. Remove the roast from the pot and place it on a serving platter. Skim the fat from the pan drippings. Serve pan drippings on the side or drizzled over the meat.

Each of 10 servings: 377 calories; 36 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 23 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 121 mg. cholesterol; 588 mg. sodium.


Salsa verde

Total time: 35 minutes

Servings: 8 to 10

Note: From Don Dickman of Rocca in Santa Monica

2 cups Italian parsley leaves
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup mint leaves
2 salt-packed anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 30 minutes, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup salt-packed capers, soaked in water for 30 minutes, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper

1. Wash parsley, basil and mint leaves and spin dry in a salad spinner.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, basil, mint, anchovies, capers, mustard, garlic and red pepper flakes.

3. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. It should form a relatively smooth puree that is slightly chunky. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 1 cup.

Each of 10 servings: 111 calories; 1 gram protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 1 mg. cholesterol; 216 mg. sodium.

Apple Pancake Recipe

Juli picked this one up on a free recipe card from Penzey's. It's delicious. Sort of 3/4 of the way to a Dutch Baby pancake, but with apples.

1/4 cup butter, divided
4 eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium baking apples, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Divide butter evenly between two 9 inch pie plates and put them in the oven to melt the butter. Remove the plates and rotate them so the melted butter coats the bottom and the sides. Set aside.
2. Beat eggs, flour, milk and salt at medium speed for one minute. Arrange half of the apple slices in each pie plate. Pour half the egg mixture over the apple slices in each pan.
3. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle over the top of each pan.
4. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately with warm syrup.

I skip the powdered sugar on top, since it's superfluous to the taste. I use Grade B Maple syrup (more flavor than Grade A). I like tarter, firmer apples with the peel on, sliced thinly. Golden Delicious or the dread Red Delicious would be too insipid for me, particularly with the syrup. I also typically use four times the number of apples called for - two smallish ones in a half recipe, prewarmed or par-cooked in the microwave (2 min on high). Made that way, half a recipe feeds two adults but a whole recipe feeds an adult and a child. Go figure.


Garden links I'm browsing

Even before I first started blogging, I pored through all the archives in California Native Plant PR. It's linked over at the right because it's sooo on target for my current garden interests. The comments section appears to be surrounded by a cone of silence, however. Carmen now writes the Payne Foundation newsletter articles which turn up in her blog , so while I'm happy that she's turned professional I think that the articles have become a bit less personal of a journey.

I've been impressed recently by Northern California philosopher / writer / farmer Andy Griffin's commentary on life and farming at Mariquita Farms. He's recently moved to a new blog at www.ladybugletter.com, but the archive linked previously is well worth the reading. An audio blog for his local public radio station available as well if you poke around.

The Renegade Gardener has some good stuff too. He's a practicing (and successful, apparently) garden designer / author. One of the things that makes me believe in his genius is his triple play coverage of one of my favorite topics: lawns, lawns, and lawns. Those lawn article date to 1998, so apparently I'm just a Johnny Come Lately. For extra humor (along with garden design philosophy) see his articles on tree circles and his Don't Do lists. For example, Don’t landscape to reflect suppressed childhood demons and a Top 10 Don't list. He gardens in one of the snow states, so just ignore most of the stuff about plants and climate.

Garden Rant is one that I want to read more of. Today their feature blog post is The Taste of the Factory, a small departure from their usually more garden-focussed topics. One of the nice things about them is that they attract a large enough contingent of followers that the comments are often worth reading too.

L'atelier Vert has interesting commentary. Articles on citrus and winter purslane (who knew miner's lettuce could ascend to such heights) have been interesting. I'll be back.