Sunday, December 12, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont displays the ravishing beauty of California's wild plants. But the setting is so operatic, it can be hard to imagine this flora on a smaller stage, say, a patio or apartment balcony.
Unless you happen upon a nook where native plants are potted up for a more intimate performance.
On a foggy morning, a hummingbird swoops in for a sip of Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii, above). Impatiently, it probes the whorls of the petite lavender flowers. This sage is usually a sprawling shrub, but confined to a 5-gallon teal pot, the crisp reiterations of dainty leaves and blossoms have the restraint and precision of a Baroque concerto.
Many of Rancho's pots are tall. Low-growing species are raised 3 to 4 feet off the ground, offering a bird's- or bug's-eye experience of these intricate plants.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Would that every Southern California summer were this cool (current hot spell aside). My son and I have taken advantage of the weather to get out and about.
In late July we also enjoyed a visit to the Audubon Center at Debs Park. We spread a blanket next to a pond, and had a simple picnic. My son dug in the sand and climbed rocks; I enjoyed the birds and insects. Together we pretended to be bears in the little cave. Baby bear gave mom bear a time-out.
Friday, July 30, 2010
If you drive about half an hour north of Palmdale, you’ll find yourself in the foothills of Kern County ’s Tehachapi Mountains. They’re studded with Joshua trees, that sparse icon of the Mojave. But a new symbol is also rising, reaching its limbs into the desert sky.
Planted amidst the Joshuas: more than 3,000 wind turbines, resembling large white pinwheels. The older models are about six-stories-high. The newest are taller than the statue of liberty. Standing next to the turbines, Kern County planner Lorelei Oviatt says, “You’re actually in the middle of a 223,000 acre wind area that Kern County has set aside, where we hope we can site enough wind for over 3 million households.”
Read the rest of my story on KPCC.org
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
In reporting a forthcoming radio story on the rush of alternative energy projects in California’s Kern County, I spoke with V. John White, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.
Q: How’s California doing in its quest to tap renewable resources, ASAP?
A: We’re getting steadily better, I think. We spent a lot of time talking about doing renewables, but the fact is we’re still at roughly 15% renewable statewide.
That’s up a little bit from 12%. But we need to go much greater, to 20%-33% and beyond. That’s going to take significant effort, and I think we’re starting to get there. California had this big boom in the 80's and early 90's and then we stopped. And we learned a lot, but most of that experience went elsewhere and now we’re just getting back into it.
Q: How Does Kern County figure in this picture. I believe the California Energy Commission a few years back projected the county would provide about 40% of the energy needed to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS)—the alternative energy mandates for investor-owned utilities.
A: They [Kern] have some of the best wind resources in the state that have yet to be developed--in the Tehachapi Mountains area. They also have, in parts of the county, very, very good solar resources. They also have proximity of transmission lines that bisect the wind and solar areas. So they have some very important advantages in terms of the resources they were blessed with.
They have some expertise from having built, operated and planned these resources, so they’re also becoming leaders and innovators in the planning of these project.
Q: What’s the county’s environmental record?
A: [County planners have] looked at where impacts might occur and added some requirements for the developers to protect species--it's a sign of some leadership. Also, in the solar area they have given a lot of thought to the best places.
Q: Are California's strict environmental laws slowing the pace of alternative energy development?
A: It’s really a combination of things. In some cases it’s the transmission, interconnections, and in some cases there are federal wildlife reviews the state can’t do anything about. I think on balance CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] provides a means of identifying and reducing impacts from projects. CEQA is a burden for developers compared to other states, but as a result we get better projects with better mitigation and sometimes even less opposition because of the care and the time that is taken.
CEQA is a proxy for a conversation between project applicant and community. I think what you have in Kern County is a moderator for the conversation that can help [energy developments] be successful. By anticipating there are problems that have to be solved, instead of like in Texas trying to approve them as quickly as possible, you avoid adverse consequences and you learn as you go in ways that improve the projects….
Q: Kern County generally prefers to see wind and solar projects developed on private land. Sounds like good strategy economically and environmentally, yes?
A: I think that’s true. One of the problems with private land, however, is a lot of it is divide up into really small parcels. The [projects on] federal lands…it’s important they have an opportunity to get approved if they’re good projects. We have a great amount of economic stimulus money that we’re racing to try to capture by getting projects approved.
The thing about solar is you can still get a lot of energy from the land--with the right acreage--with very high solar radiation. [Public lands in] Kern County are in the Western Mojave, which has some of the best solar resources in the state and the whole country. And if projects are built there they can be smaller than comparable projects because of how good the radiation is. We have to recognize the scale of the energy we have to displace; the [vast] amount of energy we have to have to get off coal, fuel and electrical cars.
I think what’s happening now is the urgency of putting people back to work, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use, have combined to create a sense of urgency that’s causing all the local governments, developers, and environmentalists to raise their game.
American Energy companies are also look across the border for alternative energy. Listen to my story for The World.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
We're a little challenged aesthetically this year as we had to defend our food from digging skunks and at least one very healthy rat (all those blueberries he ate, no doubt).
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
A couple weeks ago, Eaton Canyon docents had set up a table with magnifying viewers and rubber copies of the tadpole-to-frog cycle. My son looked at them and pronounced, "metamorphosis." (The docents said the tadpoles were either Pacific or California tree frogs.)
This year several people told us the caterpillars they got from Kidspace did not emerge. But we've had good luck with the ones we mail ordered from Insect Lore.
More on raising painted ladies.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Among the small wonders I'm enjoying these days is this feral celery (above). Last year the deliberately planted crop was bitter and I didn't (intentionally) start any this year. Wouldn't you know it, this volunteer, which has been totally neglected, is delicious. And it's growing in decomposed granite! Not that I recommend that; it's getting seepage from a nearby pot of marjoram.
We're also enjoying spinach, scallions, lettuces, sorrel, carrots, strawberries, blueberries, and just harvested the rest of our yukon gold potatoes.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
And the plant has also taken root in a creek running through the park. Click over to my weeds series to learn more about fountain grass.
Above Drew Ready of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council cranes to see the crown of a mature elderberry, smothered by cape ivy. "This area is pretty much a dead zone," he said. "If you listen and look around, you hear no wildlife--there's no songbirds; you see no lizards. There are probably rats."
At Arcadia Park ivy's got strangle-hold at least one sycamore (above & below) as well, and is making a run for some gorgeous live oaks. "The ivy over the years has covered the [oak] seedlings, so there's no regeneration going on in this understory," Ready said. "If this oak goes, there's a good chance there won't be one to replace it."
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Periwinkle (Vinca major) hails from the Mediterranean. Let loose in parts of Southern California, it smothers virtually all of the wildlife-supporting native plants in its path. California is home to many indigenous plants found nowhere else on Earth. Many are at risk of extinction. The main culprit is urbanization, but weedy exotic plants — even some that residents buy for their gardens — often share the blame. Able to rough it in the wild, runaway plants can throw entire ecosystems out of balance.
Mexican fans are the remarkably tall (up to 100 feet), skinny palms with fan-shaped fronds that have towered over much of the city’s built environment for more than a century. More conspicuous than stars in L.A.’s washed-out night sky, some palm constellations have even been dubbed historic-cultural monuments.
Although other palms have sneaked into the scene, Nicholas Staddon, director of new plants for Monrovia Growers, says Mexican fans are still popular and “very valuable — it’s fast-growing and has a wonderful tropical look.” No primadonna, aptly named robusta thrives in a couple square feet of dirt amid a sea of concrete, even roots in sidewalk cracks.
But the region’s palmy past is seeding trouble. Click over to read the rest of my LA Times story.
Most arrived with 19th century settlers and livestock (as contaminants in feed or lodged in animals’ coats, for example). But in recent years, ornamental grasses have joined the fray.
“Grasses are useful in a landscape,” says Jim Folsom, director of botanical gardens at the Huntington, “but by nature they are invasive; being a grass generally means being able to cover a lot territory fast.”