Saturday, March 19, 2011

greener on the other side

On Wednesday, Steve and I visited the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants in Sunland and, on our way home, the Japanese Garden at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys. In between, we had lunch at a small Lebanese cafe in Sunland. This was a rare midweek outing made possible by the cancellation of Steve's regular Wednesday noon piano-playing gig.

I thought I had visited the Payne Foundation as a child, but my memory was of something more urban, and a place where there were more of the cacti and succulents my parents were collecting at the time. The real TPF is the only nursery where I've seen a sign warning customers to watch out for rattlesnakes. It hangs on the edges of a canyon and is topped by a wildflower trail. A small lizard was the only wildlife I saw.

My goal at TPF was to buy California poppy plants. After years of coveting neighbors' poppies and sowing numerous packets of seed, I finally chose what I hope will be an easier way of getting the state flower to bloom among our cacti and succulents. Four-inch pots of poppies were $4.00 each, and I indulged in two: one classic orange and one multi (white and/or cream, I hope). The rain promised for this weekend should give them a boost and, though it may be too late to hope for blooms this year, may encourage the taproots that make poppies perennial in favored locations. Meanwhile, I squint at nasturtiums and visualize future poppies, asking for the zillioneth time why birds have not brought poppies to me along with Sprenger asparagus fern and other unwanted invaders.

I was tempted by TPF's native ferns and white clematis, but decided to wait until fall, when I can also buy more poppies if this week's fail. In the gift shop (unavoidable because we had to pay for the poppies there) we were happy to find books for two grandchildren's upcoming birthdays: one volume on the whys and wherefores of backyard possums, and one on how to tell which are the friendly insects. Both were beautifully illustrated.

The Lebanese cafe was located at a former fast food site -- Taco Bell would be my guess. I love to see chain restaurant buildings recycled into one-of-a-kind eateries,* whether they're thinly disguised, as this one was, or almost unidentifiable, as most Orange Juliuses which often can be spotted only because of their proximity to car washes. My falafel and Steve's shawarma were wonderful, served with the thinnest pita bread I've ever seen. We seemed to be the only WASPs in the place, which is probably why we were given baklava on the house for desert. How could we ever visit TPF without stopping for more Mediterranean food?

Unlike TPF, the idyllic Japanese Garden was much as I remembered it from a short visit after an LWV meeting a couple of years ago. Spectacular white herons, little brown-black ducks, huge koi, and tiny minnows were among the wildlife we saw. We watched gardeners pole a boat out to one of the islands and place a turtle trap, so we know we didn't see all the resident fauna. BTW the gardeners used a garden rake to propel the boat; this was multitasking at its best.

One detail that I did NOT remember from my previous visit was that the acres of green lawn were made up of pure dichondra; only one small area showed a bit of oxalis. Of course I was tempted to do some weeding, but kept hands (and feet) off.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, dichondra grown with a lavish supply of recycled water is in the eye of the gardener who's pre- (and post-) occupied with making this gorgeous ground cover flourish similarly at home. I was inspired to pull more than my daily quota of chickweed, oxalis, and perennial grasses, and to use laundry water to keep the parking strip green through the dry months of summer.
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*The new and trendy A-Frame, in a former IHOP location trying to throw off the bad karma of an unsuccessful Mexican interlude, serves an Asian fusion cuisine and is a Beard new-restaurant award nominee.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License