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Wildflowers and Freeways: A Garden Grows in an L.A. Girl

Photo credit: L.A. Arboretum

Photo credit: L.A. Arboretum

My grandma, who was born in 1919, grew up in Los Angeles. East Los Angeles, to be precise. Back then, the city was booming and busy, but still held pockets of rural flavor in places like Maravilla, the unincorporated part of town where my grandma lived with her family. One of my favorite tales centers on grandma at the tender age of nine, lounging in a field of wildflowers with her best friend, sneaking Sensations (these pastel-colored cigarettes they’d gotten an older man to buy for them) and staring up at a blue sky without a care in the world.

“We thought we were so so-phis-ti-cated,” Grandma always says with a laugh.

What I’ve always loved most about this image, aside from the rebellious camaraderie, was the idea of this bygone city that had existed not so long before I was born. A city where there were more flowers than pavement, where the sky was still blue, and where green things still thrived.

It was hard to imagine in 1980′s Los Angeles. The sky was gray more often than it was blue and freeways outnumbered flowers by a significant percentage. And as a kid, all I craved was wildflowers. Get me out in nature (luckily my mom knew the value of a good hike) and I’d pick wildflowers like crazy, coming home with droopy little bouquets that made my heart sing. Looking back, it probably had to do with the hole left from our abrupt departure from Kauai for a busy, smoggy city.

Because of my wildflower obsession, I was stoked to come across ‘How an Artist Blanketed Los Angeles in Wildflowers’ on Gizmodo. I always wished I could live in the East Los Angeles of my grandma’s youth. I love the idea of the slow return of a place to its natural ecological state. A field of wildflowers is infinitely more soothing to the soul than an empty lot or a lawn.

Love me some California poppies.

Love me some California poppies.

On the growing tip, I wrote last week about anxiety. This past month, my number one solution to feeling anxious has been to go outside and stick my hands in some dirt. I always thought gardening was for people with a lot of time on their hands (privilege) but am now shifting to viewing interactions with plants as essential to my well-being. It’s leaning further and further towards being a non-negotiable aspect of my day-to-day life.  If I have time to dick around on Facebook, then I have time to stick some (drought-resistant) plants in a container and watch them grow. It feels damn good to get out there in the little container garden;  the satisfaction of sitting amongst the lavender and oregano and sage, watching fat Carpenter bees work away at the flowers, is simple but effective.

Any gardening tips for a newbie like me? How does your garden grow? Or has anyone seen the Wildflowering L.A. project in real life? I’d love to hear about it!