Posts by Katharine Rudnyk

A wide variety of plants at the Los Angeles Arboretum, presented for judging at the 2018 Fern and Exotic Plant Show. Photos by Kathy Rudnyk.

It was during the dead of winter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1829 when the first large scale garden and flower show was first held. Hosted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Flower Show featured displays and competitions in flower artistry, garden design, and horticulture. Years later, an indoor marketplace opened featuring the latest plants – from mail order nurseries and local garden centers, to photography and tabletop décor contests. As the show grew, numerous weeklong festivities sponsored by big companies kicked-off the spring garden season months ahead of the event. The surrounding local economy benefitted, now attracting over 250,000 people, and generating over $8,000,000 dollars annually in tax revenue (provided the intrusion of foul winter weather).

As this American show in Philadelphia gained prominence, other flower and garden events blossomed around the country, inspiring the growth of other garden shows and events. These shows include:

  • The Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, the youngest on the block opening in 1989
  • The Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle, Washington
  • The notable and much lauded Chelsea Flower Show in London, England.

The post-parade public viewing of Rose Parade floats offers an excellent opportunity to inspect the fine craftsmanship of seeds and flower pieces arranged into realistic photo-like imagery up close.

Each year thousands of people stricken with spring fever come together inside halls, botanical gardens, and an outdoor marketplace to view living plants – or in the case of our local Rose Parade, line along streets on New Year’s Day for hours to admire floral covered floats. These are activities can be difficult for non-participants to understand unless you’ve been to one of these events yourself.

It takes years to plan the largest of flower and garden shows. The largest of the consumer shows and parades are logistically complex to plan, many which are held during the dead of winter or at the dawn of spring. As someone who has coordinated plants for these events, I can share insight about the challenges related to shipping dormant plants intended for display for only a few days, or maybe even only a couple of hours.

Being a lover of evergreen foliage, I always wondered how a consumer could find beauty in a tree or shrub without any foliage. It inspired me to figure out how to bottle up the excitement I saw over a plant that looked like red sticks inside an exhibit hall at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show and bring it back to Southern California. Even without foliage Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ (Red-Osier Dogwood) could present a welcome relief in Los Angeles where eternal green foliage is seemingly on everyone’s planting list. I have been fortunate enough to find just the right places and spaces to celebrate these winter dormant colorful architectural shrubs in Los Angeles.

In March, it may still be snowing outside in Philadelphia, but year after year gardening enthusiasts bring their plants to the city for judging. Their dedicated efforts face a panel of critical judges who inspect each specimen, leaf by leaf and stem by stem, searching the perfect plant according to theme or class of plants. Countless tropical plants and orchids are on display all along tables for judging, and competition is really fierce, with significant prizes at stake. I once attended a Camellia show at Descanso Gardens where tables lined with sparkly Waterford crystal were offered as trophies!

Award winning entries at the Los Angeles Arboretum’s popular Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale.

During the Great Recession, many of these larger flower and garden shows struggled. The costs were too high for many nurseries to continue exhibiting at these events. For the average American struggling with rising living costs and less disposable income to spend on gardening and traveling, attendance dropped dramatically, only seeing an uptick from 2014 on. Today, these shows still struggle to appeal to gardeners beyond the aging Baby Boomer generation.

My favorite garden shows are local events featuring a specific type of plant, like succulents, cacti, orchids, ferns or bonsai. Even though I have been in the horticulture industry for over 25 years, I always discover amazing plants at these dedicated shows, revealing fresh observations that creatively inspire me or help me mentor a younger designer with a passion for plants. Recently, I went to the Fern and Exotic Plant Show where I saw tables of terrarium and hanging plants, presenting me with new ways to look at ferns, specifically their foliage and the spores underneath each leaf!

Learning about orchids is a fun opportunity at The Huntington’s annual International Orchid Show and Sale!

Attending plant and flower shows gives enthusiasts and professionals alike the opportunity to get close up and personal with specimens, like this table full of various Epiphyllum hybrids.

The value of plant and flower shows for landscape professionals is they allow us all the opportunity to get really up close and personal with specimens, allowing attendees to glean knowledge for future landscape design projects and opening the doors to countless creative possibilities (Tip: I do recommend attending these shows with friends with the patience to permit enough time to study each leaf or flower obsessively).

I harbor hopes younger generations will become interested in flower and plant shows, including the more focused local events, planting the seeds to grow new horticulture communities online that might flourish into new careers and help continue the celebration of plants throughout the year, across the country, and throughout the world!




The beautiful sun shade at the Wonderful Company Prep Academy in Delano, CA looks toward a large grouping of colorful water-wise trees. Designed by AHBE Landscape Architects. Photo by @Heliphoto

When I lived in Bossier City, Louisiana, I attended a few schools surrounded by cotton fields that were sprayed bi-weekly by crop dusters. Because our schools lacked air conditioning, chemicals would mingle with the warm, humid winds, and drift quietly into the classroom through open air windows of the mid-century structures or up into the stairway through crumbling Civil War buildings. The familiar and distinct scent of the insecticide alerted us of its danger. Tornadoes were ever present, so windows were limited at best, and the landscape around the school was kept to a minimum, with many a playground being simply an asphalt pad with a tetherball pole and a grassy clover dusted lawn.

Today there are over 50 million students who attend 94,000 public schools within the United States. On-going maintenance has been critically underfunded according to a study addressing the inadequate investment in school facility maintenance by Mustapha A. Bello, PhD candidate and Vivian Loftness, FAIA. Ideally the American educational system could address the woes of today’s landscape maintenance – reduced hours for staff and the lack of proper horticultural skills to get the job done right – and provide the necessary effort to train staff to create beneficial living classrooms I like to refer to as “the great outdoors”.

Many new schools are being built in Southern California, with older schools undergoing extensive remodeling. Still, for many schools districts there are too few hours and even fewer staff dedicated towards the maintenance of the landscape after the installation period. Landscape maintenance tends to become just another superficial chore rather than something integrally beneficial. Time and money once allotted for school grounds gradually shift toward more immediate and pressing issues, such as security or latest technologies. Design professionals see school landscape as life-changing environmental opportunities for learning and capable of fostering future career opportunities for hungry young minds for years after their initial creation. But, enthusiasm often slowly fades after the 90 day landscape maintenance period contract is over, and landscapes begin to take a new life of their own until the next redesign or redevelopment.

A pair of Southern California middle school front entryways screaming for additional landscaping resources. Photo by Katharine Rudnyk.

For the past 6 months, Calvin Abe, FASLA and I have represented AHBE Landscape Architects, observing on-going landscape maintenance and listening to public perception about the healing gardens located on top of a roof at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. It has been a rewarding experience for me to hear from healthcare providers and patients, as well as those who genuinely care for the garden spaces every day. Hospitals are on the forefront in recognizing how design truly affects one’s health. The facility’s landscape must always look healthy, tidy, and befitting of the original design intent, an ongoing reflection of the quality of the medical center’s services.

People enjoying the gardens at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo: @Heliphoto

How can a facility manager at a nonprofit school think just like a nonprofit hospital? When a parent drops off a student at a school and notices a disheveled entryway landscape year after year, questions whether the school has enough resources to teach and protect their child may arise. The health of a school landscape should be considered a reflection of the school’s performance. I would be curious whether students’ performances improve after a landscape has been enhanced.

Simple efforts like adding mulch for a few hundred dollars or even a few plants between the holes can really make a big difference while awaiting commitment of greater financial resources to a redesign, more thorough landscape maintenance, or other naturally enriching enhancements. As in all things educational, small efforts have a cumulative effect, and can eventually result in huge differences in creating great first impressions within young, developing minds.

The many garden spaces on top of the roof at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo: @Heliphoto

My educated guess would be public, private, magnet and charter schools with strong landscape maintenance initiatives would reflect a higher student and teacher performance, alongside attendance rankings. Maybe these findings would encourage school administration to invest more money into their best educational asset ever: “the great outdoors”.


The circle of succulents looks magical during the winter, with blooming Aloe (Aloe) and the fiery red foliage of Crassula capitella ‘Campfire’ (Campfire Crassula) found throughout the Pierce College campus design. All photos: Kathy Rudnyk.

The public often thinks of projects – architectural or landscape – in the context of a linear timeline with a definitive end point. But in reality any designed space, whether indoors or outdoors, evolves over time. This concept of design as ever-evolving has loomed on my mind lately: how designers maintain expectations about landscape projects after day one. When resources become limited or when maintenance budgets are eliminated years later, how does a project evolve and maintain itself?

Just like a business needs to plan ahead to sustain itself in relation to growth projections, a landscape needs more than just a well-trained maintenance team and water for its long term viability. Any planned landscape benefits from a design professional who plans ahead about both the resources available today and plans ahead for resource scarcity tomorrow.

A sea of assorted Sedum (Stonecrop) showcasing winter hues.

Recently, I visited Pierce College, where I was able to walk-thru a site completed by AHBE Landscape Architects nearly 10 years ago. The campus mall was buzzing with students rushing to class; I watched students  jumping over hedge rows and darting around the many clusters of large riparian trees to get to class on time. The hurried campus activity was just like in the movies, and brought up memories of my own time in college.


Observing a student in a wheelchair easily maneuver around the planted berms of Agave (Agave) and Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ made me smile.

I toured the campus noting numerous details: Within the grove of Platanus racemosa (Western Sycamore) were smaller more recently planted drought tolerant trees, and it was wonderful to see the water-loving and extreme drought tolerant trees working together in harmony. With little funding available above and beyond the cost to go to school, alongside lottery ticket revenue distributions and local property taxes, there is still an active and engaged landscape maintenance team attempting their best to maintain the campus with less resources available. The installation was completed at Pierce College nearly ten years ago around the library and mall, yet the design intent clearly lives on today. The campus reflected the thoughts and execution of a savvy landscape designer who planned ahead of time for a manageable landscape that did not require a significant amount of labor, water, and materials to keep it looking beautiful.

There were a few surprises: how did those Equisetum hyemale (Horsetail) get into the parking lot around an area  filled with water? Were they laying dormant underground? Did a broken irrigation system refresh them to life? Perhaps there is a secret underground spring thriving around the campus. What an amazing discovery that would be! I also wondered about what happened to the plants originally planted within a dry wash in front of a sturdy gabion wall facing the library. They were no longer to be found.

Was anything intended for the area behind the benches? I can only wonder.

I moved onto note a circle of colorful succulents, their natural beauty heightened during cooler winter nights. The Grevillea x ‘Noell’ (Noell Grevillea) has filled in, so care could be redirected to other places or plants on campus. Pockets of perennials, like the Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) and Penstemon eatonii (Firecracker Penstemon) planted inside postage stamp sized cut-outs, are thriving and surviving without water and deadheading. Were they replaced over time? I wish I could answer all of these questions, but for the most part, the landscape design is still thriving on campus.

An interesting, sustainable landscape installation within a large courtyard offers a welcoming sight.

If I could go back and look at landscape architecture projects across Southern California that were started or completed around the time of “The Great Recession”, I believe I’d discover a common thread. Landscape designers then integrated “what if” into their designs – directed and motivated by concerns about project sustainability. What if funds, plants, and labor were no longer available later?

Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’ (Desert Museum Thornless Palo Verde) thriving within a planting of Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster).

Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster), Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle) and Muhlenbergia rigens (Deer Grass) wrap around the library.

As someone who worked for a grower before and during “The Great Recession”, I learned about how to use plants to solve specific problems and stay within budget, while also executing beautiful, orchestrated landscape designs. The best landscape designers are respectful of clients’ budgets and needs without sacrificing beauty. I find pride in working in landscape architecture, discovering perpetual reward in exploring the thought process about how choices in a landscape project can shape a more resilient, sustainable, and community-integrated future utilizing our local and native resources…even a decade later.


Stoneview Nature Center. All photos: Kathy Rudnyk

I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, a community (thankfully) with more nature centers than Starbucks. These Northwest Louisiana nature centers typically host a wildlife refuge where animals are cared for and housed, eventually to be released back into the wild. One was once even located within the Louisiana State Museum complex in downtown Shreveport, complete with turtles and its own resident alligator! But most nature centers around the country are generally located outside of town, along the perimeters or right next to a trailhead.

Nature centers are increasingly hosting a wide variety of events and attractions like laser light shows, concerts, interpretative education programs, or environmental art events to draw in attendance. Typically inexpensive and kid-friendly, these centers are wonderful venues for birthday parties and many a school outings, offering the experience of a curated small animal zoo and botanical garden, all in one!

AHBE Landscape Architects recently completed the landscape design for the Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City, California. This type of nature center is distinct and appropriate for today’s city dweller hungry for a contemporary urban outdoor day retreat.

Encelia californica (California Bush Sunflower) brightens up any winter day.

Funded by the County of Los Angeles, Stoneview Nature Center is located above an existing subdivision, next to a busy La Cienega Blvd, a renowned “shortcut to LAX”. The site is sandwiched between the Inglewood Oil Field and the Kenneth E. Hahn State Recreation Area, blending Southern California native plants with suburban landscape plants, but with a twist. EYRC Architects was responsible for designing the park’s contemporary interpretivef nature center, filled with natural light inside, and a large shade structure serving large outdoor group activities.

Buddleia, commonly known as the butterfly bush.

Each of the plants within the park were chosen to meet certain performance criteria: drought resistance, stormwater bio-filitration efficacy, offer a nectar or pollen source, native to California or Baja California, or edible by people or pets. Another fun-filled design challenge was to match each plant within various color blocks along the various pathways; something is always blooming throughout the four seasons within each section.

Fast growing, ground hugging Ceanothus x ‘Centennial’ (Centennial California Lilac) is just starting to bloom. 

Stoneview Nature Center also represents the efforts of the art collaborative Fallen Fruit, whose silverware and kitchen tool chandelier fits beautifully within the urban park and garden setting used to host educational lectures and demonstrations. Fallen Fruit has hosted some really creative programming in the past, including DIY pickling and food ‘zine workshops. I recommend keeping tabs on the Stoneview Nature Center’s Facebook page for the next exciting event.

Adrian Rudnyk checks out a bee resting on a Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) and Penstemon. A giant bee hotel in the background welcomes carpenter bees.

Just as Los Angeles County is struggling to meet the demands of housing today for its residents, our city’s urban wildlife is suffering from a lack of habitat. The Stoneview Nature Center is making efforts to mitigate habitat loss by offering dense shrubs for small birds to hide from predators, an owl house high overhead by a thicket of trees to invite the nocturnal predators, a secluded bat box, and even a protected quail dome home in the middle of the site.

Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak) also help urban wildlife congregate within the park-like setting. Over time, these large trees offer ample shade during the summer months and sustenance throughout the year for all varieties of animals and insects.

I love hummingbirds, so I was rather happy spotting a number of different ones flying within the mix of plants at the center, many enjoying a drink of nectar from Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird Sage).

An unusual feature visitors may notice are the numerous methane vents dotting the grounds. The 5-acre site was once an active oil field and the interpretive center was built over an abandoned oil well – Dabney Lloyd #3. Signage with historic photos communicates the site’s storied past.

My husband and I really enjoyed the numerous edible plants within the site, including fruiting citrus trees, avocado trees, and my favorite, a berry patch filled with Vaccinium (Blueberry) and Rubus x ‘APF – 236T’ (Baby Cakes™ Thornless Dwarf Blackberry). For the birds, Vitis californica x vinifera ‘Roger’s Red’ (Roger’s Red California Grape) travels over a back fence, its winter foliage flamboyantly vibrant red.

Surrounded by so many edibles, my husband and I imagined making pizza with herbs collected from the garden, such as Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ (Prostrate Rosemary). Maybe there’s a wood oven somewhere within the park? We’ll have to come back and see if it is inside the building.

One parting bit of advice for your next visit to the Stoneview Nature Center: instead of driving and fighting traffic, I encourage you to take the Metro Expo Line. Get off at Jefferson/La Cienega station; a shuttle stop known as The Link offers a free ride to the park, operating roughly between 8am to 5pm. Visiting the Stoneview Nature Center is absolutely free, offering an especially gratifying and educational opportunity to enjoy nature throughout the seasons.





The flowers of the Bauhinia x blakeana are highly attractive to hummingbirds.

I park my car every day near a beautiful tree with reddish-purple, orchid-shaped flowers. With its orchid-like flowers, Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid) is a widely recognizable tree throughout the Southern California landscape, and popularly frequented by hummingbirds. It  can also be identified by its leaves that fold at night, with a distinct shape of a cow’s hoof. Semi-deciduous, the leaves drop in preparation for the fall to early spring, a showcase of flowers. A profuse flowering tree even at a young age, its many global connections make the Bauhinia x blakeana a true symbol of goodwill during the holiday season.

The leaf has a distinct shape of a cow’s hoof. In Mexico, the genus Bauhinia is widely known as Pata de Vaca.

Bauhinia purpurea seed pods at the Armstrong Garden Center in Monrovia has just finished popping last weekend. All that remains are the spiral spent seed pods surrounded by a thick canopy of foliage.

I remember finding a treasure trove of forgotten plant facts while researching alongside AHBE Landscape Architects Principal Evan Mather, FASLA years ago in the Monrovia Nursery Company basement. I recollect it was hard to stay focused being surrounded by an eye-catching 1960’s black and white ad about the Bauhinia x blakeana. “100’s of Orchid flowers from October to March,” the magazine ad promised.

Bauhinia x blakeana is a sterile tree, though there are messy seed varieties like Bauhinia purpurea (Butterfly Tree) available. On a quiet fall twilight, you can hear the seedpods of Bauhinia purpurea opening; it sounds like popcorn popping in the microwave.

Here is an herbarium sample of Bauhinia blakeana collected from a tree at Monrovia Nursery Company in 1963.

My grandfather was a plant hunter, and during his lifetime he secured many cuttings during his journeys. My grandfather had a passion for raising Cymbidium (Orchid), propagating plants, and traveling the world. It’s tough to find even one new plant patent and trademark it, but my grandfather and uncle alone found dozens for Monrovia Nursery Company to add to their inventory of great plants. A specimen of Bauhinia x blakeana’s leaves and flowers was collected from a tree from Monrovia Nursery Company by someone at the Los Angeles Arboretum. The exhibit was then submitted to the herbarium located at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. It was labeled “Bauhinia blakeana Dunn”. The collected specimen has since been transferred to the University of South Florida.

In 1908, British Botanist Stephen Troyte Dunn wrote the first scientific entry about the tree. At that time, he documented that only a few cuttings existed at the Hong Kong Botanical Garden. In 2005, using genetic testing, it was determined that the tree’s parentage was Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia variegata. Since it was only recently determined as a hybrid, you may see it still listed as Bauhinia blakeana rather than the recently corrected Bauhinia x blakeana.

My own Bauhinia x blakeana tree almost burned down to the ground during the Colby Fire. The tree nearly died again when our irrigation system was damaged by either local trash trucks or by a driver who failed to slow down at the turn. Even so, our grafted tree is still going strong, sprouting suckers periodically that pop from the base, requiring quick pruning from time to time.

Story has it that the first Bauhinia x blakeana was found in the 1880s by a French missionary who found it growing in the landscape of an abandoned house along the coast. During the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong elected the storied tree’s flower to grace their currency and flag. Now over 25,000 Bauhinia x blakeana have been planted throughout Hong Kong, and even more throughout the world, including the United States and Australia.

Even my blooming Bauhinia x blakeana can be upstaged by the showy golden flowers of a Cassia splendida ‘Golden’.

Its young existence could be potentially be threatened yet again. A disease like Emerald Ash Borer – which has devastated 16 species of ash trees throughout the Midwest and Northeastern United States – is always a risk, Age, too, could impact the tree. Every Bauhinia x blakeana originate from a single parent plant, making it more and more susceptible to pest problems, fungal diseases, and bacteria. A crowdfunding campaign is in action to raise money to trace the genome of the tree. You can learn more about the project here.

When I bought my grandparents’ house, I also purchased a treasure trove of horticultural beauties, including the special Bauhinia blakeana growing in their yard. It makes sense that the tree in my yard is probably a cutting from an original Bauhinia blakeana. Planted by my grandfather somewhere during the time of the tragic fire and floods of 1968 fire and 1969 flood, each one of these plants offers deeply rooted stories, both of the plant and the people who planted them. Sadly, I never got the chance to hear them all before my grandparents passed away.

Thankfully some stories about the plants living within the terraced acre of my garden are captured within the receipts of aged yellow receipts found inside a kitchen junk drawer, alongside other handwritten notes my grandmother had slipped into her many books. Beauty may sell the story, but  Bauhinia blakeana’s global heritage makes it an amazing symbol of world peace during the holiday season.