Toyon photo by Katherine Montgomery
I find it comforting to meditate upon the subtle evidence of life buzzing all around us: the mundane movements of ants, the funny chattering of birds, and the slow growth of plants. Even in the urban setting of Los Angeles, wildlife finds a way to nestle into the smallest cracks. Lately during the morning, I’ve observed a mating pair of red-whiskered bulbuls grooming one another while perched on the electric line outside my kitchen window. An introduced species brought from Southeast Asia as pets, the bulbul was once prized for its beautiful song.
In the evenings, I notice my Epiphyllum has grown new buds that will bloom while I sleep. The iridescent green Japanese beetles have arrived, and the pomegranate tree has large, unripe fruit growing already. Recognizing these signals of life has given me a deeper understanding of the layered ecosystem of Los Angeles.
Cercis photo by Katherine Montgomery
One detail of the landscape that always catches my eye is the perfectly notched leaves left by leaf cutter bees. Often mistaken for caterpillar bites, these notches look more like deliberately decorative edging, as if a hole-puncher was taken to the leaf. The bees cut these semi-circles from leaves with their mouths, adding the plant matter into their nests to protect their eggs. Numerous leaf cutter bees are native to North America, and they rarely sting.
Bee hotel photo by Linda Daley
A solitary species, they can sometimes be found nesting near one another in existing tree cavities. Gathering pollen on their bellies instead of their legs, leaf cutter bees are an efficient and important pollinator that should be encouraged in any open space. One way to invite them into your garden is to build a bee hotel (or mixed-use development) by stacking hollow bamboo or drilling holes in wood. They are difficult to spot in action, but you can keep an eye out for the evidence of their delicate handiwork on nearby greenery.
The Big Sprig: “What many critics of the greenway didn’t recognize is that even the best designed urban landscapes are organic and require time to mature. That has been the case with the greenway, which, after eight years in the ground, is now a busy and vibrant urban park. The trees and plantings have grown and filled in. On nice days, people stroll, lounge, and gather in the more than 15 acres of plazas, lawns, and gardens. Food trucks and markets line the sidewalks and streets. Kids play all over the fountains and the carousel. It may not be perfect, but it is certainly not empty.”
A New Life for Urban Alleys: “Alleys, too, are vital players in a city’s overall ecosystem. As the need for cities to rely on more sustainable approaches has become more pressing, the proliferation of trash and flooding in alleyways has come to be seen not only an aesthetic blight, but an environmental one.”
Highways Can Help Pollinators Return to Health: In the face of rapidly-declining honeybee populations, farms across the country are under threat. In California, officials are now pioneering new methods to boost the health of the honeybees and butterflies: boost the health of pollinators along California’s 250,000 acres of highway roadside.
A Friendly Party in the Garden of Schindler: Three Performances for Routine Pleasures: The Schindler House opens up its gardens to host Steve Roden, Lucky Dragons, and Simon Leung and their new performances as part of the exhibition Routine Pleasures, organized by Michael Ned Holte. Each performance is a response to the site and the context of the exhibition but also a continuation of each artist’s ongoing work.
The Hammer Biennial’s breakout star? A 78-year-old retired gardener from Compton who once worked for Marlon Brando: “Shiokava, who has quietly whittled tree trunks and old telephone poles into mystical shapes in an old Compton body shop for several decades, made his living as a gardener for much of his life — including, at one point, for Marlon Brando. And yet he’s one of the breakout artists of the Hammer’s buzzy biennial, which opened to a warm critical embrace late last month.”
Photo: Linda Daley
The sustainability trend has spawned local production and do-it-yourself initiatives encouraging low-impact lifestyles and supporting local economies. We seem to have taken a step back in time with the rise of backyard chicken farmers, urban agriculture, and home-made products of everything from cheese to pickles. In certain areas, you can now even rent goats to mow your lawn!
Individuals’ interest in harvesting honey from their own beehives has been mainstream in the U.S. for some time. American beekeepers were the ones who first noticed a decline in honey bee populations. News about Colony Collapse Disorder seem to be everywhere these days. Why should this matter to us? Bees and other pollinating insects, such as Monarch butterflies, play an important role in ecosystems. We would not have food and flora without them.
Most of the attention is focused on the European honey bee species, Apis mellifera, and the impact of neonicotinoid – an insecticide – on bee health and their life cycle. Neonicotinoid is widely used in U.S. agriculture. However multiple factors such as chemical treatments, parasites, and crop monocultures are also contributing to the decline of all bee species, not just honey bees, and other pollinators.
We can do something to help encourage pollinator abundance. The U.S. Fish and Game Wildlife Service and the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit with a mission to protect the health of bees, provides information and resources on the subject. If you are afraid of bees, these facts may take the sting out of your fear. Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $14 billion in value to U.S. crop production and some crops are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination.