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An Artist Tries to Fill L.A. With Wildflowers

The four wildflower seed mixes -- flatlands, coastal, roadside and hillside -- are inspired by architecture critic Reyner Banham's influential 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies.

Nate BergThe four wildflower seed mixes -- flatlands, coastal, roadside and hillside -- are inspired by architecture critic Reyner Banham's influential 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies.

Fritz Haeg is looking at a house on Google StreetView and contemplating its front yard. Haeg is an artist who's perhaps best known for his works converting grassy suburban front yards into so-called "edible estates" of vegetable gardens. But it's not an edible garden he imagines for this front yard. It's a field of wildflowers.

His mind's eye has replaced not only this front yard with wildflowers but 50 vacant lots, yards, school grounds and other under-vegetated lands throughout Los Angeles County. It's a project he's calling Wildflowering L.A., presented by the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, and the 50 sites chosen to participate will be sown with native wildflower seeds and put on display for the public to enjoy. It's a distributed landscape intervention that, come springtime, will climax in a countywide smattering of wildflower fields.

Haeg was contemplating this front yard last weekend, at the L.A. Arboretum, as he and his crew met with people who had volunteered sites for the project. It's sort of half job interview, half gardening tutorial, where first Haeg evaluates the sites people are proposing and then specialists from the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants advise how and where to plant the seeds.

Haeg says the project is about how the natural ecology meets the urban ecology, and the mix of sites so far exemplifies that intersection. There are schoolyards, hillside vacant plots, an empty Caltrans lot–turned–community garden and typical residential front yards. The landscape of Los Angeles is no longer a "natural" one, whatever that means, and that's the point. Haeg wants this empty-lot intervention to highlight both the ways we've used the land in Southern California and also, as he says, "to call attention to what this land was before we got here."

Volunteers from the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants measure out wildflower seed mixes for people who have volunteered to sow vacant lots.

Nate BergVolunteers from the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants measure out wildflower seed mixes for people who have volunteered to sow vacant lots.

Charles and Betty McKenney also came to volunteer a couple thousand square feet of the community garden they run in Pasadena. People will drive all the way out to Lancaster to see wildflowers, Betty notes, a bit perplexed that some would ignore what's often right in their own neighborhood. Planting these wildflowers, she hopes, will open people's eyes. Plus, she says, "We can save them a lot of gas."

Though more than 50 sites have been volunteered for the project, Haeg is still hoping for more sites to choose from, as some may not make the cut. Another workshop for site volunteers will take place at the Rancho Cienega Recreation Center in Baldwin Hills this Saturday, Nov. 2. He's hoping to have all the seeds sown by mid-November, ahead of what, with luck, will be a rainy winter. By April or May, the wildflowers should be blooming, and a map of all the sites will be made available. State park–inspired wooden signs will be posted on all the sites to identify them as part of the project. They may not be necessary, though. Thousands of blooming wildflowers probably will do the trick.

Haeg's workshop takes place Saturday, Nov. 2, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Rancho Cienega Recreation Center, 5001 Rodeo Road, Baldwin Hills. Visit nomadicdivision.org for more info.


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