Lauri Kranz, edible garden 'fairy godmother' of the Hollywood Hills
L.A. musician Jeff Martin wanted to grow his own vegetables, but his steep 2-acre property high up Laurel Canyon Boulevard has a seasonal stream that draws raccoons, opossums, deer, squirrels, rabbits and rats. “The battle with the critters is almost impossible,” he said.
So Martin called Lauri Kranz, above, a longtime singer-songwriter friend who built a second career as a go-to edible gardening consultant in the Hollywood Hills, helping clients cope with foraging wildlife, limited sun and not-so-flat land. Anne Litt, the KCRW DJ, called Kranz her “fairy godmother of gardening.”
At Martin's home, Kranz installed twin 3-by-10-foot raised beds inside a 225-square-foot redwood-framed cage screened with half-inch wire that let in light, bees and butterflies while blocking other wildlife, right.
“Now if I have rice and beans, I can totally survive on what's growing here,” Martin said, adding, “You don't get bored by tomatoes every day if they're this good.”
At Litt's home, perched on a steep slope a few canyons away from the Hollywood Bowl, Kranz put in terraced beds with onions, peas, corn and tomatoes. Her planting approach was old school: three seeds per hole, plus regular doses of fish emulsion and worm casings.
Even when things didn't go perfectly — if, say, Litt went for salad greens and found plants gnawed down to a nub — her fairy godmother was ready with advice. “I learned from Lauri that if the rabbits attacked your lettuce, you just have to come to peace with it,” Litt said.
“There are gardens in the hills where you would be lucky to keep 20% because of the wildlife,” said Kranz, pictured at right with Litt. It's the same message that Kranz teaches kids at school gardens.
“Kids get very centered on ‘This is my seedling,' and I tell them that once you put a seed in the ground, it's no longer yours. Some things are for the rabbits or the rats.”
A Connecticut native, Kranz had been a reluctant transplant to L.A.'s music world. In between recording sessions with dream pop group Snow & Voices, she volunteered to build landscapes at her kids' school, learning season after season what worked and what didn't. Her first gardening clients were other parents, who were impressed by what they saw.
She has been largely self-taught, propelled by knowledge gained from the Central Library downtown and a network of professional growers. Some of the biggest challenges stem not from wildlife but from lack of direct sun.
The Hollywood Hills house of Lucques chef Suzanne Goin and the Hungry Cat chef David Lentz, left, was in deep shade. After studying the site, Kranz decided the only place with enough sun for a vegetable garden was up more than 70 steps, at the top of a small hill, now ringed with a waist-high fence.
Kranz put in chard, kale, blackberries, carrots and lots of melon and basil. Seven sunchokes were planted largely for their flowers, but when Kranz emptied the beds at the end of summer, more than 400 tubers were sleeping in the soil.
“The ground was full of them,” she said of the tubers, also known as Jerusalem artichokes. “I emailed Suzanne and said she should put sunchokes on the menu. She came home and saw the harvest and said 'sunchokes and scallops.' "
At the home of Joe's Jeans founder Joseph Dahan and wife Ambre, overlooking the Sunset Strip (and pictured at the top of this post), Kranz installed a giant garden cage — 10 feet high, 12 feet wide and 20 feet long — far from the house. She threaded purple hull peas on one wall, sweet pea flowers on another. Later in the season, berries will climb the wire. In the garden's raised vegetable beds, she scattered wildflower seeds densely to lure beneficial insects to rows of salad greens, right.
“I love adding flowers everywhere, so there'll be these bursts in the spring,” she said.
Gardens so removed from the house are destinations, worth the effort of the climb, the bounty even more a surprise. Kranz's eye for color and vigor makes them beckon, and the views can be breathtaking.
But for Studio City resident Kimberly Muller, who lives where the Hollywood Hills rise above the Valley floor, the only place with good sun was at the end of her driveway. So that's where Kranz put in a tidy 15-by-10-foot garden, enclosed to fend off raccoons that used to fight among themselves and tear up the tomato plants.
“It's like a magical garden because there's always something to eat,” Muller says.
It's magical for Kranz too, who said she still gets excited watching fragile seeds pass through the hands of a 5-year-old. "I think, 'How is that little thing going to survive?' "
-- Jeff Spurrier
Photo credit: Ann Summa
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