L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Deborah Netburn

Urban wildflowers in Los Angeles

Each spring thousands of Angelenos leave the city in search of the wildflower displays of Anza Borrego, Death Valley and the Antelope Valley. But wildflowers permeate our urban landscape as well -- popping up along freeways and in abandoned lots and sidewalk cracks -- providing car commuters and pavement pushers a colorful reminder of spring.

Two L.A. Times staffers recently set out to find wildflowers in and around the city. They hit some of the showier spots -- the bright yellow and white Coreopsis fields along Ballona Creek in Playa del Rey and the spectacular Lupine displays in Griffith Park. But they also shot Wild Canterbury Bells along the L.A. River and a bouquet of poppies in an empty lot in the middle of downtown.

Lupine Of course, the question came up: What actually counts as a wildflower? Would we choose only natives? The answer is no. Ann Croissant, author of “Wildflowers of the San Gabriel Mountains” and co-founder of the San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy, suggested a broad definition: A wildflower is any flower that you see in wild land areas. So we kept the photos of the non-native wild radish and some of the sunflowers in an abandoned lot in Chinatown. “If anyone has a problem with it, you send them to me,” she added.

We asked Croissant what characteristics a plant has to have to survive in our urban environment. “The successful plants are highly adaptable, very flexible, able to handle extremes and very opportunistic,” she said.

Sounds like Angelenos and their wildflowers have a lot in common.

Take a look at our photos of urban wildflowers and then tell us about the great places we missed. And if you have any photos of wildflowers in and around L.A., please upload them to our reader photo gallery.

-- Deborah Netburn

Top photo: California Poppies along the 5 Freeway. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times Bottom photo: Lupine in Los Angeles Historic Park. Credit: Jason La / Los Angeles Times

Bugaboo Donkey, the baby stroller that kicks its way past the $1,000 mark


The luxury stroller brand Bugaboo this week launched a double stroller called the Donkey. It can be used as a single stroller with an attached shopping basket or as a side-by-side double stroller. It pushes great, it folds up not so great and it is insanely expensive, retailing for $1,200, $1,499 or  $1,659 depending on what configuration you get.

One might assume the price tag is a deterrent for new parents in this uncertain economy, but as I've learned while writing a column about why parents buy what they buy, one should never assume anything when it comes to baby gear. The publicist for Bugaboo said the new stroller was selling out and triggering waiting lists at the select stores where it is sold. (In the L.A. area, that includes Bel-Bambini in Beverly Hills, Giggle in Pasadena, Juvenile Shop in Sherman Oaks and Traveling Tikes in Century City.)

"We already sold out of most of them," said Jodi Cristi, a sales associate at Bel-Bambini. "And we just got it yesterday."

"Did anybody balk at the price?" I asked.

"Not at all," she said.

Over at Traveling Tikes, store owner Brian Pulice said he's been getting daily calls about the Donkey for weeks and sold his first shipment before it even arrived.

If, like me, you are are wondering what's so special about this stroller and who is willing to spend that kind of money, keep reading the full story on Bugaboo's Donkey stroller: The $1,659 ride for tots.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: The Bugaboo donkey in three configurations. Credit: Bugaboo


The off-to-college spending spree

The baby sleep coach

The modern baby carrier

The status teether

Two Dog Organic Nursery and truly homegrown seedlings


Jo Anne Trigo has spent the last two years turning her 50-by-100-foot Mid-Wilshire backyard into an organic nursery, growing edible plants that she sells at farmers markets in Larchmont Village and La Cañada Flintridge. It was an unlikely decision for a woman who until 2009 hadn’t tended a vegetable garden since her college days in the mid-'70s.

Trigo’s organic nursery experiment began after a string of deaths in her family and the decline of her high-end furniture business, La Paloma Design. “I started planting things as a kind of horticulture Jo-Anne-Trigo therapy,” she said. And she hasn’t stopped.

She called her new business Two Dog Organic Nursery, and by July 2009, she was selling in farmers markets. That’s where most of her customers find her, but she also welcomes people to come by her house (by appointment only) to pick up the seedlings she grows under an attractive wood-frame shade structure that dominates her backyard. Before her plants leave with customers, they have circulated throughout her property: They are planted in the garage, baked under grow lights on shelves in a guest room or the dining room, and then moved out to the yard. In the summer, her big sellers are tomatoes, but this time of year her backyard is filled with kale, beets, broccoli, cauliflower and chard.

Like many of the professional edible gardeners popping up in Los Angeles, Trigo offers classes at her home on how to plant edibles. She’s become something of a container gardening specialist thanks to her two dogs, Jake and Lalo, who are inclined to rip up anything that’s not raised off the ground. Now she sells sub-irrigated plastic planters called Earth Boxes and felt containers called Smart Pots along with her plants.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photos: Top, Jo Anne Trigo's backyard nursery. Credit: Alejandro Trigo. Bottom, Trigo at home. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times.


Celebration of homegrown food set in Culver City

In Highland Park, tomatoes amid the graffiti

Pasadena gardener becomes a one-woman food bank

Eco-parenting and a search for the greenest lunchbox

Sigg_bottle_blog Writer Heather John is what her friends politely call "obsessive," so when she set out to find the greenest way to pack her 2-year-old's lunch, things quickly got insane. She writes:

I spent hours researching containers for my preschooler's lunch, polling parents about practicality and e-mailing manufacturers about BPA, or Bisphenol A, a chemical that can be found in many containers and that some researchers believe may have adverse health effects.

What all this means for other eco-conscious parents is that John did your work for you. Read her story on what it was like to put all the pieces of her ultimate green lunch kit together, be glad it wasn't you, and then feel free to use her findings -- from where to get the greenest reusable kids cutlery (Ikea) to the ultimate toxic-free ice pack (Kids Konserve). We put it all together in a handy green lunch photo gallery.

Happy shopping!

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: The new juice box -- John likes the Sigg Little Kids Bottle, $18, a 10-ounce aluminum bottle with BPA-free lining. Credit: Sigg.

The new pot gardener

Marijuana-storyCall it the newest gardening trend: Marijuana activists, dispensary owners and growers say there's been an uptick of medical marijuana patients growing pot for themselves.

The new profile of the home grower is primarily middle-aged or older. It's someone who chooses to grow indoors to get a more frequent harvest and avoid caterpillars, slugs, spider mites and powdery mildew the main enemies of the cannabis plant. 

From my story on home-grown marijuana this week:

The reasons are varied: Buying medical marijuana at a dispensary can be expensive and uncomfortable for those who don't identify with marijuana culture, and now that the city of Los Angeles has declared that just 41 of the remaining 169 dispensaries are eligible to stay open, finding a convenient place to buy marijuana is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for those with a debilitating illness. The organically minded are concerned about chemicals that might be in marijuana they don't grow themselves, and still others worry about where their pot came from. "I don't want to fund terrorism," one home-grower says.

Some gardeners — and many do see this simply as a form of gardening — say they get the same soothing pleasure from tinkering with grow lights, temperature controls, fertilizers and additives as others get from nurturing prized rose bushes or carefully pruning bonsai trees.

But is it legal? Keep reading for the answer ...

Continue reading »

Skirball banners recycled into an architectural sukkah

Sukkah wide shotjpg The sukkah, a temporary structure built by observant Jews to celebrate the end of harvest season, is having an architecturally significant moment.

Sukkah City, a design competition launched earlier this month in New York, invited designers to re-imagine the structure. Contestants were given a list of traditional sukkah building rules.

The structure must be at least 10 handbreadths high and enclose a minimum area that's 7-by-7 handbreadths. The roof must be made of organic matter that provides shade but also allows people inside to look up and see the stars. Perhaps most important, the entire thing must be temporary.

Contest organizers received 600 entries from 43 countries. They selected 12 semifinalists to have their structures built in Union Square, where they stayed for two days while New Yorkers voted on their favorite. (New York magazine has a photo gallery of the 12 semifinalists along with descriptions of what each architect was trying to achieve.) It should come as no surprise that a scholarly book chronicling the contest is forthcoming: "Sukkah City: Radically Temporary Architecture for the Next Three Thousand Years."

Angelenos who would like to see a modern interpretation of the sukkah for themselves need not despair, however. Sukkah City inspired a creative sukkah collaboration between the Skirball Cultural Center and the architecture firm wHY. When entering the contest, wHY architect Kulapat Yantrasast, who designed the new L&M Arts gallery in Venice, asked people at the Skirball to talk to his firm about the traditional meaning of the structure. They in turn invited him to design a sukkah for their annual celebration.

Sukkah slatsjpgwHY had slightly more than a month to pull together the design, which uses materials the museum already had on hand.

"We didn't want to just recycle, we wanted to weave the past into the present," Yantrasast said. "We looked around their storage area and trash area and found what they had the most of were banners, so we used the banners to weave the walls of the sukkah."

The roof is made of palm fronds, which are traditional in Israel and, because of their abundance in L.A., traditional here too. To make the project interactive and participatory, the Skirball is inviting people to bring photos of their families to affix to the wall.

wHY's sukkah will be up through next week in the Skirball's arroyo garden.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: A sukkah designed by architecture firm wHY is made from old banners.

Credit: From the Skirball Center

Cluck Trek: Environmental group sponsors chicken-coop tour


Thinking about getting chickens but aren't sure where to start? On Saturday, Environmental Change-Makers, a group based in Westchester, sponsors its first Cluck Trek, a self-guided tour of Rev. Peter Rood four backyard chicken coops.

Maps of the chicken-coop locations will be available on a table on the front lawn of the Church of the Holy Nativity from 9 to 9:30 Saturday morning. Most of the coops are within walking or biking distance of the church, and attendees are encouraged to contribute to a potluck lunch to be enjoyed on the final stop of the tour. A tour donation of $5 or $10 is suggested.

The Rev. Peter Rood (pictured), rector of the church and a founder of Environmental Change-Makers, promises there's nothing religious about the event. "I had to work hard to convince people that I'm not going to woo them when they come here and take out my Bible. There's none of that," he said.

Instead, the idea for the trek stemmed from the poultry experiences of other members of Environmental Change-Makers, which meets monthly at the church. "At the beginning of every meeting, we talk about what we're doing to make a positive impact, and lately people started saying, 'I did it. I got some chickens,' " Rood said. "It used to be about the new baby, now it's about the new baby chicks."

Thinking others might like to see what chicken rearing in the city looks like, members came up with Cluck Trek.

The Church of the Holy Nativity is at 6700 W. 83rd St., Westchester. For more information, see the Change-Makers' calendar of events.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photos: A chicken stands over her eggs. Credit: Seth Perlman / Associated Press. The Rev. Peter Rood collects greens in the garden surrounding the Westchester church where he serves as pastor. Credit: Church of the Holy Nativity

Dreaming of Virginia Johnson's new block-printed bedding


The lookbook for Canadian textile and fashion designer Virginia Johnson's new collection of bedding just landed in my editor's office, and boy does it look dreamy. I like my bedding fresh but not boring, vaguely tropical, and above all inviting -- in other words, I want it to look exactly like this: Cropped_Fall10_Duvet_waffle

Johnson's new Home collection, which will be available in stores and online in September, is hand block-printed in Jaipur. According to Johnson's blog, it's a very different process from screen printing -- the blocks are carved by hand and then pressed into the cloth on large padded tables. The result is a naturally uneven print, but in a good naturalistic, organic way.

The prices are a little better than I expected for such pretty bedding. Some of it is actually in the realm of possibility. The queen duvet covers will retail for $195, a queen-size quilt (shown at the top of the post, and my personal favorite) is $325 and the super-cute crib set is $295. 

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo credit: Virginia Johnson

P.S. For those of you who love Johnson's prints but aren't in the market for new bedclothes, I just learned that all of Johnson's scarves will be 50% off on her website, beginning Friday, Aug. 20.

Garden tour: Weird, wacky Hermitage Santa Barbara

High in the hills of Santa Barbara lies the Hermitage, the private whimsy of Theodore Roosevelt Gardner II. If you are lucky enough to be invited to the 18-acre property, and few are, you will find 5-foot-high stone toes popping out of a hillside ...


... and a bronze female swimmer stretching her shoulders near a half-submerged flying saucer ...


... and an austere samurai robot called "The Warrior" made out of chrome car bumpers.


In a sunken hole, 16 clay lawn jockeys stand in rows, deliberately evoking the terra cotta army that guards the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China.


Earlier this year, Gardner self-published a book about his unusual sculpture garden called "The Hermitage Santa Barbara at 20." Recently he took us on a tour, filled with wry jokes and truly unbelievable (in many ways) art. Click through our photo gallery and see for yourself. 

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: David McNew / For The Times


More home and garden photo tours

Parentology: The ultimate college shopping list


There are many lists of freshman dorm necessities floating around on the Internet, but one list making the rounds among parents on L.A.'s Westside is especially thorough. It's an Excel spreadsheet that usually lands in in-boxes with a disclaimer from the sender saying something like, "I know it's a little much, but it's nice to have it all spelled out."

This particular list is broken down into categories such as "bedding," "bedroom stuff," "common room," "hardware store" and "toiletries," and it has more than 100 items, including Dixie cups, Blistex, mini cutting board, stamps, ruler, Wite-Out, thank you notes and small vacuum.

Some people see helicopter mom in this list; others might see just plain neurotic person. After all, an 18-year-old who has managed to get into college is surely capable of buying his or her own Blistex. But there is something else in the time, care and energy spent by the unknown parent who put it all together: the desire -- however absurd -- to take care of everything, just one last time.

Read more about the emotions behind the college dorm room shopping trip.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Sharon Lerman shops with her son Ben, center, and his friend Daniel Gordon at Bed Bath & Beyond in Los Angeles. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times


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