I usually try to be in several places at once by multi-tasking. Physically, I have offices in Oregon and California. As one of probably many landscapers in these cities, I see many properties facing climate issues that my Portland, Oregon, clients only deal with during their hot, dry summers.
Landscaping in drier climates is, to me, an opportunity when handled with sustainability in mind. The semi-arid Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles offers a diverse set of challenges. I like challenges.
For me, it is a joy to turn a struggling landscape around. I recently found myself traveling back to Pasadena from El Monte. On Google Maps, I noticed a large blue shape, and I had to take the short detour to check it out. Unlike the LA River, Mungi Lake is full of water. I was instantly captivated by the place and decided I’d spend an hour or two every week restoring the riparian zone around the shore. So far I have planted 56 Willows and numerous perennial plants for Hummingbirds and bees, as well as drought tolerant species that produce flowers. The first 28 trees survived the first week, and so I planted another 28 the second week. Being a professional Landscape designer, I like to have a community service project that allows me to work with underserved areas. In Portland I donated my time to grant writing and design for the City Repair Project’s Pollinator Program, design and instruction for Buckman School’s Project Feed and After School Program for kids with single parents, and teaching seed bomb and mushroom workshops for the Village Building Convergence and various Permaculture Gatherings. In Los Angeles, I devote time to groups like the Complete Streets Coalition, Transition Pasadena, and Beautiful Swales.
I was on my own when I saw Mungi Lake, but I saw it needing help. I found super simple and low-cost ways to kick-start its ability to recover from a bad situation. If I can help the ecosystem there recover from a lowered water level resulting from the 5 year drought LA just came out of, I will be glad. The trees I put in around the shore will clean the water, stabilize the banks from erosion, provide shade and habitat for water birds, insects, frogs, and fish, and offer better views and places from which to sit and either fish or picnic around the lake. The flowering plants will attract butterflies and birds, offering them food and enriching the ecosystem by increasing plant diversity.
I like doing restoration for damaged landscapes in my free time. My little restoration project is a labor of love. I also pulled out four bags of plastic trash in the first week. Someone had been dumping from the ridge to the east. I couldn’t get close enough to the water in the lagoon because the mud gets too thick for my shoes. One of the bags I collected blew into the water, and I felt guilty but couldn’t do anything about it. I hoped the wildlife would trust that I come in peace, even though I belong to a species that does a lot of damage to their home.
While walking near a group of fishermen, one stopped me to ask what I was up to. He didn’t know that Willow trees sprout all along their stems. There is a sign up the bank warning not to eat the fish.
I typically work with residential clients because homeowners are thinking of retirement or homesteading, and permaculture is ideal for setting up regenerative systems. Over the years, my landscape design clients have kept me intrigued with a diverse range of properties and needs. I’ve traveled all over Oregon and Washington and also worked in California, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. LA is so far my favorite, because permaculture was designed for dry landscapes. Even Southern Oregon gets more rainfall than LA does, but the same techniques work wonders for the soil, plants, and wildlife.
My family is close friends with the director of the Theodore Payne Foundation, and on a recent visit, I learned that the area experienced some devious male practitioners. My boyfriend likes to say, more people more problems, but it’s a shame that such things happen. A friend of mine who works as an interpretive horticulturist at the LA Arboretum uses the term regenerative landscaping instead of permaculture, to avoid the stigma. TPF is against it no matter what is might be called, because they don’t think native plants can survive woody debris additions to the soil. Their original founder didn’t start out native-only. I just look at how the techniques I employ, even on a small level like at the lake or in my family’s planting strip, boost the land’s ability to recover from drought.
Years ago I worked for another landscape design firm; for about two years I held online design presentations, but what I didn’t expect was to be in the position of rescuer. Many of the clients assigned to me by the company were near ready to fire them. I provided attentive customer service and project management along with what I was there to do (design their landscapes), and it solved the problems they had been having with the firm. I eventually found out (from one of their clients) that the firm was going under for, you guessed it, bad project management and customer relations. I was never paid about $4,000 for projects I had completed, and I heard sad stories from a lot of clients the firm could have helped.
That experience made an impression on me: it drew out my gift of empathy and highlighted the importance of being present with people.
So I like to work independently, not only because I have an understanding of business but also so I can truly serve people. From that job I know what customers feel like when a firm doesn’t deliver the plans that were promised.
For the homeowner, investor, or developer, working with a professional who knows how to set up self-sustaining ecosystems can move you from a huge water bill to a very modest one, from spending a ton of money on maintenance when you don’t have to to near-zero maintenance and the cost of needing it, and abundantly healthy plants that attract beautiful and beneficial wildlife.
Since I’ve been a designer for over 14 years now, I am glad to be of service here in the West, where things grow a little differently and sustainable water utilization can be of great value. Natural water conservation and purification is, after all, something in which I specialize.
For more information on how you can transform your property into an oasis and increase its value up to 15% through the use of sustainable landscape design, click here.