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The Story Of A Season: Inside Wildflowering LA

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Genevieve Arnold stands over a white, plastic vessel that could be used to bathe a baby. It’s filled with potting soil and sits on a patch of grass within the Rancho Cienega park grounds.

“You can see the soil, your earth, is nice and smooth,” she says, gesticulating to the dirt. “You’ve prepped it according to what we are going to discuss. It’s not packed in: it’s a nice smooth surface for the seeds to scatter and settle into.”

She grabs a bag of horticultural sand and explains that it’s best to mix one part of the seeds you’d like to plant with three parts of this specific sand. She emphasizes that this is not to be confused with the silica heavy playtime sand and that it acts as a medium for the seeds, further enabling them to grow. She picks up a bowl with a mixture of sand and seed. “There are two ways you can scatter the seed. You can do what I call the Tic-Tac-Toe Method or you can go to a restaurant supply store and get a Parmesan cheese shaker with large holes and you put your sand and seed mixture into it and act like you are dressing a pizza.”

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The crowd laughs and she continues on with her demonstration. She now explains the process of watering your seeds. “You want to keep the water moving. Notice that I’m not letting the water pool up or divot. You should wait twenty minutes or so to let it settle—and then come back and do it again. Now, your soil has been aerated from your watering.”

There is a further explanation of water and then a fielding of a few questions from the small crowd around her. A woman in clear glasses raises her hand: “When will most of the flowers bloom? What is that process?”

Genevieve nods, taking a beat. “The earliest bloomers are going to be your California Poppies and your Lupinus, which come as early as February and March. Then, mid-Spring, you are going to have some of the other things in your mix while, late-Spring, you’re going to get Clarkias, the Farewell To Springs. It’ll all be at its height at mid-Spring.”

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That questions is particularly important for the purposes of this demonstration: the group of people gathered together here are Los Angeles County landowners from all over who are participating in LAND and artist Fritz Haeg‘s environmental activation art project, Wildflowering LA. Genevieve has been brought in as a consultant to help oversee the rollout of planting, to ensure that the wildflowers that are being seeded will make it in the Spring. She’s with the Theodore Payne Foundation, a local wildflower and native plant non-profit dedicated to keeping Payne’s mission of bringing nature into Los Angeles.

“I like the idea that Theodore Payne did almost the exact same project a hundred years ago, approaching people with vacant lots all over the city to see if they would plant his [seed] mixes,” Fritz says from behind a long table where he has been meeting with participants in Wildflowering for a few hours. Fritz is a tall, skinny man much like a sprouting blade of grass. He wears all neutral colors and has a gentle yet direct way of speaking, one that easily bends into great passion when speaking about plants.

“When I first moved to LA fourteen years ago, I became obsessed with gardening,” he says. “I had been gardening before I moved here but it wasn’t until LA that I really became obsessed with it. I then found Theodore Payne and became obsessed with what they are doing. It’s one of my favorite places in the city.”

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“Coming back to LA and spending more time here, I have become really fascinated with the particular climate that we are in and native plants and microclimates and the sheer diversity and drama of our landscape. I had done a wildflower meadow with Theodore Payne mixes for the past two years and I was really blown away by how a six foot tall meadow could come from it and grow in a city that we think doesn’t have seasons. With windflowers, you see these really extreme seasons played out through these annual native plants. You can see the rains’ direct impact on the landscape. They’re so beautiful. It’s such a dramatic way to understand some of the plants that used to be here before we had a city.”

Fritz does note that the project isn’t entirely a natural process. Because of climate change and the unreliable nature of precipitation in Southern California, the human hand will be very present in Wildflowering. “The project is a little misleading because they are native plants but they only really come to us if there is a lot of rain, which isn’t always the case. The plantings will be pending on some irrigation, unfortunately. That’s just the nature of the project.”

This is exactly why Theodore Payne is present giving mini-courses in maintaining a native garden. The Foundation and Fritz are empowering local land owners with the tools to give back their land to nature by way of art. Moreover, this way of thinking has actually been adopted by the city and, for those interested, the LADWP offers rebates to those who create a drought friendly landscaping. Genevieve explains that she works with many locals hoping to return their land to nature: “The LADWP is bringing a lot of people to the Foundation who are interested in lowering their water use. Native plants take a seventh of water use versus the amount of water most exotics require.”

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“The project is meant to initiate some sort of reconsideration for a lot of this open land we have in the city,” Fritz notes. “Planting one wild flower is one of an infinite number of ways we can reconsider the land.”

In terms of engaging with the project and non-planters witnessing state changes in the land, there will be ample markers of Wildflowering. “You’ll see the signs we have produced that look like state park signs,” Fritz says. “Part of the spirit of the project is to introduce a little bit of state park activity into the city so that the line between the city and not-city get blurred. It helps to understand that what we think is the wild is a part of what we think about being the city.”

The project will also culminate with an exhibition toward the end of the wildflowers’ life cycle. This, obviously, is pending when flowers come. That said, Fritz has a few ideas for showcasing the project in a gallery setting. “There will be before and after pictures of all the sites. There will be fresh cuttings from all the sites, some in from different places. We haven’t really figured it out yet but my dream is to get a really huge space where we can map out the entire county of LA and we keep placing cuttings where people live.”

“Something like that!” he says happily. “I want to somehow tell the story of what happened here.”

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Although with lasting potential, Wildflowering LA will be an isolated moment in Los Angeles land art. It will be a quiet, colorful performance that will only be available for public consumption for a few quick months. “I don’t intend to pursue this after this,” Fritz says. “The idea is to do fifty small sites across the county with people, partners, and land owners who are interested in doing it. And that’s it. This is just the story of one season with all these people doing it together.”

For more on Wildflowering LA, please visit the LAND website. You can also follow their Facebook for updates on the project. Exhibition details are still to be determined but will be happening in Spring of 2014.

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