My Canyon Life: Goodbye Cottage Gardener

Our Move to Laurel Canyon has been uphill.

I have been MIA. We moved from Tujunga Village/Colfax Meadows to Laurel Canyon (on the Studio City side). 

First, I forgot to limber up before the move and discovered joints in my body I didn’t know existed. My best friend for a week was ibuprofen.

The next hurdle? I will have to forget gardening in a flat area, which I have been doing all my adult life. The hills are a new ballgame.

It is said that a spring-fed stream flowed in these canyons in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and sheep grazed on the hillsides. These days instead of sheep bleating we hear cars whirring.

Who cares? I saw my first robin in 10 years perched on the fat limb of the sycamore outside our window. There’s swallowtail butterflies. Lizards lie out on the rocks and socialize. Out of the corner of my eye I catch dragonflies, ruby-throated hummingbirds, yellow warblers.  

We are, more or less, on a ravine and there’s a small stream that meanders through this rental property. Is it a riparian zone? I know not. We have pine trees, live oaks (Quercus agrifolia), bottlebrush, gobs of papyrus, reeds and things I can’t identify.

Los Angeles vegetation is a little bit Mediterranean/Chapparal thanks to the Pacific Ocean and a lot Las Vegas in a hot dry Valley summer. We try everything here.

Down the winding roads, some residents have green lawns and rose gardens, while others have so neglected their yards that weeds have taken over. The canyon still has some wild charm with coral clover, yellow yarrow, California juniper (Juniperus californica) that dates back to the Pleistocene era and things I can’t identify. Oh yeah and LOTS OF IVY!

Down the street is an overgrown lot fenced in with only a red barn, trailer and a hitch. We imagine it to be a hippie outpost. A nod to the Laurel Canyon Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Keith Moon and Joni Mitchell once called home.

I look forward to learning new things here and sharing them in my upcoming columns.

So far I know that the English cottage gardener in me has been slapped upside the head. I completely have to re-jigger the notion of scale. Potted iceberg roses and lavender are dwarfed by the trees. And certain colors, such as the plummy browns of Japanese maples, oxalis and plum trees work well in the deep dell landscape while the pink cups of my beloved mallow get lost.

Will keep you posted!


Switchgrass, little bluestem, coneflower, aster, and butterfly weed all adapt well to a hillside garden.

Tilling usually brings up weed seeds so use a no-till drill system of seed sowing. For smaller areas, broadcast seeds by hand and mix with a lightweight material, such as peat moss.

For ponds: papyrus, dwarf papyrus, pennywort, cranberry taro, and arrowhead.

You’ll get more butterflies if you plant caterpillar faves such as parsley, dill, fennel, milkweed, and Queen Anne's lace.

Tracy Elliott April 24, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Marla, Hugh and Huck, I wish you many happy hours in the garden. I will miss you all and our impromptu conversations on gardens and life. Maybe we will run into each other when you come down for a gelato or coffee. Best wishes, Tracy (your biggest fan)
Marla Hart April 24, 2012 at 11:43 PM
thank you for the good wishes, Ilona and Tracy. waiting to see what strikes me for the garden. neighbors have a smorgasbord of styles from Palm Springs mid-century front yards to rose gardens to woods. huck misses his old digs but he truly loves the hills as afghan are originally mountain dogs. gelato sounds great, Tracy!
Grace Schmidt April 25, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Welcome to the hills. Besides growing up above Ulholland and Laurel Canyon We have been Blessed to live on a private road with10 a res of non developable land and we back Fryman canyon! We see deer, cayotes, bobcats, ref tail hawks and of course your usual deadly suspects rattlers and scorpions! But it's all worth it. I found bogs villa and nesturshiam love the soil up her and the range if Cora ate GEORGEOUS! I couldn't think of living anyplace else. Although we can literally walk ( although) our hill is a bit straight our daughter to school at Carpenter. We look down on the entire city but Lu e with nature, serenity and when you get home it's an immediate ahhh! I hope you enjoy the hills as much as we have Grace
Grace Schmidt April 25, 2012 at 01:26 PM
God this spell check is atroshious! I hope you can still make out the jist of my comments. It's either that or not enough coffee yet:)
Marla Hart April 25, 2012 at 09:18 PM
it's never enough coffee, Grace! yesterday i was in the guts of hollywood and yes, when I got home i had that ahhh feeling. i will feel blessed to see a deer. we used to have them in our yard back in suburban Chicago and it was magical.


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