Field of Dreams: ‘Wildflowering L.A.’ Turns Urban Sprawl Into Native, Magical Meadows

Photos by Ryan Benoit

Happy equinox, everyone! Here in Southern California, early spring means wildflowers, and lots of them: hillsides dense with blue flax and lupine, and phone-in hotlines updated weekly with the state of the poppies. The excitement is understandable — how many other things feel so untamed and yet so delicate and fleeting at the same time?

This year, artist Fritz Haeg is giving us even more meadows to marvel. Through his Wildflowering L.A. project — presented by Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND) in partnership with the Theodore Payne Foundation — Fritz is raising the visibility of flowering native plants, bringing them to Los Angeles streets, front lawns and schools. Last fall, 50 sites throughout the county were sown with wildflower mixes, watered and weeded, and now many of the sites are in spectacular bloom. Four custom wildflower seed mixes were distributed by the project according to climate or topography: Coastal, Flatlands, Hillside, and Roadside. (The categories are also a nod to Reyner Banham’s iconic 1971 book, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies.)

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Flatlands mix, Site 25, in the West Adams neighborhood of L.A.

“I wanted to do a project about the unique character of the L.A. landscape,” Fritz tells us by phone. He has lived in L.A. for 15 years. “People say we don’t have seasons — but we have really, really extreme seasons, in their own way. In the north, things go dormant in the winter. Here, it’s inverted — in the summer things go dormant. Wildflowers are green and colorful and are really the story of winter and spring.”

Guided by Wildflowering L.A.’s site map and #WildfloweringLA tags on Instagram, last weekend Ryan and I visited some of these meadows. We were amazed by the five sites we saw: prim tidy tips swirling among sassy orange California poppies, together lighting up the entranceway of an elementary school in Carthay, for example. And then there were the fields of sunset-colored gilias, phacelias and clarkias, which created a kaleidoscopic haze across residential lawns in Baldwin Hills.

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Roadside mix, Site 40, at Carthay Center Elementary School.

TIDY TIPS (LAYIA PLATYGLOSSA)

Let the Instagramming begin! Tagging your shots #wildfloweringla displays them at the project’s website.

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Flatlands mix, Site 28, in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood.

Don at Site 31

Don sowed the Hillside seed mix at Site 31 and installed an irrigation system to ensure the plants’ survival during California’s drought.

Turns out, wildflowers are also an icebreaker! Twice, residents came out to chat with us about their flowers and the sowing process. Most sites were planted (after soil prep and preexisting lawns/weeds were dug up) in November; seeds were mixed with sand to improve distribution; plots were watered daily until the seedlings reached a couple inches tall, and were then watered every seven to ten days. California’s recent catastrophic drought added to the struggle to bring these babies to bloom. It also hammered home how critical it is to have alternatives to water-guzzling front lawns.

The carved wood signs installed at the sites are also a must-see. In creating them, Fritz says he was inspired by classic state park signage.

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He says he wants to bring “the feeling and sensibility of state parks into the middle of the city and suburbs. When you see those signs,” Fritz says, “you tend to look around you to see what’s happening. You know you’re in a special landscape.”

Stay tuned for an interactive Wildflowering L.A. exhibition happening later this spring. Although site stewards are encouraged to let the plants reseed when they fade in June, the project itself is a one-off, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it event. So if you’re anywhere near L.A., come see these botanical fireworks while they last!

Keep scrolling for more shots of these spectacular blooms, plus some hot-and-heavy bee action!

Site #40
Carthay Center Elementary School
Roadside Seed Mix – Planted 11/22/13
Visited on 3/15/14 at 4:55 pm

Site 40 Carthay Elementary School.

Carthay Center Elementary School hosted Site #40.

CALIFORNIA POPPY (ESCHSCHOLZIA CALIFORNICA)

Several California poppies (Eschscholzia californica, the orange cup-shaped blooms) stand out at this location during our mid-March visit. Those sweet-looking yellow flowers are tidy tips.

Site 40 Carthay Elementary School.

Site #40 is located on West Olympic Boulevard. Site addresses and bloom ratings can be found using the project’s interactive map.

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Lacy phacelia amid tidy tips

Lacy phacelia stands tall above the tidy tips.

LACY PHACELIA (PHACELIA TANACETIFOLIA)

Lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)

TIDY TIPS (LAYIA PLATYGLOSSA)

Tidy tips (Laylia platyglossa) were the most prominent blooms during our visit.

WildfloweringLA-GIF-thehorticult

A wildflower story would be remiss without a gif! We caught these tidy tips dancing in the warm afternoon breeze.

Bird's Eye Gilia (Gilia Tricolor)

These bird’s eye gilia (Gilia tricolor) put a spell on us. Dig the blue pollen on the stamen!

ELEGANT CLARKIA (CLARKIA UNGUICULATA)

Elegant clarkia (Clarki unguiculata) has an orchid-like complexity. It’s also a favorite of  Wildflowering L.A. founder Fritz Haeg.

Site #31
Residential, West Adams
Flatlands Seed Mix
Visited on 3/15/14 at 5:40 pm

Site 31

Wildflowering LA, Site 31, West Adams

Tidy tips.

Site 31

One of the oldest neighborhoods in L.A., West Adams is a neighborhood just south of I-10, bordered by Crenshaw Boulevard on the east and La Cienega on the west.

Site 31

Site 31

Site 31, Tidy Tips and some bird's eye gilia

We found some humble purple bird’s eye gilia (left) among all the tidy tips.

Site 31

Clarkias are just beginning to bloom at this location. Come April, the clarkias should be in full force.

Site 31

Site #25
Residential, West Adams
Flatlands Seed Mix
Visited on 3/15/14 at 6:05 pm

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We were impressed by the depth of this wildflower field at Site 25. Most of the blooms were tidy tips, but clarkias were also ready to burst.

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Beware of the cat!

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Actually, she’s a sweetheart…She’s just a little miffed about losing her yard to a wildflower forest.

Site #42
Residential, Baldwin Hills
Hillside Seed Mix – Planted 1/5/2014
Visited on 3/15/14 at 6:22 pm

Eddy planted seeds at Wildflowering L.A. Site 42.

Eddie shows off his flourishing lawn, which was sown on the later than most, on January 5th, 2014. This site was the youngest that we visited. With 11 species, the Hillside seed mix has the most varieties of wildflowers.

GOLDFIELDS (LASTHENIA CALIFORNICA)

Unique to the Hillside seed mix are goldfields (Lasthenia californica). The goldfields were more numerous than tidy tips at this site.

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The red stemmed clarkias are just waiting to dazzle us all.

Site 42, Planted January 14th.

Site #28
Residential, Baldwin Hills
Flatlands Seed Mix – Planted 11/14/2013
Visited on 3/15/14 at 6:37 pm

Site 28, Flatlands seed mix.

Planted in November, this site’s blooms are astonishing…and they are nowhere near ready to quit. Keep an eye out for white yarrow, lupine and winecup clarkia to bloom in this Flatlands mix.

Baldwin Hills, Site 28, Flatlands mix.

There are eight different species of wildflowers in the Flatlands mix.

Site 28, Flatlands seed mix.  CALIFORNIA POPPY (ESCHSCHOLZIA CALIFORNICA)

A beautiful mix of bird’s eye gilias, California poppies, clarkies and tidy tips. Can someone turn these into a textile print already?!

ELEGANT CLARKIA (CLARKIA UNGUICULATA)

Pink clarkias.

ELEGANT CLARKIA (CLARKIA UNGUICULATA)

White clarkias.

bee with lacy phacelia (phacelia tanacetifolia)

And now, bring on the bees! This one is about to make contact with a lacy phacelia.

LACY PHACELIA (PHACELIA TANACETIFOLIA)

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A wasp joins the pollination party.

A bee on a tidy tip wildflower.

Bliss amid the tidy tips.

  • princessmandy24

    Lovely! Hope more towns do this.