The REAL Gardens of Brentwood, CA


Brentwood4400During my recent short stay in Los Angeles, this Brentwood neighborhood was my haunt, the route of my morning walk.  Not bad, huh?  Especially in mid-February to this Easterner.  Blooming were daffodils, azaleas, roses, daylilies, and all manner of tropical and desert plants I couldn’t identify.  Do any of these bloom again, say at the time they’re supposed to bloom?  (Pardon my ignorance.)

But what really surprised me was the preponderance of the faux-Eastern green look with its thirsty plants.  The entire community is dotted with little irrigation nozzles; I mean they’re everywhere, including the right of way.  GOTTA have bright green turf between the asphalt and the concrete, apparently.  So despite the persistent drumbeat for xeriscaping we’re seeing in the media, it looks like the message hasn’t reached the homeowners. Desert-dwellers whose water has to be pumped from hundreds of miles away.  What will it take to convert them?

And what’s being done about this?  From the EPA: "The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has implemented a comprehensive water efficiency plan to address water use by individual households, businesses, and industries. To limit outdoor water use, L.A. offers a landscape water management program, a water conservation garden contest, an annual spring garden exposition, demonstration gardens, weather network stations, a residential irrigation pilot program, a large-turf water curtailment program, xeriscape requirements for new construction, and production and distribution
watering guides."  With global warming increasing drought conditions in the area, maybe it’s time for a small-turf water curtailment program.

By contrast, in flipping through the December ’06 issue of Los Angeles Magazine I found a feature Brentwood2400called "The Influentials," and who should be included but a garden designer!  Yeah, amazing.  Grouped with other "Aesthetics," (e.g., an architect, a preservationst) is Nancy Goslee Power, who designed the LA County Arboretum and Botanical Garden.  She specializes in creating outdoor rooms (who doesn’t? But there’s more…) using "indigenous and drought-tolerant plants."  And the magazine gave her "bonus points" for a "pro bono job transforming an elementary school’s asphalt lot into a teaching garden modeled after food guru Alice Water’s own garden.  Very cool.  (Here’s her site but don’t bother visiting; it’s the least functional site yet in my continuing survey of garden designer sites.  Try navigating between pages – no can do.)

Ucla1400The very same Nancy Goslee Power was mentioned by an astute commenter to my recent post about Disney Hall, suggesting she should have been chosen as its landscape designer.  Agreed!  She might have selected from her native-and-drought-tolerant plant palette to create some Mediterranean-style drama around this amazing building, a far better choice than the forgettable plantings you see there today.  And she might have taught Angelenos a thing or two about sustainable gardening.


  1. The lovely savory smooth leaf succulent with the erectile dysfunctional looking inflorescence is an Agave attenuatta and it will die after it finishes flowering.
    Thousands of tiny seeds will drop to the ground and will propagate around the mother plant.
    Blooming time in warm climate zones is commonly seen in December – March.

    The preponderance of faux Eastern green that you see in LA is a horticultural reflection of its melting pot culture.
    Combine such social diversity with pleasant year round weather conditions and you have a recipe for unbridled horticultural exuberance.

    Unfortunately L.A. does not have the abundance of water to match its weather and their ever growing diverse population.
    Hence the state and local governmental agencies are stepping up their educational outreach programs to educate the public about the growing need to reduce landscape water consumption.

    Xeriscaping is one way to address the need for a low water use landscape but Xeriscaping does not mean the same to everyone , every plant or every location.
    In many Xeriscapes those little irrigation nozzles are necessary in order to get the garden going when it is first planted prior to the deep roots getting established.
    In some instances even the most xeric of gardens still will require an occasional deep watering during the hottest dry month(s) of summer.

    L.A has received less than 3 inches of water so far this winter.
    That is not enough to support even the most native of plantscapes as the summer months roll on by.
    Professional savvy landscapers will use those little irrigation nozzles cleverly and judiciously by having them connected to computerized weather stations or an ET ( evaporative transpiration ) system or perhaps by setting the irrigation timer to water only once a month or set on manual so that there is even greater control .

  2. A quick note regarding the Nancy Goslee Power web site. You can navigate between pages, although it’s certainly not very intuitive. There are icons in the lower left corner that take you to different pages on the site. It’s worth checking out the Selected Projects page to see photos of her work.

  3. I stumbled on this blog post two years after its publication and felt compelled to write with a few corrections. By way of disclosure, I write occasionally on horticulture for the LA Times and started the school garden project that is mentioned in the blog post.

    I also profiled Nancy Goslee Power in the LA Times, though after working with her on the project at 24th Street Elementary School, my impressions of her would be very different.

    The corrections: Although Mrs. Power has been involved in generating schematics and promoting much needed upgrades at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, and she is surely a committed friend to the organization, she did not design the Arboretum grounds. Nor did she do a “pro bono job transforming an elementary school’s asphalt lot into a teaching garden modeled after food guru Alice Water’s own garden.”

    Mrs. Power was called in by me to a greening project in 2005 at 24th Street School in inner city Los Angeles by a community group that I founded in 2002. We had previously been working with Disney Concert Hall garden designer Melinda Taylor, but the financial pressure we put on Ms. Taylor’s two-person firm meant that she couldn’t stay with us.

    By the time Mrs. Power joined the project, we not only needed a schematic for creation of teaching gardens but also convincing arguments that teachers, kids, their family and the community could maintain those gardens.

    Mrs Power’s firm charged the inner city elementary school $100 an hour for one of her assistants to do schematics. Mrs Power then put forward more of her own staff for the maintenance on the project. By the time she took over the board chairmanship of a charity formed to oversee the build and maintain the project, her firm was the project’s biggest creditor.

    I left the project after years of involved, increasingly bitter arguments with Mrs. Power over how we could keep up our end of the pact with the district and clashing visions for urban gardening.

    It could be that Mrs. Power’s group, the Garden School Foundation, is doing sustainable work. It does not publish board meeting minutes and has never filed a corporate report with the California Secretary of State.

    This much is obvious to anyone who visits the garden that was eventually created at 24th Street School. Nothing about the design, plant choices, a high-broadcast sprinkler system and drainage system that plates storm water into a soccer field is conservationist or in any sense an environmental model.

    By contrast, whatever rightful or wrongful chagrin Mrs. Power and her advocates may feel at having lost the Disney Hall project to the younger and far more modern (and genuinely conservation-minded) Melinda Taylor, the Taylor Disney Hall garden is an excellent example of forward thinking. It makes extensive use of natives, including the heady California sages, and Taylor had to go through incredible headaches with the city to get through unapproved plants. Rather than breach on agreements and merely do what she wanted, which Power did at the school, Taylor fought for and got all the permissions.

    Water management at Disney Concert Hall is tough to defend as conservationist because it is a rooftop garden and the beds are irrigated through a heavy sand bed system needed to anchor large plants in high winds. That would have been an issue no matter the plant choices. But Taylor’s specimen selection, sense of place, and her sheer bureaucratic trail blazing to change regulations make Disney Hall in my estimation a far more revolutionary garden than anything Mrs. Power has done.

    Mrs Power has created many gardens of merit and beauty in Los Angeles, but crediting her as a conservation leader is far fetched. Crediting her as doing the work at 24th Street School pro bono is just plain wrong.

    Doing it while criticizing Melinda Taylor compounds that wrong and insults the real change agent. It is Taylor who is the true modern problem solver and conservationist. And the Disney garden is as beautiful as anything Power has in her also formidable portfolio.

    Great blog. Love the ‘tude of your website and agree with the conservation message.

  4. While this article is all well and good; it is annoying to see the AREA known as Brentwood in Los Angeles being referred to as Brentwood, CA in this article entitled “The REAL Gardens of Brentwood, CA.” There is a REAL City of Brentwood, CA that happens to be a very agriculturally minded town in the Eastern San Francisco Bay area. It was disappointing to see this article when OUR town; with real gardens, farms, etc. should be featured in an article with a title like this, not some Suburb in L.A.

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