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After brief dirt nap, landscape fronting USC Verdugo Hills Hospital begins reawakening

After brief dirt nap, landscape fronting USC Verdugo Hills Hospital begins reawakening
In a photo taken Aug. 9 the same stretch of land is seen excavated, with some minor plantings, in preparation for a landscape redesign using drought-tolerant species. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

For the past few weeks, La Cañada residents and others passing by USC Verdugo Hills Hospital have watched with interest as a stretch of landscaping along Verdugo Boulevard was excavated and then began showing signs of new plant life.

Originally installed by local landscaping architectural firm Lawrence R. Moss and Associates around the time Verdugo Hills Hospital first opened in 1972, the nearly 16,000-square-foot patch of land was beginning to show signs of wear as shrubs grew out of control and trees withered from years of drought.

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When hospital officials cut back on irrigation to comply with a 2014 state water conservation mandate, plants there took a turn for the worse, according to Bron Ruf, vice president of Moss and Associates.

“That landscaping had pretty much run its course,” Ruf said in an interview Monday. “When they turned the water off, that was the last straw.”

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So late last month, Ruf and colleagues from the same firm that originally landscaped the area decades earlier set to work on its renovation, demolishing the site down to the soil.

Their new vision — a vibrant yet drought-tolerant mix of trees, plants and ground cover fed by a water-efficient irrigation system — should be installed by early September, according to USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Chief Operations Officer Kenny Pawlek.

“We wanted something that was easier to maintain and something better suited to the climate here,” Pawlek said of the plan. “Focusing more on Mediterranean and California-friendly plants will allow the facility to still be green and have a nice look but also gives us an opportunity to use less water.”

In place of the shrubs, deodar cedars and liquidambar trees of yore, the new landscape will feature silk trees and fruitless olive trees, which will grow up to 30 feet tall, mixed with succulents like blue agave and aloe. The plantings will be perched among low-growing “Dallas Red” lantana whose blooms resemble USC’s signature colors, cardinal and gold.

“It will be clean, elegant and colorful — not like a burned up forest, which is what was there before,” Ruf said, adding the new design will have a more manicured look to show off the hospital’s northern profile.

Landscaping in front of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, along the 1800 block of Verdugo Boulevard, as seen from the street on May 7.
Landscaping in front of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, along the 1800 block of Verdugo Boulevard, as seen from the street on May 7. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

Miguel Gonzalez, administrative director of support services for the hospital, said officials had been thinking of reconfiguring the Verdugo Boulevard landscaping last October, when Moss personally reached out and offered to help.

“He put together a design for us that was presented to our administrators and it was approved,” Gonzalez recalled.

Pawlek acknowledged while some local residents were concerned by the presence of a bare dirt hill, what’s in the works will be a definite improvement.

“The community here is very proud of having beautiful looking yards. We want to be participants in that as well,” he said.

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