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Plants

Has wildflower shaming gone too far? How to find the best blooms without the drama

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The Theodore Payne Foundation’s Wild Flower Hotline is set to return March 3, with weekly updates about where to find the best blooms this spring — which promise to be spectacular due to all our rain.

But Evan Meyer, the foundation’s director, says he’s “disappointed by all the negativity” from public officials and conservationists about this highly anticipated event. In recent weeks, the media has been flooded with finger-wagging and warnings about a potential superbloom, because of past damage from thoughtless visitors who were more focused on taking selfies than protecting the flowers.

Certainly, people should be careful not to trample, dig or pick those eye-popping patches of oranges, pinks, purples and golds, and be respectful of the communities where the flowers grow, Meyer said, “but this is something that should be celebrated. We’re getting this gift from nature, an amazing incredible phenomena, and people should be able to see it.”

Meyer believes scolding and turning the public away is bad for conservation efforts in the long run.

“We want to encourage a love for these natural places, so people realize our shared spaces need to be cared for and protected,” he said. “It’s not crowds of people that have really hurt our wildflower stands — it’s the pavement that’s paved over most of the wildflower habitat that’s existed.”

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One troubling example, he said, was a press conference on Feb. 7 when the mayor of Lake Elsinore, flanked by the Riverside County Sheriff and California Highway Patrol, announced that Walker Canyon — the site of a spectacular superbloom in 2019 — would be closed to the public this year, and offenders could be arrested, to avoid a repeat of the traffic jams, helter-skelter parking and other irresponsible behavior that overwhelmed the small community.

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The extraordinary blooms, visible from the 15 Freeway, led to people parking on the freeway shoulders and blocking city streets to walk into the hills. City officials tried offering shuttle buses and forming lines to the trails to manage the throngs, but some people ignored the trails and just scrambled up the hillsides, wading through the flowers and even dislodging rocks that rolled onto people below, according to news reports.

That behavior was reprehensible, Meyer said, and potentially devastating to the flowers everyone was clamoring to see. Those beautiful wildflowers are producing seeds that spread to create future blooms, and any damage to those flowers potentially means fewer blooms in the future.

But when he was watching the press conference, with a phalanx of law enforcement officers standing behind the mayor, “I suddenly thought of that famous photo of a hippie sticking a flower in a gun during the protests in the 1960s, and what a crazy flip it is, that now we’re protecting wildflowers with guns,” Meyer said.

“I get that it’s really annoying to have people causing traffic jams and flooding port-a-potties just to get a selfie on Instagram, but these are shared places, owned by the state or federal government, who say their goal is to inspire the public and give them access to the thing that’s really great about being a Californian — having natural experiences near where you live. But instead of finding a way to manage it, they’re just throwing up their hands and saying, ‘You can’t come.’”

A better approach, he said, would be to anticipate these regular natural events and create programs to manage public access while protecting the flowers.

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“I’m not advocating for a free-for-all; I’m advocating for more resources from the government,” Meyer said. “It’s valid to say certain areas are off-limits, like wilderness areas where you can’t drive vehicles, but I think county, state and federal agencies should be allocating resources to harness the enthusiasm from the public, like with a reservation system. Maybe this is a wake-up call for more funding to create better controls and better access, or having discretionary funds to be spent during years of high botanical interest.”

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Meyer said one good thing about the Wild Flower Hotline — (818) 768-1802, ext. 7 — is that it sends people to a variety of locations “so it spreads out the crowds. It doesn’t just send you to the viral spots. It mentions lesser-known places too that may not have the same flowers but are equally beautiful in their own way.”

The Wild Flower Hotline will continue weekly updates through May, which is usually when the blooms are in decline. But with all this recent rain, it’s possible the flowers will last longer than usual his year, into the summer, Meyer said.

Meyer has another hope for all this wildflower fascination — that it might encourage people to advocate for or pursue native plant landscaping.

“This is a way to celebrate what an incredible state we live in, and appreciate the natural world and native plants. If we can build that appreciation, we can encourage people to think about how to protect those plants and bring more of this [superbloom] experience into large spaces in our urban environment.”

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Here are some other plant-related things to see and do in March, when you’re not out (respectfully) gawking at gorgeous flowers. If you’d like to include events in our monthly garden calendar, email information by the third week of the preceding month to jeanette.marantos@latimes.com.

March 1-May 15
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, 50 acres of blooming ranunculus flowers, open to visitors daily at 5704 Paseo del Norte in Carlsbad. Timed-entry tickets between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. are available online. $23 adults, $21 seniors 60+ and military, $12 for ages 3 to 10 and free for children under 3. theflowerfields.com

March 3
Volunteers needed for habitat restoration at Debs Park led by Test Plot and Terremoto Landscape Architecture, 8 to 10 a.m. at the Audubon Center at Debs Park, 4700 Griffin Ave., in L.A’s Montecito Heights neighborhood. Participants will help plant native plants and remove invasive plants to build a sustainable habitat for local bird populations. Volunteers must sign a waiver and wear closed-toe shoes. Wear a hat and sunscreen, and bring gardening gloves and a reusable water bottle (there’s a drinking fountain on-site). Participation is free and no RSVP is required. Waivers for adults and children can be completed online. debspark.audubon.org

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March 3-26
Tomatomania‘s three-day sales events at various SoCal locations, offer at least 100 varieties of tomato seedlings as well as peppers and other vegetable plants. At Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar on March 3-12; Otto & Sons in Fillmore on March 9-11; Fig Earth Supply in Mount Washington on March 10-12; and at Underwood Family Farms’ Moorpark Farm Center in Moorpark and Somis Farm Market in Somis from March 17-19. tomatomania.com

March 11-April 9
San Diego Botanic Garden World of Orchids showcase, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 300 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas, includes vendors on weekends and classes about orchids on selected days. Free with $18 ticket to the garden ($12 for military, students and seniors 60+, $10 for ages 3-17 and free for members and children under 3). sdbg.org

March 9
Garden to Table from Seed, a talk by Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden seed company, about kitchen gardening throughout the seasons, at the Southern California Horticultural Society meeting at Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, in Griffith Park. Doors open at 7 p.m, the talk starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. socalhort.org

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March 10-12
Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Admission is $20 for a day or $30 for a three-day pass. Children 12 and under enter free with a paying adult. sborchidshow.com

March 11
Abundant Nutrition: A Foraging Walk in Pasadena with “Foraging Southern California” author Douglas Kent, 9 to 11 a.m. The starting address will be emailed to ticket holders three days before the walk, which is a fundraiser for the nonprofit Poly/Ana, dedicated to educating people about ways to protect and respect local ecosystems. Tickets are $25. eventbrite.com

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Greywater Irrigation Hands-On Workshop by Greywater Corps., an installer of residential greywater systems, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at a private residence in Burbank. Participants will learn how to install a laundry-to-landscape greywater system, “with a minimum of tools and experience.” $200, register online. greywatercorps.com

Spring and Summer Planting, a free class by master gardener Yvonne Savio, of GardeninginLA.net about the best edibles and ornamentals to plant in Southern California at 2 p.m. at the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library, 5211 Tujunga Ave. Savio is teaching a similar class on March 18 at the Platt Branch library, 23600 Victory Blvd., in Woodland Hills. lapl.org/what’s-on/events

Growing Works Nursery Spring Fling Retail Sale, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1736 S. Lewis Road in Camarillo, includes live music, local artisan vendors and food trucks, as well as succulents, native and drought-tolerant plants grown at the wholesale nursery which provides job training, employment and therapy to people with mental health challenges. turningpointfoundation.org

March 11-12
Organic Veggie Plant sale and free compost, a Sarah’s House Maternity Homes fundraiser from 10 am. to 2 p.m. both days, 641 Weller Court in Simi Valley. Visitors can get free compost (bring your own 5-gallon container) and purchase $2 veggie starts of herbs, pansies, greens, broccoli, lettuce, arugula, bok choy, beets, kale and snap peas. More plants will be added for sale throughout the spring. gardeninginla.net

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March 17
Community Habitat Restoration for local bird populations, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Audubon Center at Debs Park, 4700 Griffin Ave., in Montecito Heights. Jobs includes removing invasive plants and watering new native plants. Volunteers must register and sign a waiver prior to participating (available online). Wear closed-toe shoes and expect to get dirty. Bring a reusable water bottle to fill from the drinking fountain on-site. Dogs and other pets are not permitted. debspark.audubon.org

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TreePeople annual tree sapling “adoption, 10 a.m. to noon at Coldwater Canyon Park, 12601 Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills. TreePeople is offering five varieties of native trees saplings for “adoption” — only one per household — including coast live oak, scrub oak, valley oak, toyon and southern black walnut. Saplings should be planted directly into the ground at least 40 feet from any other trees or structures, on private property (not parkways) with no overhead wires above. Saplings must be reserved in advance only by emailing eandris@treepeople.org. Drop-ins will not be permitted. treepeople.org

March 18
Cal Poly Pomona’s Tomatozania event starts today, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the Farm Store, 4102 S. University Drive in Pomona, with more than 100 tomato varieties propagated and grown by Cal Poly Pomona plant sciences students. Proceeds benefit the school’s plant sciences program. The nursery is also selling other vegetable plants for spring home gardens, including herbs, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, strawberries and dragon fruit. cpp.edu

Southern California Horticultural Society Plant and Yard Sale, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bakers Acres, 18552 Erwin St., in Tarzana. The sale includes Bakers Acres inventory of bromeliads, tillandsias and gasteria as well as pots, and board members will be selling vegetable starts, succulents, plumeria, pelargoniums and other varieties. Admission is free. socalhort.org

Folia Collective’s Winter Plant & Cuttings Swap, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the patio at Unincorporated Coffee, 2160 Colorado Blvd., in Eagle Rock. Bring healthy, pest-free cuttings and plants you’ve been rooting to swap with others. Register online, $5. All proceeds will be donated to Folia’s nonprofit partner, Climate Resolve. foliacollective.com

March 18 & 25
Landscape Transformation Hands-On Workshops, a free, two-day workshop sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to learn how to remove turf and build healthy soil by sheet mulching, install sustainable landscaping using drought-tolerant and California-native plants, capture rainwater and install drip irrigation, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days in Hancock Park. (Exact location to be announced). Register online. eventbrite.com

March 24-26
Tomatomania Lollapalooza at Tapia Bros. Farm Stand, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 5251 Hayvenhurst Ave. in Encino, includes 250 varieties of tomatoes and about 100 varieties of pepper seedlings, as well as tomato-growing talks and tips by experts. The nursery will also offer a Tomatomania pop-up store, with a smaller selection, March 21 to April 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomatomania.com

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March 25
California Native Flower Festival at Tree of Life Nursery, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 33201 Ortega Hwy. in San Juan Capistrano. The event includes a $50 class at 10 a.m. about potting California native plants (the fee includes a terracotta pot and five native plants), a bouquet contest of native garden plants and items sold by local artisans. Register online. eventbrite.com

March 25-26
Two Dog Organic Nursery Spring Pop Up, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 914 S. Cloverdale Ave. in Mid-City. The home-based nursery closed last year, but owners Alex and Jo Anne Trigo are back for just a short two-day sale of tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, summer squash, beans, herb, spinach and lettuce seedlings, as well as strawberry and blueberry plants. Info about the sale is provided by email; sign up for more information and growing tips on their website. twodognursery.com

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