Having a sense of the city's style

This column is about landscape architecture and how we in La Cañada relate to its uses at home and the city we live in.

We need to have passion to care enough about what we design and create for our neighborhoods and main thoroughfares — especially the central city that we see every day — and the compassion to want to do the best we can to create beauty.

The common expression in City Hall, "You can't regulate taste; each to his own," is a copout. Certainly we should have a sense of style, encourage the uses of different materials and plant species and guide people to those who can provide explanations on how to correctly use them.

What landscaping is best used with which architecture? If you have a contemporary (modern) building you think simple, classic materials; if the building is Mediterranean-style, there would be more drama — larger, bolder materials. A house that has an English-country-home style might have hedges, climbing roses and borders of perennials.

The style of architecture must come first. The garden shouldn't compete, nor should the driveway. Have you noticed how local driveways seem to have been taken over by those silly-looking paving stones that don't relate to anything? The hunger to create a lasting landscape seems to have gone by the wayside. Ornamental grasses are put in whether or not they work in a particular garden and drought gardens are installed in places they don't belong. Though it's about time we started to conserve, it took a severe drought and water shortage to make us see how to use different landscaping styles

Having said that, the fact is we are not in Arizona. This is not the desert, even though it is a semi-arid area. We have the mountains, the valleys, the oak woodlands the riparian and the chaparral surrounding us. So, with such a variety, almost anything goes. Of course that isn't always good, because there's so much to choose from. That's why thoughtful planning is so essential.

Trees are probably the most important and yet the most understood because there are so many varieties. There are some communities that savor trees and truly care about them, but in this community being a tree can be a precarious life. They are chopped, topped, butchered and severed until there's nothing left. Only so often do you find a tree person who really cares.

I'm not saying that city officials don't care. They just need a stronger arm, and they must take a much tougher stance, not just for the city's protected species, but for all trees. Their tree experts leave little of the trees behind once they get started trimming them. And the same thing happens when private property owners call in trimmers. The interesting thing is a lot of these tree experts are very reputable but their work isn't always what our trees deserve. They should be called tree expediters.

Driving by Vons' new remodel project it was so depressing to see that the city allowed the developer to remove those beautiful jacarandas. Doubly sad was the fact I designed the landscaping for the center for its original developer, Phil Kirst, back in the 1970s. Those trees not only sparkled when they bloomed, they provided shade in the summer. It will be several years before there will be a canopy like that again, and unless the city made a condition of like tree for the ones removed, that canopy is a thing of the past. Those jacarandas would be worth at least $10,000 if they were installed today. And we have a Tree City USA designation!

It would be wonderful if this community would encourage all the store owners, large and small, to make our main street as beautiful as possible. I'm talking about the new developments in town, the churches, the markets, the mom and pop stores; for everyone to join in. And then go about turning our entire town into a "gardenesque" community. We're not talking about a lot of expense, just a lot of thought and, of course, a lot of commitment.

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