One of the best pleasures of living in Echo Park is walking–and one of the reasons walking is such a pleasure is the incredible–and sometimes weird--gardens. Sustainable, silver-leafed blue-blooming gardens; Hawaii-nostalgia set pieces; quarter-acres of succulents; Japanese-style gardens that were started 40 years ago. The huge diversity of Echo Park is represented florally in all of its outdoor spaces, even those that are untended.
Yes, many of EP’s gardens are quite old–rosebushes with trunks as wide as a garbage can (a tiny garbage can, it’s true … ); wisteria that climbs up and over a giant conifer; cactus that spread 45 feet (their bellowing can be heard on foggy evenings). It’s old news.
I was initially proud to see that an Elysian Heights garden is featured in an inspiring, recently published clothbound book by Rodale. Written by Stephen Orr, gardening editor for Martha Stewart’s magazine, Tomorrow’s Garden is about using environmentally sound practices to create beautiful outdoor spaces. What could be better? There’s even a hen on the cover–and more hens inside! Orr presents lovely gardens from coast to coast. (How many is a matter of interpretation. The press release says it features 14 gardens. Then it lists 16 cities that have featured gardens. But Los Angeles has about five gardens “featured,” and there are two from Silver Lake and one from Echo Park. Now my head hurts.)
Where Echolocation takes a step back is in the description of the neighborhood in the section titled “Gardening With Kids (For Modernists).” The house and garden discussed here look stunning, and I think I know which house it is. And apparently it has served as an outdoor classroom on avoiding pain on your own initiative for the gardeners’ son. (It could have been titled “Gardening Despite Kids,” but that’s not really what broke my stride as a fan of this book. After all, I have a daughter, and I, too, made the decision not to exclude all poisonous and spiky plants from our yard.)
No, it was not worry for the kid that’s causing a small echoing annoyance at the author. It’s his description of the site: “Like many properties in neglected neighborhoods, the sloped site on a quiet side street was weedy and dusty.”
“Neglected neighborhoods”? Parse the grammar here, and Orr could be talking about any neighborhood, but read it like any normal person (and not like a copy editor) and you’ll understand he’s calling Elysian Heights a “neglected” neighborhood. Bahh! By which he means "not rich," of course. And which makes me wonder which fence he’s standing on for perspective.
Three of the gardens Orr has chosen to feature in his book come from within half a mile of the “Gardening With Kids’” neighborhood (including the one in question). Certainly he understands important things are happening right here, gardens-wise. So what’s with the “neglect”?
That’s my question. I’ll let it echo here for a moment, and then I’ll step back. Because, of course, we know that “neglect” in this context is a value judgment. Orr doesn’t care to--or know how to–read the neighborhood at large. His interests here are tightly bounded.
That said, there’s no denying Tomorrow’s Garden is a lovely garden book, despite the aforementioned lapse in descriptive judgment. Ever since it arrived in the mail, I have returned to it for nothing more or less than the pleasure of wandering through its pages, stepping into a world of gardening fantasy where nothing is neglected or more or less than a unified vision of perfection.
Jenny Burman also writes the column Chicken Corner for the L.A. Observed website.