I've been fortunate enough to experience incredible hospitality since I first started coming to California. I've been welcomed into people's homes, holiday dinners, swimming pools, family celebrations, and more.
And it's not just the invitations that are extended—which are more than I've ever experienced in my life.
It's also the willingness of strangers to agree to let me come visit their studio or workshop or—in the case of Quail Hollow—their home garden.
And all I had to do was ask.
Quail Hollow is a wildlife and bird habitat near the Verdugo Mountains, but it's not a park.
It's literally Ken and Rhonda Gilliland's backyard.
In an attempt to stave off encroaching urbanity, they've amassed three houses on six lots (the garden taking up three of them).
As a garden, it's both wild and manicured—with wooden bridges softly arching over rock-walled water features...
...and stone pathways winding through native plants and trees that harbor likewise native birds and other wildlife.
Sure, a few birdbaths and feeders with seed are put out to attract some feathered friends...
...but some of them would probably end up here anyway, in this rare patch of nature in an important flyover zone, just five miles southeast of Hansen Dam.
But Quail Hollow manages to attract over 100 species of birds, including California quail (of course), mourning doves, turkey vultures, hawks, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, scrub jays, and band-tailed pigeons (a close relative of the extinct passenger pigeon, and California's only native). It may even get a visit from a rarity like the Least Bell's Vireo.
But I guess that's what happens when you've got enough trees, bushes, and plants for them to nest in, perch upon, and snack on...
...from California sage, manzanita, and toyon to the lilies that were about to bloom despite the hot weather.
Since they're native to California, though, they're used to our weather.
They can survive without a lot of rain.
They will fruit and seed and root and bloom against all odds.
And when they do, they'll attract the butterflies, the bees, the dragonflies, and, of course, the birds.
You might even see a Great Blue Heron stopping by.
The entire property is outfitted with scopes, and Ken tries to photograph as many of the winged creatures as he can spot, keeping detailed records of all of his sightings.
He's an accomplished birder, but he's also somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades.
He renovated the main residence to have a Queen Anne-style porch...
...for which he carved all the wood himself, on a jigsaw.
He's also a 3D digital artist (modeling birds, of course), a painter, and the proud papa of a Lesser Citron Cockatoo named Elsa.
I walked away from Quail Hollow thinking, "That's so LA"—but it's the LA that I know, and not the one that other people think they know.
It's so LA to love birds and flowers, to learn how to do everything yourself, to document what you've seen, and to want to share it with others—without receiving anything in return.
Ken only opens Quail Hollow up to outsiders once or twice a year, so I consider it a privilege to have been welcomed into his inner sanctum. It's the kind of place where you could easily overstay your welcome—so you either have to drag yourself away, or let someone else to do it for you.
Because there are certain flowers that won't bloom—and birds that won't emerge from the brush—until after you leave.
Photo Essay: Moore Laboratory of Zoology, Closed to Public
Photo Essay: The Japanese Garden That Almost Became a Freeway
Photo Essay: Invasive Plants, Parasitic Birds, and Giant Stinging Nettle at Prado Wetlands
Photo Essay: The Native Groves of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
More Than Apples: Oak Glen's Native Garden