November 20, 2014

Photo Essay: Wildflowering at Poppy Peak (Updated for 2020)

[Last updated 8/11/20 9:54 PM PT—info on development threat and petition added to bottom of post]

It may not be wildflower season for another couple of months, but it's never to early to plan ahead.

While the rest of the country is being buried in snow and bundling up, brining their Thanksgiving turkeys and planning their Christmas travels, I spent my Sunday tilling the land and seeding wildflowers on Poppy Peak in Highland Park, Northeast LA.

This spring was WildfloweringLA's inaugural year of bringing some color and life to a variety of lawns, gardens, fields, and abandoned lots around LA. Fifty sites were sown in Fall 2013 throughout LA County to bloom in Spring 2014.

Somehow, I managed to avoid seeing all 50 sites earlier this year, so I jumped at the chance to throw some seeds on a hill this year to see them bloom next spring.

Poppy Peak not only refers to the hill itself—named by Spanish settlers because it used to be covered in California poppies—but also the historic district to the north of it, designated in 2009, technically on the southwest corner of Pasadena, but bordering Highland Park and Eagle Rock.

It is at the top of Poppy Peak Drive off of Figueroa, but more easily accessible at the top of Annan Way.

The hill is brown with dead grass and twigs, various invasive species, and the corpses of last spring's wildflowers.

We had to weed all that out, and try to get our garden circles down to just...dirt.

Thankfully our wildflowering was limited to just those circles, and not the entire hill...

...which is privately owned, rises steeply, and stretches pretty far.

After tilling the soil, raking, and creating some burms for water collection...

...we watered the circles...

...sprinkled them with seeds of poppies, lupine and other wildflowers...

...and watered them again.

Although the pre-planting condition of the hill looked pretty dead, the life it has sustained was clear given all of the gopher holes, the green grass that peeked out when the dead ground cover was removed...

...and the sunflowers that were thriving at the top of the peak, near the power lines.

It was only a couple of hours until the sun started going down, but we had just enough time—and seeds—to finish before dark.

For now, it's still dirt, in a circle of rocks. I can't wait to see what it looks like when it sprouts in the spring.

In the meantime, it's an interesting lesson: When life won't give you flowers on a big empty hill, you can still plant them. If there's no rain, you can still water them.

If you don't have a garden of your own, and there's no water left in the hose, you can toss a seed bomb anywhere you choose and grow a garden guerilla-style, letting it do what it may.

In a time of record-breaking drought and crippling economic recession such as now, though, it makes you wonder: What happens when there's no water and no seeds? What is life like with no flowers at all?

Update 8/11/20: 

It turns out that I should've asked yet another question: What happens when there's no hill?

Because Poppy Peak—one of Highland Park's last remaining undeveloped parcels of land, in an area that's park-poor—has been purchased by a real estate developer, with plans to build luxury housing.

These 26 parcels of contiguous undeveloped hillside land isn't ideal for residential development because of its steep slopes and earthquake-induced landslide areas—which is probably why it wasn't developed when the surrounding neighborhoods were in the 1950s.

The organization Save Poppy Peak has been formed and recommends selling the open space to a land trust or other conservation organization. You can read (and sign) its petition here and watch the video below for more information.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Poppies Peaking in Antelope Valley
Where Does My Garden Grow?
Walk Softly and Carry a Plastic Scraper
A Day in the Life

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