Bobby and Josh resting on our laurels

Thanks to great work by Bobby and Josh today, and lunch provided by Zoe, we finally finished building the second planter bed at the north end of the bulbout in front of Los Angeles Eco-Village. There’s background on the bulbout and before pictures here, and a post on our first completed raised bed thereon.

More pictures and description follows.

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Bobby bringing the flat of Thyme to Eco-Village on the rack on the folding bike

Bobby bringing the flat of Thyme to Eco-Village on the rack on the folding bike

After today’s March for Water, neighbor Bobby Gadda and I dropped by Sunset Nursery today to pick up some plants for the bulbout. We got some plants for the existing planter – including sage, lavender, rosemary, Santa Barbara daisies, and another kind of daisy with a sort of pale purple center with yellow dots. We biked them all home and planted them right away.

We also got some plants for the planned next planter, which will go in the north end of the bulbout. These included a flat of ground-cover thyme to plant in the interstices of the next planter, which we’re planning to start work on next Saturday March 28th (tentatively starting at 9am – all welcome.) The last saturday of each month, L.A.Eco-Villagers hold a work party. Responsibility for organizing the work party rotates among those of us who volunteer.

Thyme growing in the interstices

Thyme growing in the interstices

Here is a shot of the same type of thyme as it grows in the walls of one of the urbanite raised beds in the garden I tend. The thyme grows slowly, but ultimately resembles a sort of splashing and dripping mortar between bricks. This is about one and a half years after I planted it. It definitely is happiest in the south-facing walls where it gets the most sunlight.

Now that I’ve got you excited to try this at home, I have to publish a couple of disclaimers… The best thyme for ground cover is not the best thyme to use as a spice. The thyme (I am pretty sure it’s called elfin thyme) that grows most tightly and covers most, has even tinier leaves that they typical already-very-small-leaf thyme (which I think is called wooly thyme.)  Wooly thyme grows more like a single-stem plant than a groundcover.  Wooly thyme does spread, slowy, too – though it doesn’t achieve the coverage the elfin thyme does.  The thymes I use most frequently is the lemon and lime thymes… though I use these only rarely anyway (mostly mashed up in salad dressing) because it’s cumbersome to deal with such small leaves.  As much as I like to grow elfin thyme for the way it makes the garden walls look… and I justify its presence in my garden as a spice… I’ve never actually used this elfin thyme as a spice. It’s also never seems to quite achieve perfect coverage… some areas proliferate, some decline. There’s a dead area about midway up the left edge of the photo above.

Anyhow, come help us plant more thyme at this Saturday’s work party!

El Muro del Jardin de Nuestra Senora de la Bulbout

El Muro del Jardin de Nuestra Senora de la Bulbout

Thanks to the hard work of quite a few LA Eco-Villagers and a few of our neighbors and even some folks from the city of Los Angeles… we’ve got a new raised garden bed in a space that just over a year ago was parking. Special thanks to one of our newest members, Bobby Gadda, for working on this from the start and seeing it through to completion last Saturday.

It’s in the bulbout – which you can read about here, here and here. It’s made of urbanite.

The urbanite is un-mortared, so we can change it around later if we want. The top layer is built out of concrete pieces salvaged from where we’re de-paving out back. We used a lot of large pieces because sometimes the youth walking home from the nearby Virgil Middle School like to do their job and fool around as they walk down our street and test out just how indestructible things are. Hopefully the big pieces will hold themselves in place. We’ll see how it does.

The walls double at seating/benches. I was happy to see them already being used as such by Virgil Adult School students last Monday night.

We planted some already, but it probably needs more. In the walls (between the urbanite layers) there’s mint, yarrow, oregano, strawberries and a few kinds of thyme. I like the way that these plants will spread to create a sort of green wall. In the bed itself, there’s artichoke, cardoon, poppy, onion, basil, California fuschia, and calendula. We’ll see what’s happy growing there… and what the neighborhood foot traffic allows to stay and thrive.

Here’s another shot of the new arrival. Looking forward to the plants growing in.

The garden bed wall facing the street will become greener as the plants grow in

The garden bed wall facing the street will become greener as the plants grow in

(Cross posted at LAEV Garden Blog and LAEV General Blog.)

Yuki and Federico gazing languidly at each other while testing out the new table at the bulbout

Yuki and Federico gazing languidly at each other while testing out the new table at the bulbout

Regular LAEV garden blog readers (both of you) may be getting bored with the saga of the bulbout… but there are still many chapters to come. Today’s chapter is on our new table for four. If you want bulbous background, see prior entries on what a bulbout is and how one materialized on our block and the arrival of the stumps.

Today, we had a great group bike ride (organized by Aurisha Smolarski) to a going-away lunch for Thiago Winterstein… ay… who we’re all going to miss. About a dozen of us rode up to Square One on Fountain Avenue near Vermont. Good food and a good discussion about insulation, music, information overload, blogging, writing, power tools, young tools, and the meanings of life… but I digress. On the ride back, Federico was asking me about how it was to use the chainsaw to saw a chair out of (or perhaps into?) the stump. I was telling him that it’s a pretty blunt, loud instrument. It was rather difficult to get cuts that were straight and/or parallel… but I did manage to get one chair cut (see the middle of the above photo or the left of the photo below for two not-particularly-descriptive photos.)  The chair is sit-in-able, but I still want to use a sander to round its sharper corners.

When we arrived back at eco-village, Federico, Yuki and I lamented that the stumps in the bulbout looked pretty much like they were, well, just unloaded there… which is pretty much the case. Yuki, who is significantly shorter than I, also mentioned that most of the stumps were too tall for her to sit on comfortably. I sort of knew this – though most of them fit me fine, we deliberately got them a bit big, knowing that we can trim, but we can’t add length.

We discussed the possibility of getting out the chainsaw, but, decided instead on an easier and more collaborative task – to arrange the stumps in a more orderly way – in hopes of encouraging more use. We got shovels and a level, and got to work. Most of the stumps aren’t quite even – which is to say that the cut on the top isn’t quite parallel to the cut on the bottom – so, when their bottoms are placed on a level surface, their tops aren’t level. To remedy this, and to take a little excess height away, we dug into the mulch and soil, creating holes that we plugged with the stumps. We placed four seating stumps around a larger central table stump.

It didn’t take too long, but it made the space a bit more inviting and more inhabitable. I really like this approach – small (easy-to-finish – this took the three of us about an hour) interventions that improve the space… while leaving plenty more to do when the energy and initiative strike us. I like these sorts of tasks better than embarking on far-reaching master-plans that take lots of time to complete.  I think that this is an especially apt way to work in the garden – multiple small achievable tasks tend to add up nicely into a beautiful and productive garden; big heroic plans for the garden tend to languish unfinished.

More bulbout chapters soon…

Another view of the table for four

Another view of the table for four

Tree Stumps in our Bulbout

Oak Tree Stumps in our Bulbout

Thanks to Irma and KYCC and Griffith Park folks, we now have some big stumps (actually a stump is in the ground, so I guess these might be called mature tree sections? or something like that) in our bulbout. The idea is that these would seats/tables for the outdoor living room that we’re creating there. These may or may not be permanent. Outdoors they’ll break down over time. The plan is to coat the top with boiled linseed oil and that will prevent some cracking.

Some of them are irregularly shaped, so we’ll probably be carving into the tops (probably with a chainsaw) to make the tops more seat-shaped. Ones that are too tall can be partially buried.

For lots more background on the bulbout, read this earlier post.

Los Angeles Eco-Village worked with the city of Los Angeles to create a “shared street” project on Bimini Place.  The intent was to make our neighborhood greener and a more pedestrian friendly.  Through this project (which I am not going to go into too much detail on here) we were able to take away some parking and dedicate that former car-space to space for people and vegetation.

It would be an understatement to say that there were differences in what the city had proposed and what eco-village residents wanted to see in our street.  Also, there were (and still are) definitely differences in what different eco-villagers want to see.  The city plans were pretty institutional, so for the bulbout directly in front of the buildings that LAEV owns, we suggested that the city plant a couple trees and leave the rest to us.  Even the trees were contentious, with eco-villagers wanting fruiting trees and the city skeptical about this.  We did get these macadamia nut trees, and a pretty much bare bulbout (which the city used a big machine to compact the soil on, then added a thin layer of mulch.)

Below is what it looked like when the project had its grand opening in March 2008.  The project includes the permeable pavement sidewalks on the left side of the photo, which I am not going to focus on here.

Bare Bulbout in front of Bimini Apartments - Spring 2008

Bare Bulbout in front of Bimini Apartments - Spring 2008 (photo: Lois Arkin)

Before I go any further: what is a bulbout??  Bulbouts (sometimes spelled as “bulb-out,” or “bulb out”, or called a sidewalk extension) are traffic calming devices – but what’s traffic calming??  One example of a traffic calming device that people are familiar with is a speed bump.  It serves to slow down neighborhood traffic, making streets safer and calmer and more comfortable for walking, bicycling, talking, breathing, living, chilling, and all the good things you can use a street for when it’s not entirely dedicated to cars.  Bulbouts flare the curb out into the street, so, from above, it looks kind of like a bulb.  They’re mostly located near intersections where pedestrians will cross the street.  They have a few effects.  By extending the sidewalk into the street, they narrow the distance a pedestrian needs to cross – making walking easier and safer.  By narrowing the street, they give drivers a psychological cue to slow down.  When a street is wide, drivers get the cue to speed up because there are no obstacles, like on a freeway.  When a street is narrower, drivers slow down because they feel like they’re in a more intimate setting, like in a room.

Well, we added lots more mulch to our bulbout, kept our trees watered, and grew some morning glories up the signs there… but we didn’t too much and it remained pretty much empty… until the past weekend.  We held a couple of informal meetings to plan out what the space will look like.  Here’s a shot from the session we had in the street, where we used rope, seating, and cones to block out various configurations:

Bulbout Planning Party in November 2008

Bulbout Planning Party in November 2008 (photo: Kathy Hill)

We haven’t actually planned it all out, but we agreed to start with a path and some beds built out of urbanite (broken concrete) at each end.  The bed walls will serve as benches – a lot like las trincheras, which I blogged about earlier.  I really like the look of broken concrete – it’s nearly indestructible, it diverts and reuses materials from the urban waste stream, and I like the way it break up garden space.  Overall we want the space to be a kind of “outdoor living room” where folks can hang out in the street.

Last Saturday, we had a work party to begin work on the bulbout.  The first project was to set a brick path that will allow people to walk from the gate at 117 Bimini into the intersection.  We used used bricks that we’ve had around, most of which had been collected from damage in the neighborhood during the 1994 earthquake.  The work was much like playing tetris – fitting various complete and partial bricks into the slightly irregular space.  Thanks to Ann Finkelstein, her mom, Melba Thorn, and Wilma Raabe (a student from Germany who was visiting for a tour and jumped right in to help) for getting the path done.

November 2008 Work Party to set Brick Path

November 2008 Work Party to set Brick Path (photo: Lois Arkin)

There’s still a lot to be done on the bulbout… to be continued.