Registered: December 2014
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You hear about it everywhere: the newspapers scream, "Worst Drought We've Ever Been In!", and the television yells alongside, "Another California Town Runs Out of Water!" But you don't really believe it until you take a look at your monthly water bill, and your jaw drops—or at least mine did.
Today's water crisis is one of the scariest and most inevitable dangers Los Angeles faces, and glancing at that fateful sheet of paper made one thing crystal clear: my house is part of the problem. I realized its scale after some calculations and interrogations on my family's water-usage habits: three quarters of my home's drinkable water supply went towards plants, daily!
One of the main reasons my backyard drinks up so much water is because none of its plants are native to Southern California, and thus intolerant of the local Mediterranean climate characterized by intense heat, dry air, and scarce water. These plants don't allow for soil to drain correctly, they repel beautiful birds and insects, and above all, they prevent my backyard from looking as natural and fitting as it could be.
But instead of settling for the backyard, my family's pride and joy, I decided to turn my interest elsewhere: my school. Being Director of Campus Environment in the Associate Student Body put me in the perfect position to make a difference. To me, the solution was to transform the roses and lawns into California-native, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance chaparral gardens. But I knew that a project like that would require manpower, resources, and above all, determination.
For initial permission, I had to run my idea by the Assistant Principal, who was concerned about the collective effort and bureaucratic hurdles involved. Mostly, she was hesitant about the List—a collection of Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-approved plants that are, for the most part, inexpensive, durable, and harmless, but also nonnative. She opted on finding some grass behind a classroom and planting a few flowers.
That showed me one major flaw in my planning: I could hardly convince the school that the main benefit of native plants is their natural water efficiency, when the government subsidies on public water usage in California are so high, and my school's water bill is so low. The administration didn't have any reason to change the gardens, and so my only hope was designing one that dramatically improved the overall look of the school.
I contacted the school's Plant Manager, the two student-led environmental clubs on campus, and various local nurseries, who all agreed to help me tackle the difficult process of designing and planting the garden. I highlighted and researched the eight native plants approved by LAUSD and designed a small presentation I could show to the Assistant Principal, with the hopes of receiving permission for my initial intentions of a native garden. Finally, she granted me a small plot of land—four hundred square feet of invasive plants and poor soil.
I enthusiastically began the process of planning out the garden. Using notes from AP Environmental Studies and TreePeople workshops, I carefully measured the details of the dry soil and bright sunlight. The Plant Manager on campus had no record of which trees and shrubs existed on my little plot of land, so I had to use leaf-indentifying websites to label them. We were also incapable of finding records of irrigation in the garden, despite the obvious presence of alive plants, so we had to sift through the soil manually to search out and measure the amount of water that trickled in.
In order to actually begin designing and planting the garden, I worked with various student-led environmental organizations on campus, including Horticulture Club, Earth Crew, and Water Project. We met Fridays after school to work on our project—this usually included heated debates on benches, edible plants, and prettier flowers. But after weeks of hard planning, we were finally satisfied with our drawings. I contacted the Theodore Payne Nursery, a local plant dealership that focuses entirely on native gardens in public spaces. Some of my friends began donating small succulents and other drought-tolerant plants to me, in the name of our school's first native garden.
Stay tuned, and come visit the grand opening of Cleveland High School's own native garden on Earth Day, 2015!