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She turned an empty LA lot into a gorgeous mini flower farm as a 'win-win'

Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Lifestyles

LOS ANGELES — Kathleen Ferguson grabbed a pair of pruning shears from a mailbox nailed to a garden bed and leaned down to cut bunches of Orlaya grandiflora on the flower-filled hillside.

"This property has a pulse," she said as she placed the white lace flowers into a bucket of water. "The wildlife is incredible here. I've caught bees napping in the sunflowers."

With limited land for green space in Los Angeles, many people are growing flowers for sale in surprising places — under power lines and in their front and backyards. In Ferguson's case, the landscape designer is propagating flowers on a vacant lot offered by a friend, screenwriter Dalan Musson, whom she met while volunteering at the North Central Animal Shelter in L.A.

"Just being able to walk outside and see monarch butterflies and bees flying around my backyard is amazing," Musson said of Frogtown Flora's effect on the wildlife on his 1.5-acre property in Eagle Rock. "It makes me feel viscerally connected to the natural world."

It's magical for Ferguson too, who over the last 11 months has built a colorful farm on the half-acre with flowers, including Agrostemma, irises, zinnias, cosmos, roses, sunflowers, sweet peas, French dianthus and ranunculus. White marigolds and green onions are planted to help deter the skunks, raccoons and squirrels that like to pull out her dahlias. Volunteer tomatoes and cilantro that materialized from the compost are left to bolt and blossom. "I like to mix it up," she said of the variety of plant life. "If something comes up, I'm OK with letting it grow."

Outside the farm's perimeter and at the top of the hillside, she is experimenting with drought-tolerant California native perennials, including fragrant pitcher sage, buckwheat, mallows and the native rose, Rosa Californi c a. She also grows native poppies — Matilija and California — penstemons, lupines and many different salvias.

 

Like many landscape designers used to working outdoors, Ferguson struggled with cabin fever during the COVID-19 pandemic. When she began listening to podcasts about locally grown blooms while tending to her own garden, she became "obsessed with flowers."

"I would listen to podcasts all day long: 'On Being,' 'Slow Flowers,' 'Cultivating Place' and ('Field & Garden' from the Gardener's Workshop) among them," she said. She was struck by the environmental effect of imported flowers regarding pesticides, water and shipping, and her journey into urban flower farming was a natural progression. With a degree in horticulture from Cal Poly Pomona and a passion for the environment, she decided to grow what she describes as "climate-appropriate flower species" for Los Angeles.

She learned a lot from the local flower growers she contacted on Instagram: "I noticed that all of the flower farmers, who happened to be women, are so passionate about what they do and so generous with their knowledge. I can reach out to any of them and ask, 'What has been your experience with germination?'"

The flower growers hosted rotating potlucks at their farms and attended the San Fernando Valley Iris Society, of which Ferguson is a member.

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