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Sowing Wildflowers Across Los Angeles as Hyperlocal Public Art

Site #28 in bloom
Site #28 of “Wildflowering L.A.” by Fritz Haeg (all photographs by Isabel Avila)

Fifty sites in Los Angeles are now blooming with beautiful wildflowers as part of an artist-led initiative to bring back native flora to the city’s open spaces.

Wildflowering L.A. is the work of Los Angeles–based artist Fritz Haeg in collaboration with the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, an organization dedicated to contemporary public art. Last fall Haeg had an open call for people in Los Angeles County who had ownership or permission for a lot of land to be a wildflower haven. The only stipulation was that it had to be visible from the street.

“This project grew out of this initial impulse I had in 2004, which was out of a real frustration with the very insular nature of the contemporary art world, and how incredibly limited the audience is in the commercial art world, and wanting to focus my work on a broader mainstream public,” Haeg told Hyperallergic over the phone. The Wildflowering L.A. project, like his other eco-art initiatives such as Edible Estates which has transformed the front lawns of homes across the country and in Europe into small farms, and Animal Estates that builds dwellings for displaced or unwanted city creatures, is experienced “without any of the frames of reference that galleries or museums force on the work.”

"Wildflowering L.A." flourishing in a front yard
“Wildflowering L.A.” flourishing in a front yard
Site #44 in bloom
Site #44 in bloom

So while Wildflowering L.A. is an act of urban beautification, it’s also meant to be an experience of art intervention that is immediately accessible and incredibly local. “It really has to do with making work where people live,” Haeg said. Even the source of the work as an art project is invisible in way, with just the official-looking wooden signs proclaiming “WILDFLOWERING LA” with the site number, seed mix, and website indicating it is on an artistic platform.

Los Angeles can seem like a city without seasons, especially with much of its non-local landscaping heavily watered year-round (the drought did call for some wildflower watering, but it was incredibly minimal). Haeg said that “a big part of the project is just paying attention to the unique cycles in seasons that we have in Los Angeles.” The wildflowers grow gradually with the winter rains, flourish in spring, and then become dormant in summer. Wildflowering L.A. also highlighted the radically different microclimates of the city, from its beaches to hills, inspired by Reyner Banham’s 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Working with the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers & Native Plants, specific seed mixes based on Banham’s book were developed, including coastal (Beach Suncups, California Coastal Poppy, Globe Gilia), flatlands (White Yarrow, Tidy Tips, Purple Needlegrass), hillside (Farewell-to-Spring, California Bluebell, Elegant Clarkia), and roadside (Fiddleneck, Bird’s Eye Gilia, Arroyo Lupine). An exhibition held last weekend at the Shed in Pasadena included clippings from all the sites in an organic cartography.

After this June, the wildflowers will dry and die in the heat, the signs will be removed, and the 50 plots will again be anonymous areas of the city. Yet come next spring, it’s likely they will return, with a legacy of local flora continuing its seasonal cycle. Haeg is in the process of concluding national and international projects like Edible Estates, which he ended last year with the Walker Art Center, and is planning for this to be just the first of longer and bigger projects focused on Los Angeles. In the meantime, you can follow the  #wildfloweringla hashtag and use an online map to discover all the Wildflowering L.A. sites.

Site #49
Site #49
Before and after at Site #22
Before and after at Site #22
Site #50, planted with flatlands seeds
Site #50, planted with flatlands seeds
Site #25, before and after Wildflowering L.A.
Site #25, before and after “Wildflowering L.A.”

Fritz Haeg’s Wildflowering L.A. continues through June throughout Los Angeles County. 

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