Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Giant Asparagus in Malibu!

When the Century Plant, or Agave americana, puts up its bloom spike in the spring it's a helluva surprise. We've seen these nice silver-blue clumps of spiky leaves set, benignly, in our Southern California landscape year after year. They're great, but we don't really appreciate them - they add structure to our gardens, they require little care, and they repell deer and probably the occasional intruder, but we pretty much overlook them.

But when it puts up its bloom spike, we suddenly look up at the hillside and go - holy moly! what the heck is that thing? a giant asparagus?

Agave americana takes its name, Century Plant, in a quadruple exaggeration of its habit of blooming only once every 25 or so years. Once it blooms, the main plant dies.

These agaves are putting up their giant stalks on a hillside in the Lower Topanga area. They look, for all the world, like an asparagus as thick as your thigh. Like the Asparagus That Ate New York.

The hillside is behind my favorite Thai restaurant in Lower Topanga. Lower Topanga was once a vibrant community of artists, musicians, bohemians, and strivers, renting property that was in limbo for a long enough time to allow them to make the community their own. There were small businesses such as restaurants and bait shops in addition to the residents. The land once belonged to the Los Angeles Athletic Club and then was sold to the state, which spent over a decade deciding what to do with it.

When it finally decided, sadly, the decision was to expell all the people who lived there. The purpose was to make the area a park, and in order to do this, the State decided to remove all residents - people, plants, and structures - it considered junk.

The State allowed certain businesses to remain, and Cholada Thai is one of them. So is their neighbor, the historic Wylie's Bait Shop - although I'm told that the State condemned the house Wylie's proprietor lived in, just behind the store. A neighboring business, a hair salon named Ginger Snips that I used to go to, is gone without a trace - not only did the business close, the entire house disappeared.

They kicked out the residents, then they ran out of money to develop the park. Vacant houses were left behind that were soon occupied by vagrants who destroyed them. Because of State budget cuts, even some structures that were supposed to be preserved for historical value ended up being destroyed, because they could not be protected. What waste could have been prevented from simply allowing the existing community to continue!

I like Cholada Thai - the food is fantastic, and the people who run it are lovely. This evening when I went to order my take-out, I sat and drank a Singha while waiting for it, looking out the front window at the traffic on PCH, and at the ocean beyond. One of the waitresses complimented my earrings and asked me where I got them.

When my food came, it was in a huge brown paper bag. I walked back to my car, which was parked in the gravel by the dumpster. On the hillside beyond my car, I saw these agaves, putting up their flower spikes - their first in 25 years.

When these plants were seedlings, it was probably 1983. Lower Topanga was a vibrant community. Now they're about to bloom, and this summer they will die. Like the community that was here when they sprang up.

I know that they will leave seedlings behind them. But how long will it take for Lower Topanga to regain its vitality?

1 comment:

KathyR said...

When I lived in Stepford (Pacific Palisades), our neighbor had an agave plant that did that. Believe me, it doesn't take long at all for there to be a whole bunch of juvenile agaves every-damn-where. Those things are the devil to try to dig up.

As for lower Topanga, there is so much mismanagement all along PCH. Sad.