Freeway gardens

Robin Abcarian in the LAT observes the dandelions, daisies and bamboo shoots sprouting in the uniquely urban Los Angeles interface where the traffic lanes of the Santa Monica Freeway meet the center divider.

You do not expect to see plants on the hostile median, right in the crack where the asphalt and the concrete "New Jersey median barriers" (that's the technical term; they should just call them ugly) form a 90-degree angle. Not in a spot where there is no soil, almost no water and certainly a dearth of fresh air. (Special exception: the ubiquitous Mexican fan palms, the indestructible cockroach of Southern California freeway flora.)

Botanists, if not exactly agog, are somewhat enthusiastic. Caltrans, on the other hand, is slightly concerned.

Horticulturalist Katarina Eriksson passes this way each workday on her way from home in Santa Monica to her job as head gardener of the herb, Shakespeare and rose gardens at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Clearly, she has more pressing plant problems to worry about than what's growing on the freeway, but she played ball when a reporter called.

"From the plants' point of view, they are surviving as best they can," she said. "From man's point of view, they block the drains and are breaking up the cement." What's going on, she said, is "a wonderful struggle for survivalů. That those plants live on the freeway is amazing."

Caltrans considers the Santa Monica Freeway a no-spray zone for Roundup and other weed killers. But the betting is that a hot, dry summer will kill off the hardy survivors.


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