Beehive

P90629KKIncandescent light bulbs were the standard form of electric lighting for more than a century after their invention. It took a while for fluorescent and halogen lamps to become popular; and by the time they did, high intensity discharge (HID) lamps had already become available. Nowadays, light emitting diode (LED) lamps seem to be replacing all sorts of electric lighting.
For a brief time in the late 1980s, high intensity lamps that were being used for large scale applications and street lamps became a fad for exterior household lighting. They worked nicely for driveways, so many of us believed that they would work just as nicely for night lighting of home gardens and patios.
By that time, most of us had realized that the sickly yellowish glare of the sodium vapor type of high intensity lamps that were so common as street lamps was not at all appealing around the home, and was downright unflattering for foliage and flowers in the garden. Mercury vapor high intensity lamps became more popular for such applications instead, even though their slightly bluish bright glare is no more inviting.
During this time, while the renowned landscape designer Brent Green and I were still studying horticulture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, his father had a rather fancy mercury vapor lamp installed in his backyard.
Of course, Brent was furious! He had put so much effort into cultivating a remarkably inviting outdoor living space, only to have it illuminated at night like an industrial warehouse. When turned on, the lamp made a constant buzzing hum. It hung from a wall like a big glowing paper wasp nest. Brent referred to it at the ‘beehive’.
The quality of light produced by modern electrical light sources has fortunately improved since then. Nonetheless, contraptions such as this street lamp suspended on an otherwise exemplary ponderosa pine are not easy to warm up to.

Mower

P80411After all the years it was out there, someone, somewhere must have gotten good pictures of it. I never did. Nor did anyone I know. It was something of a famous landmark in Santa Clara.

First, I should explain these pictures that my niece sent from here Mid City Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. As you can see, this is a well kept middle aged home with minimal setback from the sidewalk. It is in a delightfully tree shaded neighborhood of comparable homes.

What are those black and white silhouettes of city skylines on those two plastic panels in front, you ask? They are a fence. Seriously. There are several similar panels around the perimeter of the front yard, at the edge of the sidewalk, and up the sides. They depict a variety of familiar landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Space Needle, the Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge and so on. They are all jumbled together so that landmarks from cities that are thousands of miles apart can share the same skyline. Mount Rushmore is depicted on the gate, adjacent to a city skyline that features both the Gateway Arch and the Sydney Opera House. Someone actually paid a lot of money to get this fence constructed and installed around the front garden of their otherwise well tended home. But wait; there’s more.

The picture below shows what lurks behind the fence. It was actually worse before the fence was built, when it was in full view. As tacky as the fence is, at least it obscures it. ‘It’ is a fountain; but not just any fountain. This picture does not do it justice. It really should be viewed at night, when it lights up with disco lights and emits eerily illuminated water vapor. It sometimes plays music. Yes, someone really though it was a good idea to put this in the front yard, where, before the fence was built, it was visible to anyone in the vicinity.P80411+

Now, getting back to the mower. It did not work. It probably worked at one time. It was an old mower, from before the mid-1960s or so. The person who owned it apparently did not like using it, but did not want to get rid of it either.

He had it bronzed. Yup. Bronzed. The front garden of his mid-1950s tract home in Santa Clara was paved with exposed aggregate concrete, with a big pedestal in the middle, on which, the bronzed mower was proudly displayed. The concrete was of exceptional quality, and would have made a nice patio if it had a bit of landscaping around it. Instead, it was surrounded by only a simple but tasteful low iron fence with tan slumpstone pillars. The fence surrounded the perimeter of the front garden, at the edge of the sidewalk and up the sides. There was no plant material in the front garden. None.

The mower debuted sometime about 1970. The kids of my generation do not remember it not being there, so it was there as long as any of us can remember. Some of our parents believe it might have been there as early as 1964. The home and paved front yard were always impeccably maintained.

Tacky? Yes, of course.

Crazy? Maybe.

It gets worse.

In about 1995, the home sold. It actually sold rather quickly because it was in such good condition. Everyone thought that whomever purchased it would remove all the pavement and the mower, and landscape the front garden. But no. They moved in, painted the home a different color, and maintained the front garden as it had always been maintained. What is the point of living in such a nice home in such a nice neighborhood with such nice soil and in one of the best climates on in the World if the garden is paved?!

Only a few years ago, the home was sold a second time, and those who purchased it finally removed all the concrete and bronzed mower, and outfitted the home with a simple but presentable landscape that is more compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

The funny thing is that everyone in that neighborhood had lived with the bronzed mower for so long that it was somewhat saddening to see it go! We all knew why it needed to go, and that the home looks so much better without it, but it was familiar. It was cool in a weird sort of way. It was defiant. It certainly was unique. It was environmentally responsible, and about as drought tolerant as it gets.

It is still impossible to imagine that the black and white plastic ‘city skyline’ fence and steamy disco fountain within will ever be so appreciated; but who knows?