The median on Bowdoin Street between Radcliffe and Temescal Canyon Road was fallow. The ground was so hard that even weeds found it inhospitable, and the packed-soil level had dropped six inches below the pavement.
Long-time residents remember when the street used to be two-way, but for safety reasons, given the large number of high school students that cross the Temescal intersection twice a day, Bowdoin was converted to one-way and a median was installed and planted.
And then nothing was done. This writer moved here in 1994 and for as long as anyone could remember the median was an eyesore. There was some talk of asking Palisades P.R.I.D.E. if they would adopt the median, but nothing happened.
When a pipe broke this past March, the resident who lived closest to the median called the City and asked them to fix it because water was gushing down Bowdoin onto Temescal Canyon Road. Initially, City officials refused because they said the median and the water pipe were not their property. Eventually, someone must have checked ancient records and realized the City had installed the median. DWP came and turned off the water.
When workers were at that location, they may have noticed that plants were growing in the median and how the ground had been mulched. Turns out that in January, resident Scott Cullen started planting a few drought-tolerant plants from the DWP’s recommended list, such as include aeonium (succulent), jade, Bluebeard and African iris.
“Last winter there was a substantial amount of rain so the soil in the median was soft and I had some extra plants,” Cullen said. “I filled the median with leaves, primarily oak, to create a natural looking landscape, and hoped as they decomposed, the soil would become enriched and help the plants along.”
Cullen, who grew up in Pacific Palisades and whose first job was at the Hot Dog Show on Sunset, had moved with his family to the Alphabet Streets, after first living near the Bowdoin median.
“Our neighbor on Iliff was arborist/tree trimmer Carl Mellenger and we needed trees to create privacy,” Cullen recalled, noting that this got him interested in landscaping. “A few years ago, when the DWP offered rebates to remove grass, I became more involved with creating a drought-tolerant landscape. I learned a lot through the DWP rebate program about weed suppression, soil enrichment and plant selection.”
The Bowdoin median is now filled with interesting plants. Cullen said he came across a resident whose house was being torn down on DePauw and that the person’s landscaping was filled with succulents. “I asked if I could have some and the resident was happy that they could be used.”
The UCLA political science/history graduate, who received a teaching credential but now works for JPMorgan Chase, said he has always been interested in plant propagation, and that some of the plants in the median are from propagation in his own yard.
Cullen has been watering the median plants by hand and was asked how long he would have to continue that practice.
“This winter will be a test to determine how well the plants will hold up, but until then I’ve been watering once a week and nothing has died,” said Cullen, who noted that the closest neighbors, Shirley and George Coleman, “have been helpful and added some mulch to the leaves and have been sharing their water.”
He was asked about feedback. “Due to the traffic signal [at Temescal], many motorists give a ‘shout out’ as they wait for the light to turn,” he said. “Neighbors are grateful and always say how much they appreciate it.”
Cullen and his wife Peggy, who have been married 30 years and met through a blind date, have three children: Katherine, John and Brooke. Their kids graduated from Palisades Elementary, Paul Revere and Palisades High School.
It’s obvious to neighbors and anyone waiting for the light that Cullen has a green thumb. Next time you pass by Temescal and Bowdoin, take a look at this successful example of drought-tolerant landscaping.
But as Cullen notes, this task “is really a joy and a diversion from my ‘real’ job at JPMorgan Chase.”