Panel considers upgrading plant baskets

A Streetscape/Design Committee has reached consensus on a “hybrid” solution to revitalizing Village hanging plant baskets: Make them water-conserving as well as eye-catchy.

“That’s totally doable,” Russell Ramsey of La Jolla Gardens told the streetscape committee, a joint effort of La Jolla Town Council and Promote La Jolla, about the basket plantings he’s tended since 2003. He added that they can be “accessorized” to give the community’s look “that wow factor, like a shiny pearl necklace.”

The committee met Nov. 23 to brainstorm ways to upgrade more than 200 hanging baskets throughout town, which can be done now that the City Council has approved a new form of a La Jolla Business Improvement District. The city will begin collecting assessments within the district’s boundaries for the 2010 fiscal year once the City Council gives final approval, which is anticipated Dec. 8.

Ramsey discussed replacing “spongy,” water-inefficient wire moss baskets with a more-efficient plastic model he showed that comes with a lifetime guarantee.

The landscaper pointed out that La Jolla’s environment for growing plants is as distinctive as its character.

“These little microclimates we have, because of the ocean humidity, allows us to get away with doing crazy stuff that you can’t do traditionally with certain plants,” he said, adding there are “innumerable” ways to combine drought-tolerant and colorful plant species in baskets.

Committee member Ester Viti said whichever hanging basket model is ultimately chosen, it has to be large enough to be practical.

“Size makes a statement,” she said. “If you get something little, it looks ridiculous.”

“What I’m hearing is a really excellent discussion about the benefits and trade-offs in plant materials in making this something sustainable and sellable,” said streetscape committee Chairman Glen Rasmussen, noting that the next step is to solicit appropriate plant combination proposals for hanging baskets.

“Money is coming to do this soon,” he added. “Let’s get it done.”

Rasmussen noted that there might be a way to have basket plantings, which cost about $100 to outfit, sponsored by recognizing donors with plaques or by some other means.

Committee member Egon Kafka said there might be an ingenious way to solve a couple of streetscape problems by strategically locating hanging baskets.

“There’s a rule that you can’t have newsracks within 6 feet of landscaping,” he said. “With concrete flower pots and hanging baskets, we can buy our sidewalks back and have newsracks in clusters the way they should be, instead of a hodgepodge.”

Committee member Melissa Stephens said La Jolla could be on the cutting-edge of the green movement with its hanging baskets.

“We’re in a unique position to step up as a leader in this capacity,” she said.

Jennifer Clark agreed.

“With succulents we could make them 80 percent sustainable while adding in 20 percent color,” she said. “It would be a great message for our community and our visitors.”