04/13/2010 07:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Going Native in Los Angeles

I used to have two good excuses for getting out of doing anything I didn't want to do:

#1 "I'm working and can't go."
#2 "I worked all week and I need to rest (in front of the TV)."

Now that I've been drafted into the army of the unemployed, #1 and #2 have lost their magical powers, which means I've actually had to leave my house and do things. Last weekend, my wife signed us up for a two-day self-guided tour of the Native Plant Gardens of Los Angeles.

If you're like me, you think a native plant in Los Angeles is medical marijuana, and that its natural habitat is a storefront clinic in a strip mall next to a Foster's Freeze and a restaurant that sells Chinese food and fried donuts.

It turns out that in order to save water and otherwise encourage a Green lifestyle, many homeowners are planting only flowers and trees that are originally from Los Angeles. In other words, plants that thrive in an atmosphere of ambition, bitterness, envy and car exhaust.

The first garden we stopped at was in the hills that give Beverly its last name. We wound around twisty canyon streets that seemed to go nowhere, until we reached a house with row of Priuses parked along the curb. We walked through the house, which the owner had graciously opened for the tour, and I started wondering if there was an episode of Law & Order in which the burglar cases his victims' houses by signing up for a native plant garden tour. (If not, look for my spec script next week.)

The crowd visiting the native plant garden apparently all shopped at the same clothing store. You know the one where if you buy his-and-her clogs the salesman throws in a fleece windbreaker. The rest of their outfits ran the gamut from from cargo pants to cargo shorts.

The garden was in the backyard, but you have to remember that what's called a backyard in Los Angeles is known in the rest of the country as a "cliff." The plants didn't grow, they clung to the side of the hillside waiting for a search-and-rescue team to lower a ladder from a chopper.

The garden/cliff looked a little weedy and sparse to me. I asked my wife, "When are they going to finish planting their garden?" She shot me the don't-embarrass-me look. "This is what it's supposed to look like," she said.

I noticed a lot of orange flowers labeled "California poppy."

Me: "Are those the same kind of poppies that they use to make..."
My Wife: "No, that's a different kind."
Me: "...poppyseed bagels?"
My Wife: "That's not what you were going to ask."
Me: "You thought I was going to ask about cinnamon-raisin bagels?"

An elderly gentleman wearing the kind of low black cowboy hat that Indians used to wear in westerns had come equipped with his best horticultural pickup line. He ask my wife, "What did the big rose say to the little rose?... Hi, Bud."

The old guy asked my wife the same question again at the next garden we visited, and he seemed shocked that she knew the punchline. I guess when you're cruising the native plant garden tour, all the blossoms look the same.

The fourth or fifth garden we visited was down from the hills and into the heart of Los Angeles in a neighborhood called Mar Vista. This is a rough Spanish translation of Sea View. However, the neighborhood should have been called Cuatro Cero Cinco Vista, because the one thing you could see (and hear) in the neighborhood was Interstate 405. There's nothing like admiring a manzanita or a ceanthous while tractor-trailers zoom by at 80 miles an hour on a freeway hundreds of feet above your head.

By now, I felt like I got point. Native plant gardens look like stuff that I'd probably mistake for a weed if I saw it on my lawn. For a movement that was supposed to promote Green, I'd seen damned little of anything that was actually green. I'd had enough and was ready to go home.

"It's okay," my wife told me, "You'll enjoy the second day of the native plant tour of Los Angeles better."

I certainly did. I stayed home and watched the final round of the Masters Tournament. Or as I called it, the Native Plant Tour of Augusta, Georgia. And I have to say that the jacket that they gave Phil Mickelson was greener than anything I saw on the L.A. garden tour.