This article appeared as "Empty Canvas" in the November/December 2011 issue.
It’s been cool in Los Angeles, but every few days Lari Pittman gets up early to turn on the sprinklers in Parque Oaxaca, the three-quarter-acre private garden he and his partner Roy Dowell have been building for nearly a dozen years. It’s mostly cacti and succulents, olive and pepper trees — drought-tolerant plants that can endure the heat without watering.
With their chocolate-brown stems and fuzzy golden arms, the teddy-bear chollas really do seem friendlier than other desert dwellers. They tend to grow in clustered formations, like small societies in the sand, serving as a bright audience to the sun's rise and fall in the desert sky. If they appear to be waiting for something, it is you—to wander by, graze one of their many arms, and become an unwitting cholla propagator.