Colorful coffee table-style plant books are beautiful to behold. They offer the tourists view – limited time, scratch the surface, just the pretty stuff. After leafing through many books like this and reflecting, I realize that I did not learn the distinguishing characteristics of the plants in the photographs, and know even less about their ecological origin or happy place. Its alright for what it is. A glossy still pond with a tiny spike of ephemeral emotion, not much movement.

Some of the academic texts or floras confuse me in a different way, requiring you to learn and decipher a whole dictionary of new words written in incomplete sentences. Check out the botanical language in this description of a palm. How much of it do you ‘get’? Does it make perfect sense? It reminds me of some of the modern rap music I’ve been listening to. Super impressive – the delivery, the speed, the flow. But, what did you say?!? Hahaha. Its an insiders game, you are a clueless old man!! Get with it!!!

And what about the dichotomous keys? Well, do you know what time of the year you have to collect a particular plant’s parts to be able to use the set of keys? Can you readily discern the number of chambers in its fruit, or the density of hairs on the calyx? Its almost as if botanists are making something already complicated even more complicated. Whether because precision and proper identification require it, or because the scientist’s mind enjoys going into tunneled mazes and challenges you to follow. Sometimes a simple picture or two would present the information more clearly and easily. It is simple to see that this and that are different, just look at how they grow! Look! Yet, it is difficult to convey this overall, seasonally dependent ’feel’ of plants’ in such a way that is consistent, and shows that you are not just being fuzzy headed and inarticulate.

Third party surrogates are all the rage these days. The other day I ran into a bunch of ecology and botany students from the private high end university in the botanical garden, using phone apps to identify plants they did not know. Snap a picture, get a name. Easy. And if the computer could not identify it, oh well, forget it. Move on, its probably not important. Funny. Did you touch the plant? Smell it? Did you really see the plant? Are you in the game, or watching from the bench and sidelines? Oh well so much for observation. Wasn’t that one of the scientific processes you learn about in elementary school that has been cast by the way side? Ultimately it comes down to this – are you happy going through life, tethered to all this accumulated miscellaneous facts, none of them that you have a personal stake in and share a sensual experience with? Or, would you prefer to discover and know even just one tiny common plant, using the supreme methodical computer that is you? Is your life composed of checking things off a list and a ranking, or is there more to it?

The data bases of botanical gardens, and modern day herbariums, have become digitized, following along with all the rest of our society. Yes it is organized and the facts are all there, but the entries to specific plants read like a dismembered body that is scattered and incoherent. Basically a spider web with no center that you click here then there then click some more. It tells no tales. It is a descent into a mental hell minefield of brokenness. It does not work because the intermediary between the sun and the plants is a human.

If I was getting to know a collection of plants in the garden, what I want to know would be: Where did it came from, and how did it fare in the field or in the container? Was it propagated from seed or cutting or layering? Who did the work of caring for it? What made it special? Did it die of old age, disease, gophers, slugs, or neglect? Was it human or natural causes? The record of the zeros is important in science and useful in understanding history and time. These are our failures and mistakes, and how we learn and improve. If I was going down the path of soap boxing I’d start going on about the way history and propaganda intermingle. Explain manipulative tactics and deception in the art of war and other such hum drum matters blah blah blah. Let’s go back to plants though LOL. Plants are much more fun, and important.

In the same vein as what has been articulated above, here are the plant collection records from our local botanical garden, from about eight years ago. Thank you curators of the past!!! Plants are listed in an old fashioned manner such that they tell a story. If you are interested in a genus, use the table of contents to figure out what species were present, and then scroll to the proper page in the pdf to read the entry. If you are so inclined, find the beds they lived in, and go looking for them in the garden! Well, heres a start. Off we go on a botanical walkabout adventure. First, the A’s and B’s. More to come.

Here’s how the plants came to be in the garden:

During the winter of early December we hightailed it to the ranchos of central California
as ol man Colin describes it, the land takes you back in time to the 1800’s
rolling undulations of hills covered by annual grasses and cow trails


punctured by oak trees and an occasional pine
broad dry creek beds of broom thickets and tree tobacco on the fringe
and way upland
thick dense fragrant booming alive chaparral
buzzing with bees on sage, wooly yerba santa shrubs, and unstoppable chamise
doe bedded down in the shade
on the trail was a dead coyote, bloating in the sun,

no obvious wounds or bleeding
nobody would touch it or scavenge it, not even the vultures
not sure why
kid says ‘ it looks like a dog!’, it sure does

Quail hunting season this past year ran from October 16th to January 30th in our zone. And for Dove, the season was November 13th through December 27th.

Like always, I was curious about what they had been eating. This way, you know where to look for em next time. It is the same with hunting mushrooms – what trees is it growing next to? It is the same with lingcod – what is in its stomach? Octopus?! Again?! The chunky, muscle bound, buff tough little bird is the California quail. The skinnier smaller one is the dove, a white winged dove to be precise.

What is in its crop? Well the dove had only one kind of seed it seems, and the crop was loaded! No wonder it was just sitting there and not flying off.

The quail had fewer seeds, but had a bit more variety in its diet in terms of seed selection.

Brought the seeds to class and had the students sow em. Lets see what comes up!

On the dove side, seeds came up quick. The leaves look comp-ish like a dandelion or a thistle or something. Wait for it. Wait for it. The flowers – bit of a tinge of purple spines and yellowish flowers. Internet ID taxonomy seems to point towards the Maltese star thistle Centaurea melitensis. Okay, we got one!

On the quail side it was a lot more sparse and irregular. Yes theres the pink five petaled flower of a geranium family thing with the typical crane’s bill looking fruits. Reddish stems. Lets go with the redstem filaree Erodium cicutarium. That is the plant ol master Bob Patterson of Plant Taxonomy class would say, ‘comes in with the cattle’.

Another one was the cant forget about it, scorpionoid coiling tail inflorescence with orange flowers. Not white flowers, that would be Cryptantha, but orange, so Amsinckia. I know my old teachers would be proud to know that the words ‘gynobasic style’ are still forever stuck in my brain. You know or have seen this family of plants already. I know you have. Does forget me not, tower of jewels, borage or comfrey ring a bell? Anyhow, lets call it the common fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia. Well maybe it is Amsinckia menziesii, but my eyes are such that I find it hard to differentiate between flowers 4-7 mm long and 7-11 mm long. LOL. What a terrible taxonomist!

Last but not least, a bunch of thin grasses were in the quail seed plot. They look like fescues. Why? How? I’m working on it – communicating the basic gestalt of such things in simple language and drawings… For now, best determination is Festuca bromoides.

Well thats all for now. Pretty limited sample, but neat to see what comes up always. And don’t worry about the star thistle, I won’t plant it in the garden. Cant wait to go back in time again…

Back in the day when I worked downtown as a park and recreation center supervisor we would hold weekly safety meetings. The purpose of this was to make sure employees were aware of the hazards that were a part of day to day work, and to prevent injuries and accidents as best as possible. The topics we covered included how to cleanup rat feces without breathing in the dust and hantavirus, how to address folks feeding the pigeons in the children’s playgrounds, personal protective equipment to wear while weed whipping dog poo embedded turf areas, and more.

As you can imagine, physical work over time takes a toll on the body. In particular, it punishes the weak part of the body chain which is the connections and joints. These injuries can be one time acute, like you were lifting a four hundred pound rock with co workers and they dropped the rock but you did not. Communication. Communication. In other cases, the injury is from repetitive use, like the clenching and loosening of the hand and forearm muscles as you are pollarding thousands of young sycamore tree sprouts. Or sitting in an unnatural position at a desk clicking away staring at a screen. The muscles and tendons don’t like the awkward stuck positions and the inflammation begins.

In the old times garbage collectors had to heave the cans over their shoulders and bring it to the dump truck. Remember that? That is pretty heavy work. Now imagine doing that after three hundred patrons to the park have deposited three hundred bags of wet dog poop in bags, all in the same can. Yup it gets really burdensome. The worst part is that people dont seem to realize the can is all full and they just keep throwing crap higher and higher in the can when they could be more considerate and walk a block or two to another can. Oh well. So these new plastic rolling bins, and the garbage truck’s hydraulic arms that pick them up, are an improvement. Still, even with the wheels on the bins, you gotta be aware of body mechanics and subtle twists to get the angles right in maneuvering.

Ergonomics and body mechanics is huge. Ideally every gardener would also be some kind of yogi or pilates expert or martial artist. That is what it takes. You dont have to have that ironman ironwoman 2% body fat, sinew and lean type of body. We are not riding bikes and swimming in a time based competition. We are using hoes and shovels, on our knees planting, climbing trees and cutting wood. You do need to know your own body well, and know how to move and use it in a happy way. That is all. Early morning when the muscles are not warmed up, take it easy. Friday afternoon right about when work week is about to end, take it easy. No rush. Stay focussed. Breathe. While the injury list below cites a specific activity when the injury occurred, keep in mind that sometimes, the stress and wear and tear are cumulative. Its not so much that the simple act of changing a light bulb busted out the shoulder. Its more that yesterday you did four hours with a power hedger on a 10 foot ladder cutting a hedge. The day before that was an event where you emptied fifty cans of garbage. The day before that you wore a backpack blower for three hours blowing off the paths. And the management does not hire more new people or help; they like to keep labor tight and have you on a short leash. So on and so forth. You have to learn to pace yourself for the long haul. You are number one.

There are dozens of dangers that can injure you on the job, while you are in the landscape. It is not a ‘controlled’ environment. Some risks are natural, like stinging wasps. Paper wasp nests around here get about as big as a watermelon. They are pretty easy to spot hanging off the trees. Stay away, or remove it if it may cause problems for the public.

Not so easy to see sometimes are the yellow jacket wasp nests that are in the ground, often obscured by a mat of ivy or a thicket of dried up grass and thistles. If you are paying attention you might be able to prevent an encounter. What you would observe is a steady stream of little yellow and black insects coming and going in the shafts of sunlight. Otherwise, you may step right on the nest and only acknowledge their presence when they are swarming up your pant legs and jabbing you like crazy with their stingers. Hopefully you are not allergic. If yes, then do carry that epinephrine pen needle and know how to use it.

A common piece of equipment we use daily as gardeners is the wheelbarrow. It is a great invention that enables you to leverage relatively heavy weights with a little effort and some balance. You can do darn near anywhere with a wheelbarrow! Watch out that you do no overload it. If you are loading light fluffy dry wood chips, you can probably fill it to the top. But, if you are loading gravel, wet decomposed granite, or dense clay soils, go easy! Especially if you have to go through hilly uneven terrain, over and under barricades and ramps, and navigate muddy wheel sinking low spots. Again, this is not like in a gym with up down repetitive motions. It is weights with all manners of squiggly warpage twisty turn arounds. Pay attention.

Like everything over time, we have improved on the design of the wheelbarrow. The same advice applies though, do not overload. Its like pruning – its easy to cut, but remember that you have to pick it all up and clean the site afterwards. Sure you can load the plastic bin with four hundred pounds, but then can you push it up the narrow trailed 45 degree slope? Who won the race – the rabbit or the turtle?

A common injury comes from lifting and carrying weights in the garden. Bricks, Sonoma field stones, bags of concrete, plants in fifteen gallon cans, six one-gallon cans gripped by six fingers, and more. It is a balance to get the work done, but to stay healthy and not get hurt. Youth is great, so is age and experience. Sod with the clay soils of the valley are heavy. One or two rolls, no problems. A palette, its okay. A few palettes everyday for weeks on end. A few palettes of sod going from the driveway in the front yard, up the stairs, through the house, down the stairs, and repeat repeat. That is where endurance, strength and patience comes in.

A few years back it is said that our mayor went to Paris, made a deal with a French company, and then had these toilets installed all around town. They are great for spots with abundant tourists and few restroom facilities. You put a quarter in it, and have a peaceful spot for a few moments to do your business. Then walk back out to check the amazing views at Twin Peaks. In some parts of town, however, they are galleries for junkies and hoes to engage in business. Part of the work routine for us downtown was picking up hypodermic needles. Lots of them. Some days the toilet cleaning workers would leave the needles on top of our garbage cans. The workers likely did not carry the red sharps containers, or just forgot. At least they did not throw the needles into the garbage where it would have pierced the plastic bag and leaked out the contents therein. Of course removing the dirty needles from easy public access was first priority at 6:30 am, cause the last thing you want is some kid on a field trip to the museums grabbing a used needle and playing with it. Both my gardener and supervisor before me were stung by needles as they were picking up leafy debris with gloved hands. So the advice now is – do not pick stuff up with your hands! Use a rake, a scoop, a dust pan. If you do get poked, go to the hospital, get checked out. Its usually nothing, but then again, nice to be conservative in such situations.

The theme is repetition. Even something as simple as grading online can cause injuries. You like what?! How is that possible? You are a lazy paper pushing teacher! You are just weak and
out of shape! Perhaps. But the sheer amount of clicking these days is pretty staggering. Over pandemic times I know of more than a handful of people that messed up their bodies by being on a computer all the time. Your mind wants to do this and that, do it perfectly. Respond to every dumb email and followup up on every bit of new software. But the body is not equipped nor accustomed to such sedentary limited twitching motions. But what can we do? We are all in the same riverine flow of data. So rest, use a standing desk, go for a walk in between intense concentrating six hour desk sessions.

Heres some useful charts and pictures I found online with regards to how to use your body wisely. They are great tips. Even more important than the ideal postures though is that your mind and body are working in unison, that you are present in your physical activities. That you are aware of yourself and your surroundings. Because in the garden, the ground is not flat, the loads are not evenly distributed symmetrical shapes, the light and shadows can play with your vision, and there are surprises everyday.

Well here we go. Sooner or later something is going to tear or rip or crack or bulge. It is the price of engagement. After a storm you can see the branches and their fibers and torsion as they resisted but still came undone.

The same thing with the human body. If you are an omnivore and have not yet butchered or cooked flesh then it is time to do so. That way you can learn how the parts are fitted together, and distinguish between the strands of meat, the harder nuggets on the ends of the bones, the stubborn white ropes of tendons that segway into muscle fibers, and that thin veil layer of fascia that you dont see present anymore in the cut meat cubes and slabs at the grocery stores. By examining the structure of mammalian tissues, you will see and feel the same material at work in your body as you go about the yard doing this and that. Little stuff (hurts and sprains) around our house is cured with ice, or rest, or some icy hot tiger balm substance. Otherwise there is a whole host of remedies and doctors ranging from orthopedic surgeons to chiropractors to physical therapists to steroids to acupuncturists and on and on. That is much beyond our scope of discussion in talking about safety and injuries in the garden.

Well, every crew I know, or have worked for, has a map in the truck of the local hospitals, just in case. Ideally you already know this by heart cause if something does go down, you hate to be googling information while someone is in pain and in need of medical attention. Well, good luck out there and BE SAFE!!! In spite of it all, enjoy the garden!

Friend and San Bruno Mountain guide David Schooley had an art show pow wow in downtown San Francisco by North Beach, Chinatown and the Transamerica Pyramid. I don’t get out to that part of town much, especially at night – there’s a lotta neat history tucked in them alleyways and beneath the colossal high rises. Plus its always fun to meet new friends, share tales, eat snack food for dinner, and chat about the challenges in land conservation.

One of the folks there talked about the shell mounds of the native peoples in the east bay, by the cities of Berkeley and Emeryville. The story teller’s name was Chris Walker, and he is a film maker also. I watched a short animation about this project he was working on with a lady named Corinna Gould from the Confederated Village of Lisjan. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYWCqFOxhh8. They want to commemorate, remember, and unite people by turning a shell mound that is a parking lot back into something that will connect people to local nature again. The city government seems to be in favor of the idea. Maybe some cool landscape architects, innovative planners, kick ass contractors, and a whole bunch of native villagers will collaborate and make it happen.

At the art show, after the speakers had finished, people were sharing and blabbing about antelope and fog. Those are two of my most favorite creatures! Then I went home and painted a goofy mythic picture. Here is the explanation for the painting presented above – for people who are more analytical in nature, and like everything laid out in a logical fashion, not ?? nut ball weird artsy fartsy style. LOL.

If you have not yet been to San Bruno Mountain, GO!!! The wild flowers are going crazy!!! Whole slopes of checkered fritillaries, and trails paved with footsteps of spring. Check out the San Bruno Mountain Watch organization website for guided hikes and restoration efforts, or just put on your hiking shoes, grab some water and sun protection, and GO!!! You might have the latest apps to learn the names of flowers, they seem to work pretty well. Me, I’m on the old timers side. Here is my go-to when I greet somebody on the mountain I never met before, and don’t know who they are:

Calling all fishermen

I love the water and fish in almost equal measure. This painting was inspired by a long winded native California story that starred loon woman as one of the characters. Think it was Achowami or Modoc not sure. The picture in my mind occurred in synchronous time as when friend Brucey sent me a book titled Power by Linda Hogan. The setting of the book is out in the Florida swamps where the anhinga bird aka water turkey hunts with its spear of a beak. And the vision had long fluttered through the canals of my ears nose and throat with the sounds of the kingfisher in the botanical garden by the ponds.

The whole general premise is that animals and nature are endowed of consciousness, and the spirit force that is in all the universe is the bond and agreement that binds us together. If there is respect and reciprocity then the fertility of the earth will be maintained. And there will be a cornucopia of diversity and abundance. If we don’t do our part, she will pull back her gifts. Then, we will be uprooted, lost, and without our animal and plant kin as relations. Basically we are excommunicated from the webbed, branched, water infused clan that is the tree of life.

The painting is at a fishermen’s conference where the birds all come together to discuss the state of fish. And the sea, the rivers, the lakes and springs all chime in. The birds bring their offerings and put them in a basket. They sing and chat, gamble and play, and dream up what is to come. I bet they are seeing thick schools of gleaming flopping silver, tranquil mangrove bays and inlets that serve as baby fish nurseries, muddy tidal flats chock of puffing sand-spitting breathing holes, hide and seeking clams and shrimp, and deep waters gushing streams of plankton off of a rocky ledge.

Calling all fishermen. Ante up!

Luke the Wiley coyote introduced me to Joey the Roo (Kanga) who in turn was friends with Mr Horn from days of standing up in watery shacks in Chile. That is how I ended up in his backyard of sand in the sunset district of San Francisco.

Colin had already embarked upon the dream of creating his backyard paradise when I informed him that we have a design class where students draws landscape plans and submit them to clients, who in turn offer feedback and a more or less realistic not-staged design experience. He was stoked and game for the process and that is what we did. Then the class was over (Spring of 2020), and we shook hands. That was about the last time I saw his metaphoric garden boat of oxalis weeds and trash strewn dune sands sail off into the wild blue yonder.

A year passes, maybe two. Not sure. Pandemic coats time with a strange passive sheen. Surprise! Mr. Horn gives me a pamphlet/book of his garden build. Its awesome. So thought I would share it with y’all. Here’s Colin of the big red board (like Clifford the dog; I will explain the nickname later) in his own words and pictures:

A huge thank you to the students who drew the design plans:

Well, thank you to Colin for sharing his story, and documenting the build. Would like to add that most of the plants Mr Horn planted were California native plants from the north and south. Also noteworthy is that although he is not a professional landscaper and had not done this before, his did a fine job of it. He is really creative with his hands and is not afraid to ‘go’ and get mucky sweaty dirty in the process. Perhaps this will inspire another person to be a gardener and to make something fun, interactive and alive in their own yard.

Then was chatting to the Roo (Kanga) and he pulled something up on his phone from some surf film or cam. Says did you see this? I’m like no, don’t watch much screen if I can help it. And there was Colin in action, slicing across a right hand Ocean Beach slider, on what i call a two to three wave:

Joey says that is a 9’6″ board, so you go figure about how big that wave is. Dang kid is sick and charges. LOL

By the way we are still doing landscape designs and always on the lookout for potential residential projects. Send me an email at tywang@ccsf.edu if you are in SF and have a yard that fits the bill. Especially welcome are clean slate yards in the sunset or richmond districts of San Francisco. Thank you.

Like all garden pests, the management of mammalian and bird pests comes under the banner of integrated pest management. That is to say, we use a variety of techniques and methods to reduce the damage caused by these creatures in our gardens. Our goal is not total eradication and elimination, our goal is to keep the pests at a reasonable level and live with them in an uneasy balance and precarious harmony.

We generate and waste a lot of excess food, and create movement and disturbance wherever we go. As a result, creatures that enjoy our presence thrive alongside us. Without planning for it, we provide them with food and shelter. And what more can you ask for?! This is true for weeds and bugs, as well as larger animals like rodents, coyotes, skunks, pigeons and sea gulls. In old old native times, food and the density of people was pretty well matched. Some years the acorn crop was lean, others years the salmon were abundant. There was an ebb and flow to the cycles. The amount of food was constrained by the climate and weather, dependent on the water and rains, and fluctuated year to year dependent on health and disease.

As the country got flooded with settlers, they took to shooting and eating darn near everything that moved. Especially if there was a famine or a drought and the crops failed them. Plus people were hankering for meat in the markets. For a whiles there, every animal ended up in a pan, a pot, or in the side of a ditch. Then, luckily, at some point, folks realized that this was not going to be good in the long run, and enacted game laws, anti poaching laws, plus created wild life conservation areas and reserves. To keep up with the demand for animal protein, we boosted the production of domesticated animals like chickens and hogs, and cultivated acres and acres to grow fodder crops for the animals to get fat on. Fields of grain, alfalfa and corn, soy and so on.

In cities where many people now live, most people don’t hunt or trap, and are often pretty averse to the very act of killing or slaughtering an animal, even if they have a slab of one on the plate almost every day. So its a bit of a sensitive topic. When mammalian pests invade the home, some people will resort right away to poisons, or to traps. These methods are readily available at the hardware store. More often than not, other people will call the pest control company for some advice and a round up of the small beasts perturbing the peace.

Do note that for some animals, there is no protection. There is no Society for the Conservation of the Brown Rat nor the Roof Rat Chapter of California. You can kill as many as you want of these guys, and it is unlikely anyone will knock on your door or protest your actions. On the other hand, it is illegal to kill seagulls because they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918. As are most birds. That did not stop Greg’s hungry sailor buddy from making seagull soup in the Sausalito harbor back in the day, but just to imagine the taste of that meat and broth is enough to make you want to take a really long solitary walk in a hot desert. For other animals like the crow, there is a hunting season on em; here it runs from around December through April. And sometimes you can request special permission to hunt certain animals as a nuisance. In a city, it is illegal to go shooting guns because of the potential for injury. So you would have to use a bow and arrow, or try to run and grab one with your bare hands. Check the city ordnances and find out what is on the books before you do anything silly and suspect that will land you in hot water.

Back to IPM. We roughly classify the methods of control into four categories. Physical (direct action kill or trap), cultural (preventive ways to keep animals out and away), biological (find an animal that will eat your pest animal, maybe you), and chemical (poisons and things of that nature).

For the most part, cultural is the number one method. If you put all the food away, and do not give the animals a place to live, they will go elsewhere. But in a garden, how do you put all the plants away so that the deer cannot eat them? What happens if the plants you are enjoying are the food?! And if their home is the very dirt in the garden, short of removing all the dirt and filling it all with concrete, what can you do? This is the dilemma. Screens, stainless or plastic netting and wire, electric fencing – they can do the trick. Raised beds, unpalatable plants also. Predator urine and blood, foul smell from castor oil bean extracts, fake owls, sonic noises, icky ick things that repel the animals, all potentially useful. A Jack Russel terrier or a beagle, that might do it. Not always though, like when a whole family of eight raccoons decides they really like that bowl of wet cat food on your back porch.

Traps and the back side of a shovel. These are number two – physical controls. But first you have to catch em. And that means identifying the culprit, finding out where and when they are active, and then somehow hunting them down. That is what it takes. For the most part, nobody cares that much about the rodents. Except there were protests for a while against gardeners killing gophers, and they set up a ten block stretch in Golden Gate Park where it was forbidden to catch them. Not sure if the gophers needed much help, but that is how it goes sometimes. When it comes to a little bit larger and some would say cuter mammals like squirrels, skunks, and raccoons, that is where it gets tricky. The old time gardeners would get calls about them, trap them, then just go ahead and release them into the wild somewhere nearby like the Presidio or San Bruno Mountain – which is not that far away from wherever they came from. A short happy night stroll later they would be right back where they started. Or they would be disoriented and fall fast victim to an asphalt roadway and steel belted radial tires. If you have a trappers license or are a certified pest control operator, you are supposed to catch them and put them down right away (kill them), you are not supposed to move them around. But sometimes, they just let the animals go again after they’ve been paid for their services, out of laziness or compassion or what have you. Then the animal is on the loose, again. Do note that wild animals can and do carry a number of worm parasites, invertebrate hitch hikers, as well as diseases that can affect humans in a negative way. Yes there is still the bubonic plague bacteria around here, hanta virus in the rat droppings, rabies, lyme disease once in a while from the ticks, etc. Friends in more rural places say there are not that many raccoons out in the country. Likely because there is not as much food in the wild as there is next to the garbage cans and dumpsters here in the city. Plus the comfy warm crawl spaces and rain-free under-the-deck four star accommodations. Lack of mountain lion or eagle predation earns another star. Then what do you do? What can you do? Most of the time people do nothing, which is not productive really and not helpful either. Sometimes you hear about some crazy hungry gardener that speared a raccoon, made a hat with its skin, and ate its meat over a barbecue with friends. But that is rare and almost unheard of in our modern world today. And in general not recommended for the reasons already stated above.

Biological methods often work for other pests of the garden, whether that be mites or aphids. You can go ahead and buy some beneficial insects online from an insectary, creatures like mite predators or nematodes or even praying mantises. They work. And chickens or ducks eat the slugs or snails too. But who is going to eat a 12” rat or attack a skunk? Great horned owls are predators of skunks but it is unlikely you can encourage it to come and eat that exact skunk that is camped out under your ipe ironwood boardwalk. And there are not enough peregrine falcons or hawks to eat all the pigeons under the freeway overpass. So for the most part, pass on biological control of the larger mammals and birds. Unless you are dreaming of coyote. But dens and dens of coyotes roaming in a dense urban metropolis poses its own set of challenges….For sure they will not only attack the pests. They will pick on the easy well fed cat that is playing in the yard, or the little three year old kid rolling a ball on the lawn while the parents are looking at their cell phone.

Last but not least are the poisons. For the most part these are ingested (eaten as bait), but in the old times poisonous gases like the tail pipe exhaust of a vehicle, or the sulfuric smoke from a flare would count in this category as well. Fumigants they call them. They are okay, and if you look at any public institution or commercial center you will notice the black plastic boxes full of rat poison. Still, come out at night in a densely inhabited place with food and water and you will see the shiny beady eyes of the rats. Lots of them. They will be here as long as people are here, likely longer. I won’t go into the chemical mode of action of particular poisons here. Just keep in mind that rodents can readily evolve resistance to our chemicals over generations of selection, and that whatever poisons we put out into the world work their way up and to the side of food chains. That is all for now. Good luck keeping mammalian and bird pest at bay in your garden.

  1. forks

2. hoes

3. more forks

4. rakes

5. more rakes

6. containers 1

7. containers 2

8. wheel barrows

9. tires 1

10. tires 2

11. bin

12. digging ditches

13. railroads and fire fighting

14. shovels

15. handles

16. rake close up

17. something to do with street trees

18. pipe

19. timer 1

20. timer 2

21. timer 3

22. irrigation 1

23. irrigation 2

24. irrigation 3

25. irrigation 4

26. irrigation 5

27. irrigation 6

28. fertilizer 1

29. garden soil 1

30. garden soil 2

31. irrigation 7

32. irrigation 8

33. woven plastic cloth

34. drainage 1

35. mow 1

36. mow 2

37. mow 3

38. lawn install

39. engine

40. fertilizer 2

41. fertilizer 3

42. fertilizer 4

43. fertilizer 5

44. drainage 2

45. machinery 1

46. machinery 2

47. machinery 3

48. machinery 4

49. fertilizer and pesticide

50. fertilizer and pesticide 2

51. fertilizer 6

52. drainage 3

53. machinery 5

54. machinery 6

55. machinery 7

56. clean up 1

57. fertilizer 7

58. pesticide 1

59. health and safety 1

60. pesticides 2

61. pesticides 3

62. clean up 2

63. containers 3

64. irrigation 9

65. irrigation 10

66. irrigation 11

67. saw

68. Iron oxide

69. your favorite tool

End of exam

The sacred in the garden, and design patterns to emulate

In all the cultures, flowers, trees, and garden spaces are valued, and inspire many aspects of mythology, stories, art, music, and our relationship to nature. The gardens are specific to the geography and climate of a place and are imbued with certain principles and values that make them unique. In many cases, being a gardener (and designer) is a sacred profession that is dedicated to the maintenance of this connection. The garden is thus the realm of a spirit practitioner that mediates between the plant and human worlds.

Now, people will approach the sacred in any number of fashions. What does that even mean – the sacred, the spiritual, sublime ecstatic divine awe? Is it a set of material symbols? Do you have to buy into it, or subscribe to a set of beliefs? Is it antagonistic to science, reason, and rational discourse? Define ‘sacred’… Well, this is not a comparative religion essay, nor is it a preachers pulpit, an atheist’s diatribe, or psychoanalysis of ego and mind. It is about how the garden can assist in evoking a state of bliss and communion with the universe. It is about methods used in the design process.

A few things to reflect on before we start. The garden is an intermediary junction between nature and culture, the overlap between the wilderness and your home. It follows nature’s cycles – there are plants and it is outdoors. At the same time, it is easily amenable to our manipulations and add ons – whether that be a nice stone path or some up lights on the palm tree. In the house, theres the bedroom, kitchen, living room – mostly all rectangular shapes each with defined roles. In the garden, theres a lot more fluidity, and varied shapes are possible – curves, circles and the whole bit. Less is set in blocks. The innards of the house is mostly for humans and pets, whereas just outside the back door almost any creature can and does come by – spiders, ants, hummingbirds, worms. They are all out there. So how do you find harmony and balance? How do you make the garden a mirror of life itself, in order to look inwards?

In the northern woods, cold fjords and island nations, there is a long history of this sort of nature connection that predates recorded time. I was shown an Irish tree alphabet by a student named C, and can see how knowledge of the Ailm, Beith and Coll (pine, birch, and hazel) could potentially build a vocabulary for the soul. A sacred garden has happy and healthy plants. Hopefully, in my aesthetic, a lot of them! Ratio wise, hardscape to softscape, concrete & wood to leaves and flowers, strive for say 50:50, 60:40, or something close to it. Okay okay 70:30 but that is my last offer. Heck, the house is in the realm of 98:2 not counting the veggies in the refrigerator. Balance! Most of the time, folks do not have their breath taken away by a sofa, but a cluster of dogwoods in spring bloom, or the silhouette of a pink sky-lit cedar – those will do the trick. Plants play their part in the theater of time – that’s what makes the show special. Plants make the garden. If you wait till the end of the design to think and dream about the plants and their gifts, then most of the spaces will be taken up already, and you will relegate the plants to the edge of the deck and foundation or a container or two of so so greenery. That will be too late for the protagonist to rush to the rescue.

Do not plant plants that will quickly grow too big for their spot – these end up having to be corrected, hacked, manipulated, tortured, and moved. You want plants that fit. Plants that are comfortable with the ecology of the site, with regards to their basic needs. Plants that get better and better with age. Plants are like you, they want freedom and to be as they are; they do not want to be stuck out of place. On your plan, be sure to design with plants that wear different clothes as the seasons pass, to mark the wrinkles around the eyes, the loose skin at the elbows, and a slight clouding of the senses. There is no plant that is beautiful and unchanging all the time, that would be a plastic rubber statue stuck in an eternal state of wanna-be juvenility. You want well-grounded dynamic motion. And the red and yellow fallen leaves, well that is part of the picture. So is the fuzzy scattering fluff of anemones, and the bright red seeds of magnolias. Just cause its old, and on its way out, does not mean that you erase it from the garden entirely before its due. It is going to feed the earth, and with good weather give birth to a novel spring.

In medieval Europe, in the monastic gardens, the gardeners were the monks and nuns in a cloistered brick monastery. These places also happened to be the repository of medicinal plants and hence healing traditions. The ordered universe, the layout of the monastery garden, the not idle, hard working, and prayerful person in the midst of it all. All were to be in agreement. In an overall sense, it is like chemical molecular structures and formulas. Such a garden is geometric and law-abiding. Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio of flowers are all repetitions of this same motif. In the garden is the universe made small to fit. It too will have symmetry, whether radial or bilateral and repeating spiral fractal type elements that twist you into a churning web of complexity. All the while the outward forms appear simple and straightforward. That is the challenge. It is not easy. That is why there is a backspace, delete, and escape key on the keyboard. Not sure how many of you still crumple paper, but that is another kind of visceral and audial joy that lends itself to the design process.

In Japan, you see the influence of Shintoism which is old time nature worship and spirits, then the later addition of Buddhism that arrived in the 6th century via Nepal India China, and Korea. The gardeners are the monks who rake the pebbly gravels to create an ocean and sweep the boardwalks of leaves and debris as they empty their minds in the same way. It is a walking meditation that allows a person to become fully immersed in the way or no way, the circular blank-out lightning bolt kazaam that is intrinsic to the Buddhist frame of thought. This is to say, while you are raking, the mind is judging, analyzing, thinking “This is lame, I’m not here, I wish I was somewhere else”. Or the mind is in a blank rut, unaware of its surroundings, uttering not much more than “Uhhhh”. And when the mind is saying neither of those things or anything else, yet focussed like the prick of a pin, then you are sewn into the fabric of the whole dream-like scene. It happens in a wisp. You engage as an actively integrated pollinator in the care and maintenance of yourself and our world. And that’s all, that is the goal. Kinda reminds me of the walking labyrinths that go from the outside in. Then it lights up and reverses direction.

In the Japanese garden, the rocks lining the paths are deliberately staggered and uneven. Zig zagging here and there. It is not a straight shot from one end of the garden to the other. Time is not an issue; it is no longer money. Time is a petal falling to the earth. The passage way does not go up up up then climax and stay there. The paths are made to slow down the uptown frenzied motion and bring a person down to nature’s sloshing tidal-type rhythm. And if you think about a person’s life, with the myriad of twists and turns of fate, wishes, accomplishments, and expectations coupled with disappointments and failures. Well, there’s the path. The plants are uniformly green, without the frills and shock of a multitude of colors. Again, bright city lights, billboards, drunken head-spinning neon LED tubes with heavy bass. Not so much. Birds scratching in the dirt for breakfast, droplets of dew shining mini rainbows seen only with your head tilted, cold hands holding a warm cup of coffee. The fading of the sun and clouds into fog shroud mists – that is the ambiance and vision. Another design technique is the whole contemplation-borrowed-scenery-from afar vantage point. That is to say, you deliberately create a place that invites someone to sit down and look off into the distance, whether through a cut out in the fence or the direction that the seat is facing. The whole idea is to see beyond the narrow small confines of one’s built world and bring in something from far far infinite. A high mountain, a sky, some light. So it’s a setup, designed on purpose to bring about a desired mind state for the garden visitor.

When I used to watch my friend Saba do Haitian dancing they would alway trace design patterns onto the floor, and set up a central place to gather the energies of the dancers and musicians. In general, the point of concentration was an altar with a myriad of objects representative of the cosmos at large. And as the ceremony proceeded the participants would request that the spirits descend to demonstrate that humans are not, well, just animals or biological phenomena hard-wired to genes and such. The drum frequencies were also dialed in to elicit this break from the regularly scheduled programming that runs on the hour, to the minute, and measures every second. Yeah, you got to wake up at 6 am tomorrow and do a 45-minute commute and put in an exactly 8 hour day with a 15-minute break. But today, you are coursing down an eternal stream in a canoe of sound, fish-on-the-line hooked into the design patterns hidden from day-to-day view. And anything is possible.

When you observe a site you can look for these same lines of energies that are ever present but require investigation, observation, and perhaps even supplication. The lines are disguised and not clearly marked. What you are looking for is the slope of the land in relation to the whole neighborhood, the shadows cast by the sun around the third week of June, and a place where people would likely gather, congregate and share food. You are looking for the source and origin and path of travel for that most sacred of all substances which is water. You want to accentuate these ‘power locations’ and the intersection of the lines where Papa Legba lives. Navigate to the center, and track the dotted lines of planets revolving around this sphere. Imagine every person has a lit flame of a star inside. The individual bodies may spin in ellipses, shoot off into the galaxy like asteroids, then come looping back a millennium later. Where are the lines and punctuation marks? Does your design plan have a core? How is the circulation and movement? If it is all flat paths that lead to fence walls, hard square cubby-like rooms, closed in, and constricted traffic, then the energy cannot buzz and people will be separated from one another, not joined together in the skin and beats. Given our already limited tiny yards in San Francisco, keep the garden plan more or less open. That is to say, limit minimize or eliminate the one-way streets, dead ends, narrow alleyways, and abandoned lots smelling of ammonia. That is the planning aspect of design.

Across the waters you will come to the continents of the north and south Americas. Aside from the well noted, highly organized, stratified hierarchical civilizations, there remains a deep and intrinsic connection here to the plants and animals, to hunting and gathering. All of the ‘hunt’ is masked in magic and encapsulated by ritual because you never know. You are not sure what will go down. Anything can happen. Success or failure is hunger and survival. And so you walk the same path as the animals, straighten your arrows as you coat them with good wishes, and ask for any kind of divine assistance there is. Because of this uncertainty, in the old times, each person found their own way to the spirit realm. There were no intermediary priests or abbots, no fine extravagant temple architecture, no guarantees or insurance of everlasting life, no school to teach meditation, no way you could buy your way in with a fistful of clamshells. You could only go there on your own. This was a difficult problem and terrain; it was a very personal adventure. How do you get there?

One of the methods for this spirit communion was ingesting a variety of plants and fungal products that would release a hunter from the confines of thought. It would tune your inner chords into an owl or a panther or a bushmaster. Encumbered with this sort of insight, you would no longer see and design the garden as a 25’ x 45’ outdoor room. Instead, you would design the garden as a replica of a cosmic shattering universe, comprised of all manners of angelic plants and probably a few accidental stowaway demons too (named yellow jacket wasp and raccoon, LOL). That is the desired vision. Lookup a Tibetan mandala or an aboriginal dream time painting to replicate this sensation. Anyhow, to go back to plants and fungi – one of the flight-inducing methods of such a subsistence culture is the small ephemeral Psilocybe mushroom commonly called the magic mushroom. Okay, to back up a bit and brief you on its history. For the past 10,000, 15,000 years, it has been revered as a medicine by native peoples because it reveals what the eye cannot see. (? And what is that?) Spanish Catholics show up around 1500 and think that the mushroom is in competition with the communion wafer which is the body of Christ, and they suppress the eating of these substances. Meanwhile, the native name for the mushrooms is the flesh of the gods. Weird coincidence? And the locals say yes, we know Jesus, we have known him since ancient times because he has shown himself to us when we eat the mushrooms. He is all that is good and holy and the only way to reach heaven. Bishops and fathers are in flabbergasted disbelief. Are we getting through to these people at all!? They come to church every Sunday, but during the week, they go to the woods! Ridiculous and callous drama ensues for centuries. Around 1970 these mushrooms were outlawed because – they have no FDA-approved medical use. And being a Schedule I drug means that there is a high chance for abuse and addiction. Fifty more years pass. Nowadays, there are leading medical schools advocating for its use in therapy, my psychiatrist friend down the street is prescribing it to patients with great success, Nikii at the bonsai nursery tells me about micro-dosing, and an army veteran student is using it for PTSD. I’m like ?!? There is something going on here.

Maybe you got lost there, I almost did. Yes, this is about garden design. Well you can grow your own spirit medicines in the garden, and put that down in the plant list or notes on the side. That would be super cool. If you can grow a peony or a daffodil, you can grow a patch of fungal mycelium, or grow a cannabis plant if that is your natural meds and it is legal where you live. Plus the garden is more exciting when there is something to harvest year-round.

If you cultivate and nurture this presence and unity in the garden, then that sacred edge will unfurl and reveal itself. The cocoon peels itself. In this manner you wed yourself to a little dinky plot of land that is an embodiment of the beauty and awe that is our world. And there you have done it – expressed what you feel inside, and made it perfectly match the outer reality. Yippee, you win, and the community wins too. Hopefully, you will come to possess all the good stuff readily available in abundance in the garden – greens, fruits, flowers, sun, and extra bonuses too like peace love understanding compassion joy contentment, and laughter. It’s right outside. Go!!

To sum up the main lessons for this section about bringing something of the sacred into your garden design: Its plants, geometry, stillness, frequencies & flow (music dance movement), and feeding the inner landscape in order to make the backyard bloom. Good luck on your journey!

Water is life and occupies a central place in the garden. This can be in the form of human made lakes, ponds, streams, fountains, or just a simple basin. There is something reflective, tranquil, and calming about the presence of water. Whether that be the sound of a gentle trickle, the gush of a waterfall, or the mirror like surface that drums in radiating circles when the rain falls upon it.

In this essay we will start with a walkabout to look at water features far away from here. Then, we will come home to San Francisco, and observe water features close by. We will then discuss their basic construction, maintenance, and care over time. We will end with the ecological benefits of well cared for water elements in the garden, and a discussion of their viability in light of severe drought and high maintenance requirements.

Chinese gardens are big on ponds. The people don’t mind the green algal water so much, and they enjoy the cultivation of koi type goldfish, water plants like lotuses, and the incidental visitors like frogs and tadpoles. Oftentimes, water plants are grown in pots in a fenced off area, especially when they are young. Otherwise, the fish would nibble them all to death before they were established. Plus the pot helps hold the roots together and hence settle down. Its helpful in a pond to have an over flow drain in case of heavy downpours, so that the water does not end up flooding the walkways and buildings nearby. Aside from lotuses, papyrus are also a good water plant, having neat structural form, and not minding its roots standing in the water. A canal of water running through a garden is a remnant and reminder of old time farming irrigation and implements like water wheels and crops like rice paddies. Additionally, the water raises the humidity and allows for the growing of plants that like that sort of ambiance – of being next to a creek. Plants like columbines, horsetails, sedges, dogwoods, and so on.

Southern Spain has old time water features like moorish fountains that are scattered throughout the Andalucian towns. They give you a nice respite from the heat and connect you up with the Sierran snow melt flows. Oftentimes the water is hard, cause its been running past the limestone and picked up all that cal, calcium. Where the water originates for distribution to town dwellers it is the nacimiento, the birth place so to speak. From there it is parceled out to the local farmers with gates and channels by folks who work as an aguador, like a water keeper. There is a lot of old fashioned marble type fountains too in the classical style here and there. More so in the public places and fancier tourist plazas.

Down in the south, in New Orleans, water is all over the place. It back and forth through town and on the outskirts too, where the swamp cypress trees meet up with snapping turtle and the alligators in the bayou. At the botanical garden there was a symmetrical pond, with plants labelled, in the formal European design. And across from the beignets and coffee restaurant was a water trough for horses.

Back home in California, the state is branched by numerous rivers going mostly east to west. They have names like American, Russian, Eel, Mad, Merced, Tuolumne, Pit, Feather, and Yuba. It is imperative that you, as a designer, visit the a sandy bank along the river on a hot summer day and take a plunge into a deep pool lined by granite. Then you bake a little while on the willow and alder banks. This will provide you with an appreciation for water and light, and inspire you as you create water features of your own. This here is a glimpse of the Cosumnes.

Here at the Civic Center in San Francisco, the design of the plaza has changed over time. Over the past 100 years, it has gone from a formal, monarchal, decadence to something strictly utilitarian and minimal in flowery touches. It once had water features, there are none today. Check out the epic round fountains and the long reflecting pool that once ran down the middle. In the latest rendering by landscape architects there is a water feature again. Not sure about how the use of others’ photos is these days, but this set is all from google images. So thank you to google and the photographers.

Heading into Golden Gate Park. A fun spot to go to is Stow Lake which is about in the middle of the park. There, you can rent pedal boats and cruise around. The water is recirculated via large pumps in pump house shacks. It goes up to the top, then down the water fall with gravity. Over the years, people have released numerous fish into the lake. Plus there is the constant feeding of geese, ducks, coots and copious guano. This is why the lake is green with algae, from all the wealth of nutrients. This is why this is not a lake for swimming in. Once in a while when heavy rains overflow the banks, you can catch large eels and catfish that wash out on the road.

Inside the botanical garden, almost every individual geographical garden has some kind of water feature in it. Sometimes it is just the suggestion of water – like a dry stream bed of roundish pebbles and sinuous lines in the Australia and the California gardens. There are two fountains made of granite, concrete and tile, with pumps. These are at the center by the big meadow, and at the library courtyard entry garden). In other cases, theres a series of natural ponds – a system of well thought out, expertly crafted, no pump necessary, interconnected features that lead from one to the next. The connecting pipes are made of terra cotta about six inches in diameter. In temperate Asia, the head waters are at the Annelli Pond, then water travels to the dwarf conifer pond, descending to the bamboo pond, past the big dawn redwoods, then to the previously carnivorous plant pond, and finally under the redwood bridge and ending at the California native garden pond.

These wonderful ponds are constructed in the old time manner, which is lined with either concrete or with bentonite clay about six plus inches thick. They will silt up over time, and require a gardener to hand dredge a few tons of mud and vegetation a year. The clay bottom seals itself for the most part, and are only problematic at the edge where coyote and raccoon dig for crawfish, causing small leaks. Hydraulic cement to the rescue! Again, an attentive gardener is the only remedy. Nowadays many water features are lined at the bottom with EPDM rubber that comes in a large roll. The sides of the rubber pond liner are then held down with rocks. Just make sure you don’t go digging or poking around the bottom of such a pond because you will puncture the membrane and have to drain the whole thing to find the hole and fix it.

If aquatic weeds are weeded, open pockets are maintained, and chemical pesticides are not used, then fish, dragon flies, and damsel flies will also thrive. There is a local frog called the red legged frog which used to live in the garden, laying its eggs at the edge of the ponds. Have not seen it in a whiles… Plus, birds love the water. Or more specifically, some birds love to hunt in the water. Healthy water will bring all sorts of fun critters to your garden, and make life a little bit more spicy and flavorful. It really is worth it. The wee bit overgrown pond at the John Muir nature trail is here, followed by an old view of the carnivorous plant pond many years back when the gardener performed periodic actions mimicking periodic floods.

The water feature does not have to be a big deal. It can be a basin that is cleaned out every few days and refilled with fresh water. It can serve as a vase for flowers or a bird bath. The important thing is that it does not become stagnant and start to breed mosquitoes or disease. This sort of water in a pot design used to be relatively common and in vogue. At the local nurseries there used to be a water plants section with taro, cannas, and water lilies. And folks would have mosquito fish or small feeder goldfish in these basins. Nowadays its all about vertical gardens instead. Who knows if and when the simple water features will make a come back?

A fountain is a really easy thing to make. Basically there is a small pump at the bottom of a reservoir that sucks water in, then pushes it up a pipe. The water trickles and drops back down to the reservoir on some kind of ledge or side or lip. Thats it! You do need a GFCI outdoor outlet to plug in the pump, and a pump that is capable of pushing oh so much water up a steep gradient at a measured rate. A few problems can and often do occur. One is that bits of fallen debris and gunk clog the pump. No pump, no fountain. So make sure in your design you can access and clean out the entire contraption. Or find or invent a tool that is capable of doing so. Filter elements help but they too can become clogged. A small amount of chemical like chlorine can also deter the growth of algae. As can a design where the water is minimally exposed to the light and spores. That is to say, if the reservoir is underground in the dark, then less stuff will be able to grow in the water. Pay attention to the fountains out in front of the shopping centers and you will understand this preventive design technique. There are also UV lights which the water swirls around as it is pumped and filtered. The ultraviolet light kills algal spores and keeps the water clear like in a high mountain trout stream. Then theres the skimmers. And gravel hosting beneficial bacteria. And charcoal media, and so on until you are fully immersed in aquarium culture.

Aquatic plants are of fantastic variety. Some can be entirely submerged all the time, while others like their feet wet only part time. A handful of the plants that ‘take over’ for us are duckweed, parrot weed, willows Salix lasiolepis, cat tails, and tule. Water primrose can be a fast grower too. These have to be cut back time to time in order for the pond to be balanced and harmonious. That is when you don a pair of chest high waders and jump right in. The water weeds are great compost.

If you start to look for water features they are still around, just not as much as in the days past.


They do take work to maintain, and yes we are still in a drought. Nevertheless, in the western parts of town especially, evaporation is minimal and the water is just going around and around. It may cost you a little money in electricity and a bit of time in keeping it clean; that’s not too bad for the ambiance it creates. The water really is soothing in the garden, and takes the mind to a place that is not busy and stressful. You turn into a lizard on a sun lit slab of volcanic rock, time is flowing like water down to the sea, and the swirling gurgling liquid bellows bubbles and dreams.

Assignment: design a water feature and draw it on two or three pages. Plan view, elevation, and or perspective. You might want to experiment with different materials and have water slush and fall over them at different rates; and fall into reservoirs of varying depths and textures. You are observing the pattern of falling water, its clingyness, and the sounds it makes. Good luck!