Archives for category: Uncategorized

A big part of garden design
revolves around the flat functional space that is paved or decked
this is the hardscape that is used for tables and seats, and for walking to and fro
this is our topic today
both the hardscape edge where it meets dirt, plants, and the earth
as well as the surface itself, and the patterns you cajole out of wood and stone

We live in this time some folks call the postmodern age
all the spinning spirals, ornate branches, and random frilly mischief
all the dense complex weavings and tight repeating details
have been taken out of design
we have reduced our life to the pleasing simple geometric forms
stacked boxes, and an occasional perfect circle
clean and efficient, no nonsense and uncluttered
no busyness
we have materials that are
easy to build off the shelf, sometimes already made as a module
easy to install, piece by piece, don’t need much skilled labor nor crafts-person-ship
easy to maintain, just hose it or blow it or pressure wash it

Time wise, this design and build process is relatively fast
labor wise, its minimal, compared to old times
this is the post modern age
peoples lives are busy enough, they dont want more of that in the garden
we want a nature that is simple, easy, and well controlled
we dont want a nature that is complex, difficult, and in charge

Well those two visions of nature collide in the garden
and the role of the designer is to find the balance and complement one another
in texture, in form, in flow, in time
really, dont you get, just a tiny bit bored, of the rectangular slab of concrete and uniform chips?
theres is no design or meaning there –
oh yeah, that is the meaning of the post modern age…
you are living in a godless, spiritless, rational, reasonable, non magico world where:
plants should behave like a static piece of furniture
they should not shed or grow or heavens forbid get sick and die
people should be always-on robots
working or charging, devoid of emotion and doubt
and wild nature is something far away in a dark continent, not… in my backyard

There is a little leeway and room
to bring some of those ancient design patterns
back into our lives
not like they have ever gone away
we just thought that the garden would look better without them
but then we realized,
that if you apply the same aesthetic to the outdoors as you do to the indoors
you will just have another living room, one that is a lot less comfortable
then, whats the point at all?

But, if you do want to have a GARDEN –
a place of seasonal fragrant scents
a site of intermittent colors
a home for visiting aliens like kingfisher or sparrow
and a cosmic center to commune with the universe
then you will have to be observant and take your time to learn nature’s patterns
we can start with the edge and then delve into rock and fiber later

Look for edges of design
they are all around us
some edges are functional
like the fattened outward curving lip of a bowl that manages not to chip as easily
or the thinned lip of a tea pot spout that makes sure you dont get the drip drips
Other edges are ornamental cosmetic
a scalloped bend, a splash of neon, or a wee bit of gold trim
they create that dynamic tension that pulls us out of a monosyllabic worldview
these edge features dont necessarily take a lot of extra time or money to build
but they do require a good conceptual idea streaming through the plan
and the ability to recognize and repeat the motif until a song emerges out of the landscape

there are edges everywhere –
the frame of a painting or a window
the top of a bus stop
the curb, yes the curb that lies between the road and the sidewalk
now you see them and can add them to your design repertoire
you dont need a ton of it, a subtle touch will do
its all there in the outline of a subject
sometimes its barely noticeable, but it makes a difference
a little inlay of red pebbles on the border
a thin slab of redwood on top of the post
the slight bend of an arch that mimics the wisteria behind
work the edge, that is where the energies are pronounced and you define the spaces
you want to accent and border the uniqueness, specialness
and one of a kind nature of a garden dream
the garden that is grounded in the present, in your presence

Forget the edge now
and go towards the center
the center of the patio, the middle of the deck
walk down the acorus lined path
what do you see?
is it all one color, one material?
all flat and spaced one foot on center?
regular, consistent, unchanging?
or are there flecks, smattering, tidbits, unspoken remnants of –
dots, stars, webs, waves, streaks
unusual hardscape patterns that somehow
lie in symmetry with
are congruent to
share parallel qualities with
the tubed fuchsia blooms with a floral formula of 4 4 8 4
the methodical dotted runway petals of alstroemerias
and the symbolic gesture of a lotus rising out of the round leaf mud flats
tie it all together
the hard and the soft…
unity, that is a design principle!

Again, you do not have to replicate the entire jungles cacophonic symphony on the stone paving
just tuck a little of it into your design
or at least consider it; it really is not that foreign of an idea
no you dont have to use tear drop shaped brick
nor do you have to commission laser cut drizzles of intricate stainless steel
keep it simple and elegant, we are not going baroquian victorian azteckian chinoise
those epic periods have come and gone, only way is forward in time

Similar to the using of edging detail, a little can go a long way
maybe use a few pavers that are a different color (!?)
trace a few lines that go diagonal, go across, or skip a beat like a dotted line (?!)
do a few layers of the hardscape such that it is billowing out like a cloud, exploding like a lupine seed pod, or reflecting the form of the surrounding statuary
you would still have a postmodern garden,
with clean, efficiently made, and functional hardscape
but, it would be endowed and imbued with the designs of

summer caterpillars munching uneven holes in leaves
a trail of falling autumn leaves
the radiant calm of a snow field
and the happy stirrings of flowers in the spring
all of this
in the celebration of the covenant of life
and the creation of hallowed ground that allows this interaction to take place
this is the joy of garden design
thats the job, get to it!!!

Edges everywhere: lines and colors. Follow the outlines as they rise and fall, swell and constrict.

Patterns on flat surfaces. Keep an eye on the edges borders, and the interior. Yes some of these patterns are old time not fashionable anymore…

Do these need an edge? Does the transition seem fluid?

Do concrete sidewalks have to be 4′ x 4′ squares?

Match your hardscapes and tie it all together? Repeating patterns and materials?

Is the edge ‘functional’?


SHORT DAY LENGTH PLANT = long night plant
Needs a long night to start flowering

In the wilds of southern Mexico
In the wet and dry tropical forests
The rainy season is May through October
During the hurricane season

With all that moisture, and Mexican sun
It is a good time to grow leaves and stems
Grow vegetatively

Around November, the dry season begins
Poinsettia starts to flower, it keeps flowering onwards into the spring
It flowers as the day length becomes shorter and shorter
Nights longer and longer
And insects are flying around looking for flowers, nectar and pollen

“If the days are long, and the sun is shining, I’m gonna get big and grow all the leaves I can.
When the days start getting shorter, its time to bloom; time to make fruit and seeds for dispersal and survival.”

LONG DAY LENGTH PLANT = short night plant
Needs a short night to start flowering

Its late fall and early winter in California
November December and onwards
Its the rainy season
Storms outa the northwest and Aleuts
Nights are on the long side, about 13, 14 hours of night
Days are short, about 11, 10 hours of daylight
California poppy sprouts with the rains
It grows those thin dissected leaves, and a juicy taproot

It is March, April and May in Cali
Its spring time
The length of a day goes from 11 to 12 to 13 hours a day
The nights shorten from 13 to 12 to 11 hours a day
And the California poppy blooms
Cause its done with its vegetative stage
The earth is warming up
And the insects are going crazy
Its a perfect time to showcase colorful petals
If you want to make some seeds, you better do so before the summer dry spell hits
And reserves run low
This is a short night plant

Don’t care much either way
They don’t care about long days long nights
They don’t care about short days short nights
They gonna do their thing, no matters what
As soon as they have enough energy stored up to go, they go
They bloom, makes seeds, then bloom some more
Just go!
Until they run out or run dry
Hopefully they finish in time before winter snow, or the summer drought
Humble dandelion comes to mind
As does that dinky cannabis with the name ruderalis

As a nursery person or greenhouse grower
You can manipulate day length with lights, or with curtains that keep it dark
You can make it seem like the darkness of winter is coming,
and force a chrysanthemum to start blooming
You can force a plant to grow grow grow like crazy
By turning on the lights for sixteen, eighteen, twenty hours a day
As if the plant was growing in Alaska
Super short growing season, super intense
Grow like your life depends on it
As the grower, you control light and photosynthesis
This way you can
Ramp up production all year round
Supply pretty plants when nature cannot
And have plant merchandise in the stores just in time for Christmas

I am always reminded by growers
That a poinsettia blooms because of the changes in DAY LENGTH
It does not bloom because of water needs or the dry seasons arrival
I agree, but don’t actually see how the two can be divorced from one another –
Light and water
Just try growing the poinsettia crop without water, and see what happens to the blooms or lack thereof
My guess is that in nature
If the rains stop early, and it goes dry, say in July or August
Theres gonna be a few individuals that just go for it
Irregardless of the day length, even if the nights are still short
You are stressed, you may die, you may try to bloom, even a little bit
Evolution of these plants in a particular habitat is not a discrete entity based only on light
It is a combination of factors that work together to create the patterns that we observe
Light, water, soils, wind
Elevation, temperature, humidity
Fungus, bacteria, and so on
The basics for planetary survival


County Meaning or gist and origin

Where the Spaniards rode their horses along the coast to establish missions, lots of places received the names of saints:
San Francisco: Saint Francis
San Benito: Saint Benedict
Santa Clara: Saint Clare
San Mateo: Saint Matthew
San Luis Obispo: Saint Louis Bishop
Santa Barbara: Saint Barbara
San Bernardino: Saint Bernard
San Joaquin: Saint Joachim
San Diego: Saint Diego

Some counties got named for people:
Kern: Named for Edward Kern, artist, explorer and map maker
Lassen: Named for Peter Lassen, rancher and prospector
Humboldt: Named for Alexander Von Humboldt, epic scientist
Glenn: Named for Hugh J. Glenn, big time wheat farmer
Stanislaus: Named for the baptized name of native chief Estanislao
Marin: Named for the baptized name of Chief Huicmuse – of the sea
Mendocino: Named for Antonio de Mendoza, first ruler of New Spain colony
Solano: Named for the Catholic Father Francisco Solano and the native
chief who was baptized with the same name

A bunch of counties got names of objects; words in Spanish, English, Galician, or native languages:
Santa Cruz: Holy cross
Nevada: Snow capped
Mariposa: Butterfly
El Dorado: Gold
Sacramento: Sacrament or Lord’s Supper
Calaveras: Skull
Plumas: Feathers
Orange: Orange
Monterey: Mountain king
Trinity: The Christian Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Madera: Wood
Imperial: The empire, relating to
Los Angeles: Angels
Ventura: Good luck and fortune
Kings: Kings
Placer: Deposit of precious minerals
Inyo: Place of great spirits
Tulare: Sedge and reeds
Alameda: Public walkway and promenade
Fresno: Ash tree
Merced: Mercy and grace
Amador: Lover
Sutter: Shoe maker or cobbler
Napa: Fairy valley
Yuba: Maidu village named by the Spanish for the abundant grapes ubas

These counties are named for their geography:
Contra Costa: Opposite coast
Lake: Lake
Alpine: Of the high mountains
Riverside: By the river
Del Norte: Of the north
Sierra: Chain of mountains, like a saw
Butte: A hill with a flat top and steep sides off by itself

A few counties are the names of native peoples who inhabit the area:
Modoc: Folks from Northwest California and Southwest Oregon
Shasta: Folks from Northern California by the big tall volcanic mountain
Colusa: Colus is the name of a native tribe living on the west side of the
Sacramento River, of the Wintun peoples
Mono: Native Paiute people who live by Mono to Owen Lake

Lastly, some county names are ultimately mystery and lost to history:
Tehama: Land of shallow rivers, salmon and floods?
Siskiyou: Bob-tailed horse or six stones???
Sonoma: Moon or nose???
Tuolumne: Many stone houses or straight up steep or ???
Yolo: Full of rushes or the name of a chief???

Well got tapped to do a talk out at San Francisco Botanical Garden

they wanted to hear about the ethnobotany of old time peoples before there was a california

a time when there was just a bunch of mountains and deserts and winding rivers through swampy grasslands

what plants did people eat?

how did they get by without metal tools and lighters?

what was their relationship with the land and all them animals?

To be honest, I really dont know much about the subject

so gonna just wing it

hopefully you do better than me –

go on a walkabout on the plateau

come easy off the mesa scooting on rocky slides

do this for a dozen years or more and the earth will come alive and you can talk to her

ask her yourself what it means to be native and grounded

by this time, the plants will all want to chime in also

they a talkative bunch

and you can listen to their sunlit chatter giggles too

just dont get kingfisher and mockingbird started,

otherwise you’ll be there day and night day and night

While you are present and in active observation

take some notes, write a scientific paper for posterity

then twist a basket full of agave rope

and play a billowy tune on the elderberry flute

Wish I could tell you more but like I said

I’m a beginner too

still learning the difference between a tar weed and a gum weed

still making uneven splits of back and forth roots


this is as far as I’ve got, enjoy!

This is the pictorial part of the OH53 Maintenance class ‘tool, equipment and supplies final’ for the spring semester. It is grouped by the topics we covered in class. Please refer to the written exam questions in order to answer with correct responses. Thank you.

Fences & hedges

  1. Two kinds of hedgers:

2. Pruning and hedging hand tools:

3. Polypropylene line and posts

Grasses & turf care

4. Sean and power tool

5. Ulu-like hand tool:

6. Turf and sidewalk

7. Lawn care tool

8. Half mowed lawn

9. Mower blades

10. Weeding tool

11. Cutting implement under the mower

12. Tools to collect grass clippings

Two versus four cycle

13. Symbol next to broken fuel cap

14. 2 cycle oil and gas cans

15. An orange switch and some symbols

16. A fuel cap with a symbol and letters on it

17. A fuel cap with letters on it


18. Three kinds of hand tools for digging


19. A rectangular and a round plastic container

20. A large plastic rectangular bucket

21. A green plastic can with a spout

Unions, connections, and intersections

22. The round white piece inside one end of the hose

23. The connection between plastic parts

24. A hose bib with multiple connections

25. Where the pressure treated lumber meets the concrete

26. The black membrane/cloth between the soil and the pressure treated lumber

27. Between the concrete pavers on top and the soil underneath

Valves & irrigation

28. The two white PVC pipes underneath the remote control valve

29. The brass piece threaded onto the hose bib

30. The valve inside an irrigation box

31. The round knob with a green circle on the left, the round knob with xxxx markings on the right

32. The pipe and the hose bib

33. The plastic pipe connected to the hose bib

34. Remote control valves in a series

35. Hose bib

37. The connection between the wires

37. The connection between the hose and the quick coupler

38. A Hunter I-20 sprinkler

39. Some valves in a cage

40. A metal T shaped tool and a box that says SFPUC

41. Different styles of valves

42. Two irrigation boxes

43. The white bucket at the upper left corner mounted on the electric power pole

44. A broke piece of plastic inside a brass hose bib

45. The brass pieces between the hose bib and the hose

46. A meter to measure PSI

47. A white plastic PVC fitting

Mammal and bird pests

48. A green trap made of metal

49. Metal mesh wire on the ground

50. Metal mesh wire on a lawn slope

51. Rat and mouse poison

52. Rat trap

Herbicides & fungicides

53. Round plastic container with tubing

54. Trinater herbicide

55. Weedrot herbicide

56. Axxe herbicide

57. Crabgrass and broadleaf weed killer

58. Sarai the working supervisor doing weed control

Rhododendrons and camellias

59. Two kinds of loppers


60. P265/70R16

61. DOT M3JC KC9X 4614


62. Rectangular metal pieces stuck in the top of the hardwood handle of the ball peen hammer

63. Using a straight piece of metal to twist a metal post into the soil

64. Two kinds of handles

65. A hunk of steel bolted to the metal table

Planting & selection

66. Sideview of two metal hand tools

67. Trees with plastic collars wrapped with fabric and rope

68. Three kinds of shovels

69. Putting in a new copper water pipe next to a tree

Ladders & pole tools

70. Two kinds of ladders

71. Pole pruners with poles made of two different kinds of material

72. Battery of an electric pole saw

73. An electric pole saw (chainsaw on a stick)

Safety & injury

74. Poo, bentonite clay, albuterol, tangle foot, daddi long leg bird be gone bird deterrent

75. Epinephrine, hypodermic needle, poisonous and injurious plants, stinging insects, dust, pollen, rodent feces

76. Epi pen

77. Map of San Francisco, personal protective equipment, mink oil

78. T shaped metal tool

79. Students’ favorite tool

This is a visual snap shot of our field trip to see Filoli Garden in Woodside, California. Thank you to Kate Nowell, Horticulture Production Manager, for hosting us. Thank you to Jim Salyards, Director of Horticulture, for welcoming us, and also thank you to all the field horticulture staff who shared their knowledge of the gardens with us.

Filoli is a historic estate garden that is now a public garden managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There are many distinct gardens and styles within. If you were to classify it, you could call it something like European formal meets oak woodlands, weathered in the California-casual rancho grassland heat.

Geometry and symmetry are primary in a formal garden. You want to acknowledge that the universe is ordered and structured and as such, the garden and its shapes are a reflection of this.

An important element in this world built with squares, rectangles and crosses are the axis of view lines that stretch straight across the entire garden. You want to be in a high place, survey and see the distant edge of your territories. As if you were the sun that traversed the sky.

From one garden room to the next, there is the transition that is a portal to the next mystery. The gates, the arches, the vines and steps all serve to ornament and shroud the junction. The doorways and walls bridge distinct and disparate spaces into a whole.

The lines and colors are simple and minimal. Clean, not fuzzy. This is exemplified in flat expanses of mowed green lawn coupled with well-trimmed upright point-to-the-sky yew trees, framed with horizontal hedges laser cut in their perfection.

The borders are accentuated and patterned. The edges divide the walking path from the beds; the low fences separate the humans from the plants. Again, there is the emphasis on where different elements meet and come together.

Inside the boxwood frames, roses and annual colors are featured at Filoli. Their care and maintenance encompass ground preparation, planting, weeding, pruning, and pest control. Plus, there is the switching out of blooms for spring summer and fall as hyacinth leaves fade to yellow and tulip petals drop and start to form fruits.

The formal garden of intricately winding hedges comes to us from the elaborate and embellished worlds of sixteen seventeen eighteen century Italy France England and thereabouts. Its as if you are touring a manor or a castle or the palace grounds and all of a sudden you get woven into a renaissance tapestry.

At the center of a formal garden, there is often a water feature. This can be a pond or a fountain. Water is the source of life. No water – no garden, no people.

Age and antiquity are a part of this garden. Truth be told it is hard to find well cared for old plants in California gardens. Filoli has some wonderful old oaks, as well as thick and nicely pruned wisterias that have been trained up the brick walls. Patience, time and commitment is what makes a great garden.

There is a woodland garden that is a respite from the heat. Here you will find the understory plants of ferns and mosses, as well as the larger woody plants that were brought from China Japan and India to Scotland Wales and Ireland at the turn of the 19th century by explorers named George Forrest and Ernest Wilson. The plants are rhododendrons, camellias, maples, and azaleas.

As a nod and hark to the agricultural past, Filoli is not only about formal ornamentals. The staff also do cut flowers, and are working on a vegetable garden. In a sense, we have come full circle. For a while there, the attitude was – ‘Who wants to see a bunch of potatoes and cabbages? I just want a pretty display’. Now, the attitude is – ‘Lets showcase and appreciate all of it!’. This encompasses food crops, as well as lessor known native plants and sometimes forgotten pollinator plants.

A number of perennials are featured, providing plentiful nectar and pollen for the local bumble, solitary, and honey bee. They add diversity and charm to an already over the top garden scene.

A nice mediterranean crop is olives, for oil and for fruit. These trees are hard pruned; and in this process will slowly return to being a production orchard. Sun drenched and well cared for trees will make good fruit, not gangly trees that are shading each other out.

For space consideration, it is useful to make the most of whatever space you got. Hence espaliered fruit trees running along a fence or a wire. This is an old old idea that goes back to the time of pharaohs and Sumerian dynasties. The apples and pears were barely forming on the day of our visit, but that is another reason to come back again in the summer and fall!

Well, thats about all for a quick look. This ain’t nothing compared to actually seeing the garden in person. If you get the chance to visit, GO!!! Pay attention to the work involved, and all of the details in the designs.

Some stats: Sixteen acres of formal gardens, twelve horticulture staff. High maintenance. Most plant production is all done onsite – growing annuals from seeds, potting up and dividing, making floral arrangements, composting, etc. Theres opportunities for summer internships and jobs. Check their website! Get involved!

And in the fenced orchard on the side was this lil fellow, going into a hole. ( It is a gopher snake). Until the next trip!

Hanging out in the duff beneath a yew tree, doing push ups at the edge of the pasture. A garden is bliss.

City College of San Francisco
why I love thee
an ode to a Community College

In the state of California
we got three tiers of ‘higher education’ in the public sector
at the tops is the UC, University of California – four year schools
in the middle is the State University – four year schools
at the bottom is the Community College – two year schools

Academically speaking,
UCs are for the 3.8, 3.9 to 5.0 GPAs kids with a bunch of extras
the State Universities are for students in the A’s and B’s range
and the Community Colleges, well, anybody can go there

I went to two UCs for my undergraduate education
the best part of both of them was their proximity to the ocean
one was close to Black’s Beach
the other was close to Steamers Lane
that is where I got my education
during dawn patrol
and afternoon glass off
in the sea
I took classes in ecology evolution and conservation
but we never did any walkabouts around the neighborhood
or picked up garbage on the beach
or worked in a park or went after poachers
class was a lot of theories, graphs, statistics, and verbose language
things I did not understand, things I still do not understand
I also took some art classes at the UC
again, I have forgotten the content, but remember well
a kind black lady with colorful clothes named Faith Ringgold
and images of wild yam cults and ashanti stools
in a lecture room of three hundred people

For graduate school, I went to a State University
to be exact – San Francisco State University
the best part of the curriculum were the field trips
excursions to the icy-morning mountains, to the shot-up road sign deserts,
overnights to the wet-tent-at-night woodlands, to the sweat-up-your-neck foothills
voyages with professors named Patterson, Hafernik, Desjardin, Parker, and Blair
so vivid were the blooms, and so colorful the fruits! And the animals!!
this is how I fell in love with the flora and fauna
of a valley, of a grassland, of a washed out gully in the sands
I was happy to wander around with classmates, observe and see things as they are

For work, I have taught at a Community College for the past sixteen years
I teach horticulture, which is gardening, landscaping, tree and nursery work
the ambiance is real different from the other two institutions
the students are of a different sort, and the teaching is much more applied
it is not much of a social and hang out recreational place; it is not the ‘college experience’
theres nobody laying around on manicured lawns
theres no ragers at a frat house
theres limited ra-ra-ra at sports stadiums with everyone wearing matching colors
but, it is a place of learning – a place that prepares you for working in the world
it is more to my liking as a person; it fits
I appreciate the diversity of the students, I like their sincerity of being

Now, you might be thinking or saying
‘community college is for the dummies that couldn’t get into…’ or
‘community college is for a poor kid that can’t afford…’ or
‘community college is just a stepping stone so that you can transfer to a…’
well…maybe you are correct

From my view, the students are a lot smarter, and wiser
at the community college
maybe not always test taking smart or sit still smart
the kinda young person know-everything-whipper-snapper-smart
caume laud this or honor that smart
but the students are hand smart, experience smart, tactile skills smart
smart in the ways of the world smart
wise in the ways of good and evil wise
this is so, because there are all kinds of different people
who attend our community college
so that in the end, you are not gaming for a piece of diploma paper
with a similar cohort of peers
instead, you are actively and closely engaged with people
of varying backgrounds and strengths
in understanding the world and finding your place in it

Who wants to learn about flowers? And trees? Well,
we got high end well educated professionals like my dentist,
the doctor from the free clinic, and the patent law lawyer
there’s an army scout who knows the weight of an abrams tank,
a twenty year Navy pilot, and the electrical engineer on an aircraft carrier
we got machinists and diesel mechanics who have done time with heavy heavy equipment
as well as folks who’ve spent time in jail cells contemplating, reflecting
and, theres a lil’ bit ragged student who was dreaming while sleeping on the cold sidewalk
there’s bunches of nurses and medics who want to care for a living thing that doesn’t talk back
as well as a two or three master’s degrees therapist who is tired of the droning quality of human self pity and inaction
into the mix, throw in a retired chemist
add an architect discovering nature’s structures, and
stir in some manager supervisors of 10, 20, 100, 1000 subordinates
there is a whole generation of students who have been raised on computers, videos and screens, students who have never acknowledged the three dimensional sentient and conscious creatures on our planet, youth who ignore the blur of greenery all over the land
and, theres a whole lot of students with a bachelors degree and a student loan
students who for four years did not know what they were studying or why they were studying it, and now do not know what to do
to be gainfully employed – maybe you can do something with nature? something that brings joy to your heart? something to cultivate beauty in our society?
… try the horticulture and floristry department!

The rightful place of a Community College is –
at the center of the community, a college for folks young and old
a place that gathers everybody together and improves our day to day world
one seed, one sprout, one or two cotyledons at a time
there not a whole lotta other countries where such a place exists
everywhere else people are enamored with that kind of hierarchy that puts everybody in a slot on a ladder, and you can’t climb up cause you are stuck on your rung
this is America
we want a just and kind society that is a big ol pie
everybody anybody who puts in their best effort can come get a slice of
apple pie, cherry pie, maybe rhubarb pie

The community college is a great idea, a grand experiment,
it is a temple for lifelong learning and a roundhouse of civic in-person interaction
it would be a darn shame
if it were to be snuffed out, gutted, squeezed, and relegated to the chop chop ax by
uncaring people
theres no better place to learn to smilie with all of mother nature’s creation,
there’s no more worthwhile crew of students
than at
City College of San Francisco!!!


I like weeds because they are tough survivors
plus they are job security because I am a gardener
my favorite weed is the himalayan blackberry spread by birds eating the berries and dropping the seeds
blackberry seeds grow into huge thick canes and impassable thickets
tips touch the dirt, grow more roots, and up they go again arching into the sky
to remove them by hand
you need a good pair of gloves and a spade

Find the roots, they look like this
you want to get the whole nugget, not only cut the top
if you just cut the canes, it resprouts and hunkers down for the fight
so dig all around about eight ten inches deep
use the spade like a spear in a cutting motion
watch out for buried pipes and conduits
it is extra difficult when the blackberry root is tangled inside a tree root

When you pull the big root out of the earth it looks something like this

or this
try to get as much of the root as possible
that will slow it down over time
our goal is not total eradication, just management and some control
in localized place

if you tug on the small end of the vine
where a young stem touched down and rooted
the roots may be white and fibrous
these fine branching roots are usually pretty easy to pluck from moist soil
they havent yet grown that obstinate woody hunk of anchorage

if you are lucky and you pull out the whole vine
it is a happy and satisfying feeling
like you battled a small beast and won
bloody cuts on your arms
make sure you soap and clean it later
all the way up the forearms past the elbows

then its time to pack em up
you fold the vine back and forth
same as you would for a 100’ climbing rope or an outdoor extension cord

at the end of the vine I like to use the thin apical stem to tie it together in a neat manner
so bundle it across perpendicular to the bundle
the spines grab itself and holds it all tight for easy transport
you do this for a bit and pretty soon its a whole burlap full of the stuff

thats it!
I weed algerian ivy in the same way
make little packages of weeds

the ivy pulls easier than blackberry
but it is not as fun or as exciting
because ivy does not put up a fight as hard as good ol
Rubus discolor Rubus armeniacus
my favorite weed

Propagation: Native California plants

Well forgot to press the record button on zoom
hence here is an abbreviated version of the lecture
for folks who were not able to be present

In a discussion of native vs nonnatives
exotics naturalized and invasive species
its bound to be rolled up with cultural perspectives and mindsets
the emotional attitudes we have towards nature and boundaries
right and wrong
as well as what is ‘supposed’ to be there
that is – the chasm between our expectations and dreams
and reality

rather than get bogged down in the language or minutiae or dichotomous keys
or struggle with the depression that seems to latch itself onto downward trends
we are just going to move forward and see where this takes us
with regards to the propagation of california native plants

Theres three parts to this lecture
One talks about the growing of plants for restoration
and the jobs therein
Two is about some local native plant nurseries, and the challenges we run into
as we try to cultivate the wild as ornamental garden plants
and this lecture ends with a few shots of good ol time california grass lands ranch lands

The structure of this lecture is a loosey goosey style of story telling
some anecdotes seem to have no point at all
others wrap around at ya when you can see the whole picture
like a golden eagle at 800 feet
scouting for rodents

okay, press start

In the old times working for the city in habitat restoration
we would sometimes work alongside and subcontract with a company called
shelterbelt builders
they did large scale type native plant restorations
bulldozers rerouting streams or channels
pounds and pounds of herbicide
erosion control and hand weeding
followed by the planting of thousands and thousands of native plants
plants that were once common, now not so much
one of the owners his name is Mark Heath
aside from weeding all day long and managing workers to stay on task
he taught the hunters education program for fish and game, now fish and wildlife
at the lake merced rod and gun club
where folks would practice shotgunning clays and meet to chat about the regs
well that club is no more lost the lease
no more lead in the lake
no more hunters ed in san francisco, gotta drive out to richmond or down the peninsula
the number of hunters is going down, so say the charts and numbers and fees collected
its all online now
meat as food
its all an abstraction and a non-thought
or some kinda savage activity they do in an inland empire, not on the coast

Another fellow that was our bird intern at the time was a locally born and raised nature nut
his name is Josiah Clark
as the years built
he too ended up with his own restoration company
doing the wet and dirty and soggy work
of crouching on your knees, cleaning out pots
and wrestling with eight foot brooms with two inch trunks
slashing and grinding weeds out of the earth
havent seen him in a bit
only scrolled through his facebook posts
an eternal photo stream of crab carapaces and salmon scales and kayaks dipping into the sun

The folks I am most familiar with are the city’s restoration crew
where I clocked in and out of hours and seasons
they was once called natural areas program
I liked the name cause the acronym spelled NAP
nothing like ten minutes of shut eye after lunch
and in spanish it was programa de areas naturales
it spelled PAN
that is the weird greek nature goat god patron of shepherds
but they rebranded themselves in recent years to a more proper sounding name
natural resources division now
always change
the division is responsible for all the wild areas throughout town and a little beyond also
spots once too steep or rocky or outa the way to build on
places with names like twin peaks or mt davidson and mclaren park
the goal is
to conserve the natural flora, deal with pest and threats
and navigate the sticky and calamitous world of peoples needs
balancing it with those of nature
really messy business
the dirt of mud holes and sap of pines holds no candle up to
the grime of town hall meetings and internet lobs of spit n manure
yet still, the tenacity and persistence of plants outlasts
all the frustrations and unruliness of human follies
by thousands of years
some of the old timers are still there
tucked in the emergency hospital where dirty harry was taken to back in the day
811 Stanyan by the panhandle of golden gate park
the boss is LB Wayne, some kinda great horned owl of an athenian lady
crew was C Campbell, R Zebell, L DeMeo and friends
hanging with em everyday reminded me of a foray in the hills
with bear, badger and antelope on the trail
scramble up the chert rock, ease down the switchback
between the burlaps tarps edged with poison oak
and the endless seeds drilled into your socks
days flowed like lightning
if you want to work in the division, get in as a gardener through
then slowly snake your way in
with hard work and solid knowledge
about the awns of a purple needle grass or the peduncle on a yellow composite flower

One of my favorite spots was working at twin peaks
for the obvious reasons –
it was really cold, windy and full of steep falling rocks
plus I enjoyed wide expanses of lupine grasslands
if you go to the peak, on the hillside, in the diagonal sediments,
you will find bunch grasses there
a native bunchgrass with rough leaves and a relatively wide blade
nutka reed grass
in nature, it is specific in its ecological preference
north side of the mountain, above 400’ elevation
thats it
so remember that – plants are specific and particular beings
they like what they like
thats it

Another of my favorite places was out in the southeast of san francisco
the neighborhood known as the bayview and hunters pointe
it is the site of old time candlestick stadium
it is the location of the naval shipyard active from about 1940 -1975
it is the launch spot for fishing the bay for leopard sharks and halibuts
with the natural resource division, we would drive the big green ford 350 double cabs out to
indian basin, bayview hill, and herons head parks
to do restoration work in wetlands and amidst a grove of islais cherry trees
weeding and planting
we’d be working down the hill from the housing projects with black and brown folks
we’d be working on the blue green rock outcrops of serpentine
or on the open white sparkling sands of the bay side beaches,
while garbage and RVs with peeling panels swirled in the cul de sac dead end street

There is an organization called california native plant society, they are active throughout the state
they educate people about the native plants, and protect their homes
our local chapter is called yerba buena, named for a little sprawling groundcover of a mint

Anyhow one of their members is named Margo Bors
she is one great observer of nature and photographer too
so one day she is wandering out there in hunters pointe, comes across one then two then more
of a mariposa lily, a shimmering yellow lily with a bulb
a bulb that around here, only grows on that serpentine rock, our state rock
wow that is an amazing find!
there was only one other previous recorded site of this plant in the wild in san francisco
also on serpentine rock
so in a neglected patch of unexplored forgotten urban world
a paved land of almost a million people crushing it
nature is still there doing its thing
plant maybe been there for 200, 300, 1000 years, or more
growing bulbs, making flowers and seeds, dying back in the summer heat into the rocks
just chilling, kinda oblivious to all that is going on all around
the lesson here is that some wild plants have adapted over eons
and can tolerate soils too toxic for other plants
soils lacking in nitrogen, but full of heavy metals like chromium and nickel
some wild plants need and prefer this sort of soil to survive, otherwise its lights out
so unless you can recreate the exact soil conditions in cultivation
you will not succeed
dont even try to compete with time and geology
know that life is ephemeral, and if we run the plant out of town, its gone forever
the oldest living thing at the end of this peninsula –
a short flower four inches tall that comes out to play a couple of months a year
now that you know about it
what do you do? multiple choice question:
a) go instagram it selfie it and stampede it
b) pimp it out as a tourist attraction, make t shirts and hire the local folks as tour guides
c) dig it out of the ground and sell it to the highest bidder
d) pretend you never heard about this, go about your business as usual with the knowledge that somewhere in the world there is still ancient magic and mystery

The last place I describe here is a lump of a rock of a short lil mountain called
san bruno mountain
if you came to the bright lights of the City flying on an airplane
then drove north on highway 101 from the airport with the bay at three o’clock,
you’ve passed right by it
but probably never thought to go up there to look around
i mean, whats there to see? its a dried up nothingness, boring east west range
no majestic trees, no casino, no shows, no bison or elk or big horned sheep
just a ugly hill that would have been better scalped for rock fill
or flattened for high end development
you are probably right

Got involved in san bruno mountain because I was in graduate school studying biology
and there was a small blue butterfly there my advisor sent me to work on
on the summit you can look west to the city of colma
and the acres of cemeteries and the old dump below
meanwhile check the pacific ocean for whitecaps and whales

Or you can look east and north towards visitacion valley and mclaren park
one day I was out there as usual above this place called dead cow ravine
watching the blue butterflies land on the compound leaflets of lupines
there was nobody as far as the eye could see, just grass and flittering wings
all of a sudden the road, guadalupe canyon parkway, filled with hundreds of cars
thousands of people
I walked over and said hey whats going on?
they told me that the geneva towers, section 8 public housing, was gonna get blown up
then there was a kaboom of implosion and a whole lotta hooting and clapping
then everybody left again
and I went back to counting eggs
on the hot dry hillside in solitude

This one part of the mountain
was thick with blues
dense aggregations of butterfly eggs and larvae
it was a low elevation, protected not windy spot
rocky thin soils
full of silver lupine lupinus albifrons, and summer lupine lupinus formosus
it was the best spot on the whole mountain for these butterflies
then came the fencing and the dozers and then it was all gone
there was no memorial or gravestone or remembrance or songs for the dead
just a handful of street signs with names of now gone butterflies
I watched it happen, but did not think much of it
just so used to human progress and changes in the landscape
accustomed to the might of machinery and power of civilization
blue butterflies versus humans
I know what tribe i belong to, and it sure aint
some little bug

Around this same time, it became popular to mitigate for these losses through a practice called
that is to say, if you plowed one area, you could then plant it with native plants in another one
and be done with it
tit for tat, one thing for another
hence, over time, growing native plants for restoration became a ‘thing’

The mission blue butterfly is a funny creature
cause the lupine eating larvae get baby sat and protected by an ant
not just any ol black ant, argentine ant, common hang out in your refrigerator ant
it cooperates with a couple of species of native ants, a couple of species out of the some thirty ant species on san bruno mountain
one is named formica lasioides, another is named prenolepis imparis
that is the general problem with all these endangered species
they have a bunch of specific connections and specialized niches and narrow ways of living
you start cutting this connection, then sever that one

push em and push em till they are at the edge of holding on
then real quick they are all gone
and its hard to bridge those connections back again, because they are dependent on one another
they are not a field of hybrid corn
more like a basket or tapestry made of materials you cannot buy on amazoncom
thats the rub

Lupines have a legume fruit
and that banner wings keel sorta look to its flowers, like a pea or a bean
they are nitrogen fixers,
and their tender young seedling leaves are much sought after by nursery slugs and snails
to germinate well, they need some help with that hard seed coat
in nature, they like those thin hard rocky drained soils where not many other plants can survive
say a fresh road cut, or a gouged quarry, or the side of a hot sunny ridge with some grasses
in nature, they got long long long roots that go deep deep deep into the rocks
in nature, they can be long lived if living in these demanding circumstances
hunker down, be quiet, you the boss
in cultivation, with that nice rich soft loamy soil and people handling them all the time
they grow fast, burst then die – short lived
‘this is not my place, not used to this. let me get done and explode my seeds outa here!’

As the years passed, I ended up surveying for these butterflies all over
both north and south of san bruno mountain
in other places they were spotty and low in distribution and population
the lupines and the insects both enjoy those low hills that used to be grasslands
the grassland valleys of the mission district
the district that was yelamu ohlone, spanish, polish, irish then latino and hipster tech
change, always change, lulls then more waves

The learning point to understand is that this diversity we witness today was of an ancient form
and a product of a way of life
yes it was managed, but it was not planted and maintained like a garden of today
the plants were wild and took care of themselves
a once in a while fire was nice, but as a whole, they were a community of close knit beings
plucked and persevered from the hardness of life
one out of a thousand or two that survived to adulthood
you dont have to baby them, or maintain them, give them fertilizer
they are tough and adapted to specific places
and when they blink out and die, i doubt if they have regrets or change of hearts or self pity
they come in as they go out
totally in the zone

There are a number of local nurseries that will help you as you cultivate the wild
both within and without
some countries, notably England, has long recognized the horticultural beauty and potential
of california native plants
us, on the whole, have come late to the game
still gushing about the boxwood hedges and topiary, while others had long gone native
One nursery to visit is in the southeast sf, a commercial nursery for native plants: bay natives

Another nursery is somewhere near the eucalyptus forest by UCSF. They grow for both restoration, as well as for the garden. That is a common pattern – expanding your business, widening your audience. Mt sutro native plant nursery.

The federal government, working with local organizations, also has its foot in the game
they fund a number of native plant nurseries all along this pacific coast
growing plants for the sand dunes, for the redwood forests
growing for the coastal scrub of the uplands, and the riparian zones by mountain lake and lobos creek
these are not commercial nurseries that sell plants
they are for restoration only, and gladly take volunteers

As lovers of plants in the garden, there are a few problems to surmount in propagation
one is pests that like sweet juicy underground storage parts like bulbs
rats, gophers, and their kin
so you may have to grow such plants in a screened container or raised bed of stone
or in a buried terra cotta pot
and you wanna remember to make sure they do not receive irrigation in the summertime
keep them dry, keep them from rot
the best garden to go see such plants are at Tilden Botanical Garden in Berkeley
or the wild gardens, so to speak, ring mountain in marin or the lost coast of mendocino

Another cool plant that seems to flunk out in cultivation is the tree poppy dendromecon
its something about the soil
what dendromecon likes is hard and clay and crap
hot and dry on the top of a ridge
close to the soaring condors like at pinnacles park
they do not want that peaty barky perlite potting soil from 4 cubic foot bags, fluffy, airy

So the difficulty in cultivation can be pests, or soils, or temperatures and the need for cold
we have collected seed and tried to grow this awesome dogwood from the sierran mountains
cornus nuttallii, the pacific dogwood
with little success, here on the bay area coast
it is simply too mild here, and the plant suffers and dies
it misses its mountain home and snow, maybe it even misses its buddies the incense cedar and ponderosa pine and sugar pine and the manzanita scat of bears
no luck, maybe you can give it a go and try
let us know how it goes

Some native plants take well to cultivation
and with the wild meadow of grasses look that is in fashion still
grasses take center stage
with their billowing inflorescences
and steady vegetative presence
you can find a number of such species
down at our local wholesale nursery at the foot of san bruno mountain – pacific nursery

When I got to san francisco
went to work weeding at the botanical garden
in cape province south africa with the nerines
and also out back in the nature trail with the cattails and red legged frog
on the slope there next to white sage was a plant of wooly blue curls
trichostemma lanatum from southern california
this is one beautiful plant!
thing is, again, it does not last long, and fades in the garden
then somebody, a breeder down at suncrest, hybridized it with a mexican species
its progeny settled down, and took a liking to being
it grows happily next to the oregano and wisteria, keeps blooming, stays alive
and suncrest got to name the culitvar, trade mark it, and make a a lil profit
to funnel back into more experiments, crossing this with that, seeing what comes up
that is the patient and time consuming process of plant breeding

Hopefully this gets you excited and down the obsidian strewn path of native plant propagation
must read is from this Dara Emery, where he chronicles seed treatments

Another nice book is this one by Marjorie Schmidt – ‘growing california native plants’. Theres tons of other great books out there by folks like Bart O’Brien, Glenn Keator, and Judith Larner Lowry. All knowledgeable people writing from a botanical and field perspective.

Once you are on this track
its likely that you will be doing a lot of walkabouts in the countryside
seeing how plants grow in their native community and intact habitats
maybe even collecting seed and bringing unheard of wild plants into cultivation
to be successful, you will need guides
our go to person is Willis Linn Jepson and his Jepson Manual: vascular plants of california
a two three inch tome with bout 6,000 native plant species therein
you got a lifetime to learn em

then, as you are hiking next to red angus calves and staring at the lowly plants below
you may see erodium the little cousin of garden geraniums
you may see clovers the nitrogen fixing fodder
and amidst these plants brought by the newcomers you may see an old time cali native –
the little fringed red maid aka Calandrinia ciliata, still blooming its little head off as they say
you may think back to the street islands in SF, planted with that pretty succulent from chile
Calandrinia spectabilis is it? thats its name, yup, rock purslane

they are both calandrinias
they both have five bright petals, two cute short sepals
and you are like, well one is a perennial, another is an annual
one is a succulent, the other is not
one is from north america, the other from south america
but they are relatives, kin at some point in evolutionary history
and maybe, if you take the pollen from one, and brush it on the other
something might happen
or maybe nothing happens, probably nothing happens…
they are too different, but
who knows?!
until you try it and do it
nobody knows!
this is the challenge of propagation
taking a step off into the unknown
g luck!