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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!

A different style of teaching and learning

Traditionally in horticulture classes
we emphasize three ways of learning:
one is to listen to the teacher and read the assigned materials
two is to chat with your classmates, share and learn from one another
and three is to observe and work with the plants
all three are important if you are going to become a plant person

In old-time learning
we followed a structure that would help you get through life in a nice way
the main lessons were:
one – show up, be present, be accountable, be on time, help clean up at the end
two – do the work – mental or physical – this is on you as an individual person
three – work well together with others
respect yourself, respect others, respect mother nature
work safe, be strong and healthy
that is what it comes down to

These days, we are learning through the computer
this has been coming down the pipes for a long time now
administrations, managers, bosses, governments
all are going online, switching over to all tech, flipping the switch on all electronic digital
this has resulted in
a change in the lifestyle of education, coupled with changes in society
and our interactions with one another
this is what I have learned so far with regards to
adapting to technology as a school teacher
and watching students’ learning processes

Well youtube is great, you can learn any number of things from watching people’s videos
you may miss details due to the camera work,
and sometimes you need prior knowledge to understand what is going on
on occasion, it goes by too fast –
when you try to back it up or pause it, still no comprende amigo
nevertheless, the good graphics and visuals explain things well,
and it’s all right there at your fingertips
super entertaining, easy to access
amazing stuff!

Heard some teachers now they just show videos all day in class
why not? the folks in the boxes know way more than me, kids are used to the screen
kids like the screen, stay calm with the screen, been pavlovved with the screen since birth
I’ll just click my mouse, play video games on my phone, while they watch videos
later, I’ll take the role and do the grades, easy paycheck

Some folks say there is a plan to get rid of the teachers all together
whether at the college level or the high school level
I guess I do see a bit of that trend
why not? if the grading of tests is automatic,
if the curriculum is all written out and standardized,
really, who needs a teacher?!
pay the fee, do the online work on my own time, then
give me the diploma already!
give me my license!
give me my permit!
That has been the way of driving school
of hunter education
of the arborist exam
of qualified applicator license
and so on
no teacher necessary in the process
technicians yes, teachers nope
the train is on the tracks
so you better figure out the route to success, and get on the road!
cheaper, faster, and more convenient schooling
do it whenever you want to, no set hours to attend
works for me!

For the past year and a half, we have been doing this style of teaching called zoom
every student shows up as a box
the communication lags cause only one person speaks at a time
not everyones got high-speed internet, not everyone wants to show their face
the fact is, most people don’t want to show their faces
maybe for privacy reasons
maybe cause they are doing something else, not paying attention
not there in class 100%, I have no idea
so you are talking to a bunch of dark boxes with a name
you are not sure they are really there, not sure they can participate in the conversation
still, I do the lecture like always, record it so anybody can watch me later, at their leisure

I am missing a lot of information in this style of teaching
in class, I would be able to notice the
empty glances, under-the-lip remarks, a knitted brow
I’d try to respond, maybe present the material in an alternate fashion
give another relevant example
a hand would be raised; somebody would tell a funny distracting joke
another person would ask a tangent of a question about a related plant issue
there would be a nice natural flow and rhythm to the class
zoom way –
I get a lot less feedback,
oftentimes, no human interaction, no cues or clues
I feel – nothing
so then I drone on and on in my teacher spiel
flat, really no better than a video
it’s awkward and one sided, sad

If all I was communicating as a teacher was information
this would be fine, but I’d like to think that we are imparting more than that
more than just the facts
what might that be?

what I value about an education
is that it gives a broad view of the whole situation
a perspective this is often missing when you start working working
where they tell you what to do
you do it
you get paid
you see a tiny part of the whole, but don’t think, just do
again, it’s easy
It’s alright, work is good,
but when you see the bigger picture
of how plants and nature and people interact and help one another
it gives you an appreciation for the importance of gardens
it helps you to make in-the-field decisions based on common sense and science
and allows you to dream, innovate, and make changes
rather than stay in the same corner pocket hole, drilling
or go around in circles, pacing
yep, you see the light
and the connections that tie us all together
hopefully, an education does that

There is a tendency in the industry
to jump on board with whatever is fashionable
when you are in the thick of it
it’s sell, sell, sell
play up the positives ignore the negatives
in other words ‘lie’ ‘spin’ and ‘cheat’ whatever it takes
then walk away when you have made your buck smiling
always more money to be made
there is not much of a sense of history, or of how nature works, or ‘why are we doing this?’
kind of a blind maniacal leader way of doing things
let somebody else come and clean up the mess, later

Well in horticulture, that cleanup person is the gardener
we are on the ground, in the thick of green leaves and thorny spines
and we notice when things are not going right
cause we are in nature day after day
what is different in horticulture
is that you are dealing with living creatures
that respond to water light air and soil
they will give you feedback about their health
and whether or not you are doing things correctly
that is number three in our learning process
learning from the plants themselves
you cannot learn from plants online, you can only learn from plants in person
you cannot learn from plants right away right now, it takes time to see the changes –
like when a seed germinates and spreads its cotyledons, that is something to see!
or when you cut a large limb, it falls and goes thunk on the ground, accomplishment!
okay, batters up
swings and misses
thats one strike for online instruction!
no plant – human interface

A cool thing happens when you gather a bunch of plant students together
a whole green world opens up
students share their experiments, their difficulties, and their secrets
they try to outdo one another, they compete, they are on a quest
‘who knows the name of that plant?’
‘what family does it belong to?’
‘how many Anthurium species do you have?’
and so on
later, this same spirit of networking and cooperation
enables the building of partnerships between newly licensed contractors and arborists
jump starts a system of referrals and “I know somebody…”
allows specialists and generalists to thrive in the horticulture community

For the most part, the students seem to be motivated by –
okay, not really a scientific word –
seem motivated by love and joy
okay I said it
What this means though in terms of learning is that you see a person unfold their petals
and their flower of the mind blooms
yes that is what happens when you have that camaraderie friendship rooted in the garden
when people are working together towards a common goal
folks become grounded and part of the earth
that is why old time subsistence agriculture led to a fantastic leap in human evolution
people worked together
there is so much work in the garden that needs to be done,
it is only possible with many peoples’ hands
it is not an individualistic endeavor, no way possible,
it needs everybody
so team building, horticulture style, is the act of planting and pruning
no, you don’t get to sit in a mountain acreage,
at a retreat sipping tea, eating healthy vegetarian food, in a circle talking
no, you don’t get to express your gripes or make snide comments and troll people
in some dark web or a hidden room or secret chamber
it is not that kinda team
it’s all out in the open under the sun and the rain
the garden is manual labor and work, pure and simple
people working together
afterward, stuck with sticky sweat, groaning aches, and scraped skins
you are in a garden, you see what you have done, and that is the cheerful reward
online, you don’t have to work together,
online, you are by yourself in a dimly lit room
you can do whatever you want, but you miss out on the whole experience
this is number two, in our learning process
2 out of 3, shut down
the grade is already an F at
minus 66%

Number one on our list:
the brainy mental aspect of
lectures, readings, homework assignments
this part does lend itself well to the online format
the beauty of the internet
is having access to all those scientific papers, county extension reports, amateur videos, countless market goods, etc.
all related to horticulture and plants
super sick, crazy mad cornucopia
sometimes the problem is the overload, the sheer abundance of it all
and the inability to discern truth and fact from made-up stories or outright advertising
that is, in and of itself, a skill that ought to be taught to kids from a young age,
by an impartial teacher

Part of the fun
of this sort of catch-all, international, bright lights flashing, internet approach
is that you find out that the universe is infinite
knowledge is infinite
and you will never reach the end even if you had forty life times
you will never grow all the species of orchids in the world
you will merely skim the surface of the botany of the amazon jungle
there are more cultivars and species of roses to cut and groom than I can count
you can either be frustrated by this
or be humbled
then get back to planting some poppies
digging up more bur clover
and watching the sun set and moon rise

As a teacher forced to go online
I have been making videos, writing blog essays,
and making new appropriate assignments for at home learners
all the curriculum is out there and online
for anyone to peruse, critique, and disseminate
forget about buying those 300 dollar new edition textbooks every year
yippee, no more of that racket
the administration and forces that be
have been pressing an online agenda now for a number of years
covid made the final push and made it a reality

Thus far,
I learned that you have to compress videos to upload them easier to youtube
I learned that when the zoom screen goes black, you have to restart the computer and that it takes about 8 minutes to get back to the virtual classroom
I learned that no matter how many times you click the box that says “Don’t show this again”, the box keeps coming back
I learned that HEIC is not a file format that our online software uploads well
and a whole lot more
I’ve been clicking, clicking, clicking clicking
staring, staring, staring, staring
in many ways its not more efficient, just more tedious and numbing
never thought I would sit in one place for so long as part of work
feels like I got constipation of the brain and glutes just thinking about it

What is neat is the thought that now, anybody could learn this information
using our accumulated knowledge, experience, and notes
its all out there, all free, in the sea of information
what is not so cool is the creepy thought that once we put it all online,
they will say bye bye to the teacher and you will be out of a job
‘I got your curriculum, I got your quizzes and tests, hahahah, heres the exit door’
so it is a leap of faith, a belief in humanity, and basic survival as a college
theres no other way forward at this point,
and this fish (myself) is not a salmon bout to go in the opposite direction upstream
as Joey the Roo says about surfing Ocean Beach on a hectic ten foot day with nobody out in the water
“when in doubt, paddle out”
what choice do we have? Go!!!

The thing that is important, knowledge wise,
with regards to horticulture
is that it is grounded in a specific place,
and in constant interaction with the forces of nature;
it is also in flux with regards to our cultural perceptions of what nature is and ought to be
the garden is not solely conceptual, it is not a bunch of abstract ideas,
it is not an install then walk away, a buy it and return it kinda object
it is real, it cant go anywhere
its going to grow and morph with time
and the gardens are different wherever you go
cause the climate differs, the elevation changes, the weather is moody
and the plants grow different, even if they are clones of one another
its not a cookie cutter, one size fits all, cheapest bid, generic product we are engaged in
its a garden – a happy place of nature communion
that is why local knowledge is of foremost authority
that is why you need people with “boots on the ground” in military speak
that is why you need trained gardeners to take care of the garden

Math, you can go to Poland or China or Germany or wherever
I imagine that math is the same math
English, you might have English with an Indian accent, or an Aussie accent
but y’all still reading Shakespeare or Moby Dick or Angelou or Allende
English is English
in horticulture we teach basic principles and structures
but then you gotta go out to the landscape and verify them, use em, adapt them to fit
to the local surroundings
its just a wee bit different everywhere you go
you gotta
find out what flowers grow well in the western part of town but not so well in the east
figure out what plants favor the sandy soils, what cultivar of apples doesn’t get root rot
you learn stuff like this –
endless pertinent variable sometimes ambiguous information like this –
learn it from a teacher, from being in the field
its not all in books, nor all online…
yeah its really fun, if you like flowers and trees and stuff like that

So as far as the learning process is concerned
if you have access to a computer, with reasonable wifi or high-speed internet
the computer is a good friend, online is nice
we could actually be real productive online,
if we didn’t have to deal with viruses, ads, spam and group emails, software glitches, hacks, bad connections, messed up backs, muscular and joint pains, and other complications of a digitized modern world
it’s like we traded one set of challenges for a whole new array of contorted specialized problems
alright, for the sheer cerebral aspect of learning, I give online systems an A
out of three ways of learning, one out of three works good, the other two work not so well
for horticulture,
in the end, my grade is closer to an F than an A
would like to improve
sorry students

As for character building, human civility, and respect for the community
there were also three criteria
for the first – general accountability of students
online learning gets a a half way mark
take a screen shot of zoom session
end of discussion
compared that to a buzzing herd or flock of students in the classroom
no comparison
the energy, the feeling, the excitement
yes some students are on time, present for the whole session, active participants
but most of them, you are not sure what is happening
you hope for the best
outcome: 50%

For the second – doing the work itself independently
online learning scores in the mid range again
if you do the quizzes, the homework, the field trip reports
upload them, this is good
if you did the quizzes, the homework, the field trip reports
but never used your pruners or your loppers or hand saw
or fixed an irrigation leak
then your understanding is all theoretical and basically worthless
because nobody is going to pay you to answer true-false questions in the garden
they are paying you to do the work
that is why, this sections scores a regal

For the last, number three, working with others
online learning earns a zip nada
some skills you have to learn in person –
how to maneuver around diverse peoples
how to ask for tools or help politely
how to say sorry or thank you or let’s go
how to make plant friends
its the human interaction, that over time,
rubs off the rough edges and makes you more well rounded
plus it brings a smile to your face
being together turns the sometimes ho hum repetitive boring work of the garden
into a joyful task
so nothing for round three, zero
in total overall, given equal weight to all sections
taking into account techno fear, techno illiteracy, techno overload
I scored around 33 out of 100%
Still failing
grrrr….. doesn’t feel good

Like I said,
this has been slowly gurgling down the pipes for a while now
the diminishing of plant education throughout our range
and the move from analog to the digital age
there is a general lack of understanding stemming from the higher-ups,
for what is required to become a practiced horticulturist
the gardener has increasingly become viewed and used as an
unskilled laborer
an outdoor cleaner for the outdoor living room; an outdoor custodian
and a come and go, disposable, hire-off-the-street phenomenon
nearby down the peninsula, the College of San Mateo horticulture program shut down about ten years back or so
across the bay at Diablo Valley Community College, a big part of their funding is their own plant sales and hard work, barely holding onto survival
we (CCSF) are one of the last such places that still teaches plant identification, horticultural machines, and how to sow seeds, for miles around
and we have had numerous close-call near shutdowns for the last decade or so

Thinking about this…
if you have an app and a phone that identifies everything by name, why do you need plant ID?
if you can buy a new machine for cheap off so and so online website every time one breaks down, why learn how to fix ’em?
and why sow seeds for the future, when the future is far away and filled with uncertainty?
when the future is one that is forecasted as being one of
planetary ecological doom and annihilation,
climate burning up with global hellfire,
people being robot-like slaves mentally chained by a corrupt elite,
and other such really dreary scenarios
scenarios coming from people who guide culture but don’t know nature
these are the best reason to be opening seed packets,
and lightly tamping fine black seeds into the soil

What use is horticulture in-person in our modern-day world?
if roses are grown in Ecuador greenhouses
plants are mail ordered from Oregon
mow and blow gardeners are from border south
park and recreation bosses are suits and ties from back east
community college administration are corporate managers and not public educators
and you don’t have to know plants for any reason at all
it’s true
you don’t need a homegrown anything,
whether that be a pepper, a tomato, or a sprig of canna and amaryllis
you don’t need
an in-person student versed in the language of flowers who lives and works here
we are all rootless, ungrounded, non-photosynthetic, un mycorrhizal, top of the chain consumers
we are always hungry and taking, never giving back
this is the end result of a people no longer bound by survival to remember and respect nature
this is the product of reliance on bit, ram, and byte mechanisms of control,
this is why horticulture has been slowly fading into the background of our consciousness and day to day living
its sad,
the hardness and lack of appreciation for natural beauty
the constriction upon the human psyche and imagination
it’s sad

not trying to convince anybody of anything here
just expressing and finding an outlet for thoughts
in teacher fashion
will get ready to close out in multiple choice fashion
there will be five questions
each is worth five seconds of reflection
there is no time limit
you will know your grade when your eyes sparkle like that of a child
here we go:

When I hike in the forest, I want to:
A look up at the sky beyond the canopy of the trees
B find a mushroom
C smell the cedar mixed with pine
D follow the creek upstream
E identify the cone laying on the ground
F focus 100% of my visual attention on my iPad

When I walk in the woods, I want to:
A climb a tree
B say hi to the squirrels
C listen to the crinkle of leaves under my feet
D sniff the dampness of an impending storm
E gather some acorns to plant later
F move my finger left to right repeatedly on a flat plastic surface that is 14.36 cm long by 7.09 cm wide

When I take a walk around town, in my neighborhood, I like to observe the
A architecture and the variety of plants
B the infrastructure and methods of construction for all manners of things
C diversity of people and dogs
D signs of urban wildlife like coyotes, raccoons, and ravens
E species of weeds that survive in the cracks and are host to butterflies
F latest updates that happened on my software operating system that fixed glitches and bugs

If things go bad, and we go into crisis disaster mode, it would be nice to:
A identify what wild plants are edible and what plants are not
B know how to turn off and turn on valves, fix leaks, and have access to clean water
C be able to work together to help each other to survive
D understand rot, decay, decomposition, disease; and how to keep them at bay
E have the knowledge of how to grow food and animals
F charge my phone so that I can keep playing games

When i am on my death bed, passing over into another place, I will remember:
A the goodness and kindness of family and friends
B the beauty and miracle that is this world
C a few happy moments
D some turbulent events that were hard hills to climb
E to brush my teeth and floss before going to sleep
F check my email one more time for new messages and notifications

That’s it. Test is over. Turn the paper over
wait in your seat until the proctor picks up the exam

Was chatting with friends
some on the left, some on the right
politically speaking
its true that education has changed over time
is it getting better or worse?
public education that is
not the private schools that got warm swimming pools, the latest computers, airplane class trips to exotic locations, and a guaranteed pass to elite universities
public schools
I remember the times when there was shop class, metal and wood arts, welding auto shop
a buddy remembers when they used to do the custodial duties and it was acceptable for students to clean the toilets
when it was not a bad, looked-down-upon thing, to engage in basic maintenance activities
another friend reminisces about home economics
and raising and slaughtering your own chickens and sheep at school with a bunch of cohorts
and everyone remembers the erosion of the classes like art or music or foreign language
yeah all those wholesome, cross cultural, body mind spirit engaging classes
bleh, who needs those!?
many classes have gone the way of dinosaurs in a public education
so what are we teaching the youth of today?
education or indoctrination, simplification or complication?
or, on the other hand, what are they learning on their own?
from videos, social media, music lyrics, and each other?
have priorities and basic life processes changed? that much?!

Not sure, that is a broad topic for another day
for now, gonna stick with the plants
and try to hold off the disembodied,
unconnected to anything,
do what you want, anytime you want,
no seasonal cycles,
don’t acknowledge mother earth ,
ideal fantasy show kinda world view
back to the slugs, weeds,
and moss tickling my toes

oink oink

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.