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Greenhouse history

July 27, 2020

Plants evolved in a variety of climates, latitudes, and geographies throughout the world, over time.  In places close to the poles north and south, hours of daylight would vary over the course of a year.  This would range from 24 hours of darkness in the cold of winter to 24 hours of daylight in the summer.  In areas closer to the mid belt the equator, there would be 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of darkness everyday, in all seasons.  Some places get 300-400” of rainfall a year, other places, less than 1”. 

People and cultures likewise evolved around the plants they could gather and cultivate, and the animals they hunted and domesticated.  Back in the olden times, before widespread world wide travel and commerce, you would eat what was available, when it got ripe or when it matured.  Or you would hunt the animals that migrated through with the rains or that congregated around the falling of jungle fruits.  Nature set the pace, and you the human followed it.  Sometimes the seasonal window for this fruit or vegetable was very small – asparagus and tomatoes in the summer, nuts like walnuts or acorns in the fall, and so on.  So people were always alert and on the move.  Also back in the day, in colder climates, before refrigeration, you had to preserve foods in some way so that you wouldn’t starve to death in the winter while you were holed up in your log cabin or mud dung straw house.  Some vegetables like cabbages you could keep in a root cellar underground or make into kraut.  Other foods you might have to dry, salt, and smoke to preserve them and keep them from becoming food for bacteria, fungus, rodents and insects.

The earliest plants folks figured out that if you took care of plants meticulously, you could sometimes extend their season and even plant them a little bit out of their regular comfort zone.  That is to say, if you blocked the wind, lavished attention on the plant babies, maintained the irrigation, warmed them at night with some thick masonry earth thermal mass, and so on, you might coax a fruit or two or more from a warm subtropical tree planted in a cool temperate place.  Or, you might get another two weeks of red red tomatoes on the vines, more grains and less pests on the rice crop.

During the times of naval superpowers and European conquests, plant worlds collided.  Plants from one area of the world were transplanted to other areas with the suitable climates and soils:  sugar cane from southeast Asia made its way to the Caribbean and Americas; tobacco and rubber trees of the Americas sailed back and rooted in Asia Europe and Africa.  Folks were shocked by the tasty tropical pineapple and mango, bewildered by the stinky durian.  People appreciated the easy and efficient carbohydrate production of the potato and the yam.  There was, and continues to be, a wealth of exchange as cuisines and cultures mixed, fused, adapted, and became something new. 

To meet this demand for fresh foods and foods available year round, the planting and growing of crops intensified and developed alongside horticultural knowledge and technological advances in materials and fuels.  Some plants are still best grown in the ground in a suitable place, in a plantation.  For example, chocolate trees grow best within around twenty degrees latitude north and south of the equator.  The same goes for black pepper.  The products are then shipped around the world for further processing or consumption.  Other plants – mostly annual or perennial herbaceous plants that do not reach a large size, plants with a quick generation time from seed to flower or fruit – became suitable candidates for growing  indoors in commercial greenhouses.  Edible plants, ornamental plants, medicinal plants.

People could now follow nature’s lead, but control aspects of light and air, temperature and humidity, water and irrigation, soil composition and fertility, and so on, in order to maximize the yield of plants, and produce flowers, fruits, seeds and foliage in all seasons.  That is to say, thanks to greenhouses, you could now harvest lettuce and kale in the middle of winter in Wyoming, cut a bundle of flowers in a hothouse in December in Canada, or be harvesting eggplants seven eight nine months out of a year rather than one or two months outdoors. 

When you go to the food market, you see the beautiful tomatoes on a vine, little yellow red orange sweet peppers, and cool perfect cucumbers.  By the checkout stand, amazing blooming orchids growing in bark for only $9.99.  At the florist, there are beautiful roses, a dozen for $15.  In the garden nursery, there are huge fat three four year old tulip bulbs and some fine anemone corms in the cardboard bins.  Or, you go to the cannabis apothecary, and smell that skunky big bud aroma in well packaged jars.  Well this is all a recent development in our relationship with plants.  If you appreciate this abundance and diversity, and understand a little bit of how this came to be, you will be acknowledging the wonder of greenhouses and the folks who work in them.








Hardscape in landscaping

is the hard, dead, heavy stuff that you can make a good buck on

during the installation

its the wood deck with a view and a cut out for the oak tree trunk

its the Sonoma field stone retaining wall

20 tons of stone you had to haul through an illegal in law apartment with narrow doors

its the flagstone slabs that came in a crate, but you ordered em too thin

and they kept on snappin one after another during transport, blame the laborers

its the long metal strip of edging border which wiggled and wobbled as you set it in place

its the bags of concrete, poured and screeded, floated and edged

its the yellow grained decomposed granite in the back of your pickup, scratching the paint

hardscape all


Safety is foremost

in selection and in construction

say you design your client a flagstone patio

the red slightly uneven flagstone that reminds you of Arizona and javelinas and road runners

the client lives in the western part of San Francisco, in the Sunset district

all good

the patio gets installed in spring when the weather is nice and the winds are strong

come summer, in rolls the fog, nobody goes to the garden

its just too darn cold

algae spores find the nice gritty crevassed contours of the patio and make their home on it

by fall, the patio is a goopy slimy green mess

winter, more of the same

dad is slipping and falling

grandma is scared to go out there

client not happy, “You didn’t tell me that this would happen!”

you like, “All you gotta do is scrub it hard with a light bleach solution…”

client – “But what will happen to the thyme we planted in between the stones?” , “I thought you said this was going to be low maintenance?”, so on and so forth

so ponder function and use, climate and weather, choice of hardscape

before you make a design decision, before you order the 3 cubic yards of drain rock


Or in another instance, its the safety of the workers

you might consider

its one thing to pick out a nice boulder in the rock yard

the 15 ton granite one in the back that transports you straight to the rainbow falls of the sierras

its quite another to move and place that chunk of rock

into the 40’ x 25’ backyard garden, with no side gate or garage access

somebody is gonna get hurt

unless you budget for a crane…


Permeability and drainage is one more issue

that is a priority

say you visualize an absolutely beautiful stunning outdoor room

shining with blue slate tiles cut sharp and crisp on the ground

underneath the slate, a slab of concrete on which is sits, mortared in place

so when the rains come, this surface does not let any water down into the earth

it is impermeable

so when the water hits it, gathers volume and force, where does it go?

hopefully there is a drain, hopefully it slopes away from the house

if not, uh oh, problems

say bye bye to the elegant Persian hand woven rug soaked to the core

say adios to the bamboo floors warping and jackknifing

these are

problems that could be solved if you understand the forces of mother nature

problems that could be avoided if you sit outside in the winter rains and observed

problems that you create because you design in a vacuum of a screen

not in the ecology of the outdoors and the persistence of time

problems of poor planning and bad design


Rot is a conundrum

because wood is yummy food

not for us, but for a number of other creatures

especially when it gets wet

so if you go cheap and be like – oh just gimme the pine boards or bargain basement doug fir

or if your design is such that mud and soil gather atop your wooden bench day in day out

and the water works its way down the fibers throughout the 2 x 6

how long will the structure last? 

when will the wood become nothing but shredded white fibers and crumblin’ brown blocks?


Along this same line of questioning:

There is a chemical treatment, pressure treatment that renders the wood less amenable to attack by fungi

the orangey green weighted wood with the staple marks called PT

packed with copper compounds, basically fungus poisons

then you are designing a nice vegetable garden with raised beds

a bed that you will fill with organic, compost-fed kale bush beans and cauliflower

do you use PT lumber for the raised bed?  why or why not?



is endless decisions like these

you can ask the folks in the lumber yard, the kind people behind the counter of the stone yard

for advice and assistance

they understand quantities and volumes and weights and coverage

you can talk to the contractors who put stuff like this in all the time

how do you rat proof and skunk proof the low area under the deck?

is clear heart redwood worth the cost?  is it even available? in what sizes?

do you work with ipe ironwood?  why or why not?

I got pesky neighbors and I want privacy.  how tall can I build that fence?

what do you know about bamboo?


Most importantly, it is the field gardeners who have the first hand knowledge

of watching a garden grow and change over time

thats the test and the outcome

remember that this creation this masterpiece this work of art

is not a machine with a one year warranty, tucked indoors away from the elements

nor is it an unbreakable hunk o plastic with a lifetime guarantee

it is a garden you are designing and building

a place with constant weather, insistent pests, and a whole lotta dynamic action all the time


Gardeners can best tell you how water and irrigation and algae interact with the hardscape

they can describe in detail –

how people get tripped up by a slight unintentional grade change

or how people become deterred by the aberrant flow of a pathway

gardeners know what designs don’t work

they know that the designer never shoveled a bucket of sand

they know that the architect never mixed up a batch of mortar

gardens that are the result of careless ignorance or mindful disobedience of nature’s workings

gardens where they cut corners and treat labor poorly

gardens where a skilled craftsperson or a knowledgeable horticulturist is nothing more than a slave or a serf or an indentured servant

“slap it together, get in n get out”

“do what I tell you to do or else…”

gardens where the selection of hardscape, and its placement, are inappropriate


So after a while, you begin to figure out what designs do work

cause the hardscape is strong and firm and holds up fine

cause it does what it is supposed to do

it entertains the family and friends

without causing hurt or harm

it provides a sense of order and structure and direction in the yard

and reminds you of the rocky hills and creek bottom drainages of comforting woods

it takes you to a happy place

year after year after year


This takes a little maintenance, of course

broom the leaves off the deck

clean the paths

weed around the stepping stones

pressure wash the tiles

and so on

Hardscape – lotta work at the outset, but so fulfilling in the long term

if it is done right, it ages gracefully into somewhat permanent magic

Compost and recycling in the garden

Everything goes in a circle

whether you like it or not

whether you acknowledge it or not

whether it is right or wrong or correct or left or front and center


In general

old timers do not like to waste stuff

stuff like food or building materials

because food was precious and scarce and took a lot of work to hunt or grow

because cutting a tree down, hauling it, milling it and drying it into lumber took weeks and months

because every little nail had to be hammered and forged

so then old timers became thrifty, economical, or saving, what have ya wanna call it

if you have tried to grow just one tomato and eat it, you know what I am talking about

its not easy, none of it was easy

everyday survival


These days

thanks to the industrial revolution, global trade, cheap labor, container ships, and so on

there is an abundance of stuff

some good stuff that lasts, lotta stuff so cheap it doesn’t matter if it lasts or not

when it breaks or crumbles or rots

just go buy another one…

so the leftover junk, flotsam and jetsam, day olds and spoiled

all end up in the dump of human civilization

piles dug deep into the earth

mounds of garbage spread far and wide


In nature, everything is used, nothing is wasted


Road kill possum by the guard rail:

turkey vultures are circling

raven is picking at the head

flies are swooshing down laying eggs, ants are carting off pieces of fur and fat


Tree falls down in the forest:

a crack and a thump

fungus is tearing it apart

beetles and termites are having a picnic

bacteria is scrambling for bits


Oil rig scaffold left in the ocean:

becomes a place to live

for creatures like barnacle mussel limpet and algae

drifting migrating spores and larvae find their way onto the steel

settle down, make their homes, and there they dwell

happily ever after


In nature, everything erodes, everything decays

nothing is ever lasting and permanent

she loves to take things apart


Headlands on the northern coast:

arches crags and thirty thousand ton boulders

so rock steady and firm, seemingly immutable


let the heat bake em

let the waves batter them incessantly

let the sands scratch and scuff, pepper and graze

and the crust underneath shifts and rolls, twists and subsides

and the formations change

within ten years, within twenty years, within the span of a human life span

you go back for a visit and you are like – what?! 

I don’t remember it like this?! 

this used to be….

well not anymore…


Monuments and buildings:

the pride of Mesopotamia

the glory of Rome

the greatest architecture of all millennium

million dollar mansions


revolution or downfall or lack of upkeep and maintenance

war and disease followed by pestilence

then it is abandoned, given up, forgotten

doesn’t take long

for spider, mouse, and cockroach to set up shop

for white rot and brown rot, tropical highs and riverine floods to work together

for screws to come loose, for rebar to rust throughout, for cables to untie, for a leak to spring

for a skeleton of a frame to meld, melt, and congeal back into the earth


Old chevy by the seashore:

salt wind and sand blasting it

iron burning in the air and wetness soaking thru

in a hundred years, what’s left?

maybe some rubber, some plastic, some foam

who remembers what model it was? 

why somebody left it at the beach?

where did the memories go?  all gone


In nature, everything comes around again


Who would have thought

that dead plants submerged

with heat and pressure and time

would end up as oil

and fuel our society and culture

maybe in twenty million years

all that plastic will be deposits

of oil again

until then – there it floats, drifts with the wind, goes up to the sky in low pressures

comes down with the hurricanes and monsoon rains


Who would have imagined

that mercury used to capture gold bits

back in the 1850 gold rush days

would flow downstream from the mountains

and still be in the sediment of the bay today

with the mud and the crabs and the tangled fish nets

how is it possible

that mercury would be filtered, sucked up, and become a part of

shrimp and sea anemone and clam

then taken in by sturgeon shark ray and people too

pooped out, then returned to the earth and sea

going around and around, in and out, in and out


Who can fathom

this endless cycle

of sunrises and sunsets

full moons and new moons

high water marks and low tide pools

going in circles orbits rotations

pretty amazing

all around


Ideally, in the garden, you practice composting, or at least use compost

cause it is great stuff for growing plants!

specifically – for growing domesticated food plants like radishes turnips swiss chard and the like


Compost is the end result of nature breaking down

then mixing with the soil

forming a thick layer of spongy rich growing medium for plants

bits of leaves, peels, seeds, branches, bone, flesh, and so on

in a matrix of fungus bacteria protozoa algae


Compost is the once-alive organic material that has been passed through the bodies and guts of

earthworm millipede pill bug round worm springtail and mite

it is a process that requires the basics of life – water and air, warmth and time

without any of those components, it does not proceed


In the tropical rainforest, matter decomposes quickly

somebody lays a turd, creatures are on it

cause one animal’s turd is another animal’s food

in the cold tundra where it does not rain

it takes a long long time for anything to break down

it just ain’t happening

you can leave a banana peel in the arctic

figure it’ll decompose in no time

but nope, it just sits there, and sits there, and sits there some more…

frozen most of the time

wondering when some bug or mushroom threads are coming to tear it apart

to release the potassium and magnesium and manganese

it had stored in its lifetime


So when we make compost

we are mimicking nature, and speeding up the process by which raw materials

become a useful agricultural or horticultural or natural product

Try to grow a carrot in rocky hard soil

what do the roots do?  do they grow well?

then, grow a carrot in loose cultivated material full of compost

what then, is the shape of the root?

aha!  compost!!!

alright then, let’s get to work

make some piles of fish skins, moldy cheese, rotting limes

add a truck full of brown oak leaves and chipped up elm branches

and a few wheel barrows of lawn clippings

if you’re lucky, bonus for some pond weeds or rinsed off kelp from the seashore

wet it down, turn it time to time to give it some air

give the feeding organisms some good ol’ oxygen to breathe

then like all things, be patient and wait for nature to do her thing

pretty simple, very useful


Like any  fisherman or rancher or farmer or gardener will tell ya

mother nature does not waste

mother nature always wins

mother nature is a loop

old timers be like

what goes around, comes around…

that is how it is

that is how it always will be…

Humans and small internal combustion engines

Both do work and need fuel and maintenance over time

we will compare and contrast similar moving parts and functions


Small engines have an air filter made of wire screens or foam or cloth

it filters the dust and particle bits that would otherwise clog your engine

Humans got an air filter its called nose hairs and mucus

they catch the gunky stuff that would otherwise clog your respiratory system


Small engines have a fuel filter

it cleans the fuel so that the fuel burns cleanly

and stores the yuck yuck that would gunk up your machinery

humans have two filters

one filters the blood and makes piss, that one is called the kidney filter

the other also filters the blood of poisons and hazards, it is called a liver


Small engines use fuel to perform work

in some engines, fuel is pure unleaded gasoline ( a four cycle engine)

in others, it is pure unleaded mixed with some oil ( a two cycle engine)

gasoline is millions years old fossilized plants crud

black crude oil heated and refined into the stuff we pump at the gas station

humans eat plant foods for fuel

or we eat the animals that ate the plants for fuel

we use the glucose from rice, wheat, oats, sugars, and beer

we also use the glucose broken down from fats

for fuel


Small engines have pistons that go up and down

pistons driven by the combustion explosion of fuel and air

this up down energy can be converted into going around and around energy

with a crankshaft and a sprocket

this makes the chain on the chainsaw go around and around

or makes the cutting blade on the mower go in circles

humans pump their legs up and down running or walking

their shoulders rotate forwards and backwards as they swim and row and throw balls

the mechanisms are muscles joints, tendons and ligaments

as fuel is burned inside the cells


Small engines have a spark plug which causes a tiny explosion

electrical spark that ignites the mixture of the air and fine droplets of fuel


humans need air oxygen and fuel to do work as well

this reaction happens in the process called cellular respiration

in the presence of oxygen

glucose fuel turns into ATP and carbon dioxide

ATP is the energy within all cells

it enables cells to grow and move, take stuff in and take stuff out, and replicate genetic material


Small engines get rid of the unburned spent fuel through the  exhaust valve

Humans get rid of unused food, fluids, and gases – poo and pee and farts – outa holes called the urethra and anus

one is at the end of the bladder, the other is at the end of the rectum


Small engines have a switch called a choke

When it is flipped (the air is then choked), more fuel is drawn in

making a richer fuel mixture when starting the engine

engine cold, hard to start – more fuel

pull that cord!

later, engine warm, no need to choke it no more

sometimes there is a a little rubber bulb thing called a primer

this does the same thing – press it a few times – squirt squirt

more fuel for the start

Humans don’t have any such equivalent

the closest thing is a boost of caffeine in the morning, coffee or tea or yoco

to get a person moving and started on a day’s work

choking yourself in the morning as you get up

does not usually jump start the ATP’s

it would just turn you blue and deprived


Another valve that small engines have is called a throttle

it regulates the amount of air and fuel entering the engine, inside the carburetor

if you give it more throttle, the engine goes vroom vroom

the symbol on the machine goes from turtle to rabbit

vroom vroom

this is kinda like when you blow the bellows on a fire in the forge

give it some more air while smelting iron nugget ores

exposing more of that coke or coal fuel to burn

or blow blow blow on that kindling to start the camp fire

air and fuel

For people to get more air, hence more cellular respiration

you breathe deeper all the way down to the flap of muscle called a diaphragm

either hyperventilate and pack your system with oxygen before a dive

or slow and deep yogi style to slow down your heart rate

regulating the air inside your system


last but not least is the carburetor

a small device that blends the air and fuel mixture for an internal combustion engine

blending and mixing the  air flow

making sure there is the correct amount of fuel – fine and even

to get it all ready for the spark plug to light it up and explode it into work

in humans this is probably the stomach or further down the digestive tract

where food is acidified and churned

where food fuel is broken down into small pieces to be absorbed and used

or stored as energy for later


thats all for now

kinda the same

but very different

good luck working with the

small engines named

blower, string trimmer, chain saw, hedger

mower, rototiller, aerator, stump grinder, chipper and shredder

snow blower,  brush cutter, ditch digger trencher, auger, pressure washer

or perhaps you have gone electric…


well then this is old timey stuff for you

next time, we can chat about volts and amps

chargers and cables

deep cycles and reserve capacities…

We are going to examine a few styles of gardens:  Spanish Moorish, Chinese, wild and native Californian, arid and dry xeriscape, San Francisco eclectic, and a touch of Europe to close.  As we go, consider the climate culture and mythology of the particular region, the function and use, the audience and client, the maintenance and care over time, the plant selection and placement, and the materials.  Okay here we go!

Oh its so hot in the south!  Olive trees dot the hills, thick white walled houses built of mountain boulders clay and mud, lime whitewash, tile roofs. Fennel and giant reed grass on fallow land next to grazing goats on oats.


Ride your donkey out to the farm to work.  Come home on the narrow streets, tether the burro up, go inside for a siesta.  Its so hot.  Old folks be outside in the shade, chatting away, telling jokes, gossiping, watching the kids play in the streets, keepin’ an eye out.

spain 2

The garden, the courtyard, the sanctuary is inside, beyond the arches and tile work.


Wrought iron gates, a table for afternoon snack time, and plants that will tolerate the shade, the heat, the container culture.  Palms, ferns, leafy aroids, and some begonias.  In a sunny spot, pelargoniums.  The garden is a place of beauty, a space of tranquility somewhere between the home and the utilitarian work place.

spain 4

Much influence in the south comes from the African Arabic moors who crossed over the strait of Gibraltar back in the day.  Nine plus miles of sea separates the two continents – Europe and Africa.  In the garden, this means ornate carvings honoring the prophet and Allah, horseshoe arches, water fountains that run down the middle, and an abundance of  roses, fragrant herbs, and fruit trees the likes of pomegranates and figs.  Tiles like these:

spain 5

Patios like this.  Aside from the intricate architecture and formal style of plantings, note that the garden often depicts symbols of power or totems of mythology.  In this case, it is a ring of lions in the castle known as the Alhambra in Granada.

spain 6

Okay.  Leaving the Mediterranean California-like climate of Spain and headed off to the subtropical realm of south China and Taiwan Formosa.  No more dry and hot.  Now for the wet and sticky.  Fogged up glasses and clingy t shirts.

At the Dragon mountain temple, the buildings are colorful and florific.  The carvings – always more carvings and tiled roofs…

china 1

Strolling through the garden, you come across this rock on a pedestal.  A rock on a pedestal?  All craggy and pitted, with ferns and moss crawling all over it?  Yes the Chinese have a very different aesthetic when it comes to their values and sense of harmony in the universe.  Stay off the lawn!


All that walking makes you mighty tired.  Let’s sit down for a bit.  Well, here’s a little nook.  But these seats.  This table.  Fresh soaked from a monsoon rain.  Smooth but so ‘unrefined’.  So simple.  Look like stumps of a tree, like straight outa the quarry with a polish and buff.  As if some rock or mountain spirit still dwelled within.  Hmmm…


The taxi cab driver said “This is a good place, it is full of magic and nature spirit and if you are sincere and good the volcano mountain will grant your wishes and answer your prayers.”  We like “ok”.  Then, at the entrance to the mountain was these. Roots.  Yeah.  Roots.  Not quite the symmetrical archway with neatly trimmed ivy.  No this is a very different style.

china 4

So if that is the wood work, what about the stone work?  Show us some dry stacked retaining walls or stairs.  In the casual but labor intense look.  In granite.  Wobbly, side to side drainage, following the contours of the mountain all the way up without dynamiting the whole thing flat or cutting it only in straight angles.  Built by hand.  Hmmm…


This must be the land of dragons.  On the roof lines, in the curves of the rocks and bends in the trails.  Up there on the big rock, hidden, the statue is Matsu.  The goddess of the sea, protector of fishermen and sailors.  Back in Spain, she is known as the Virgin of Carmen, queen of the seas.  Notice how there is painted and carved writing on the rocks.  It is not looked down upon as graffiti, nor is it seen as somehow sacrilegious to pure and unspoiled pristine nature.  It is one and the same.  There is no conflict.


Before leaving Asia, saw this strange path liner to share with you.  Remember that in design, a demarcation between spaces – between the lawn and the flower bed, or between the orchard and the perennials – is essential both as an aesthetic border, but also to establish that line of maintenance.  So in wet humid zones, it is hard to keep cactus alive outdoors.  The constant moisture leads to rot and death quickly.  In order to showcase them, one must plant them inside of a greenhouse.  Not so much to keep em warm, but to keep them dry.  Here was one such greenhouse with an interesting use of a plant as a path liner in lieu of say redwood bender board or a metal strip tacked into the ground.  After they sprout, outside you go!

china 8

Of late, because of a number of factors, the dry and arid landscape has become more popular.  You go to a fancy neighborhood, and the lawn has been replaced with succulents, cacti, and ginger colored gravels.  The annual show and sale of the Cactus and Succulent Society in Golden Gate Park – once it was a fringe specialist nerd hobby.  Now it is lines out the door jam packed with people all coveting another small poky thing from the deserts of Chile or a webby squat little guy from the high mountains of the Alps.  Many of these plants are ideal for our area.  They are relatively low maintenance and require little irrigation.  Many seem to like the well drained sands of the western parts of San Francisco.  Most would probably like a little bit more sun, a little bit more heat.  But in general, they tolerate the cool summers here.  They are beautiful creatures.

It is important to go and meet plants in different places, on their own terms, so that you can learn to culture and grow them appropriately.  This way you will understand the diversity and specificity of particular groups, and be able to plant them in the right place as a designer.   At Cacti Mundo botanic garden in San Jose del Cabo Baja Mexico is a nice display.  Notice the shade cloth stretched over the top.  Shade?  Cactus?  What?  You mean cactus can be burned by too much sun?!  Yes.  On the other end of the spectrum, some cacti  grow in wet foggy high altitude forests in the crotches of trees!  ?!?!  So match the natural ecology of the plant with the cultivated garden where you want it to grow.  Usually  you cant just ram a style down nature’s throat cause that is what you want.  Figure out the forces you are dealing with.  Then harmonize with her and the garden will sparkle.


Yeah something like this.  This would be a nice centerpiece for a dry garden style landscape…  Well San Francisco, with its fog and wind, is not really the Sonora Desert.  Growth is going to be slow.  Rot and hard calluses will be an issue.  Then the pests that sit in those wet soggy little wounds and feed and feed…


Around here.  A nice lady named Ruth Bancroft really got into it.  There is a garden for this style of landscaping in Walnut Creek close to Berkeley and Richmond and Oakland on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay.  It works!  Go check it out!  Heard that back in the day, establishing the garden in clay soil, drainage and wetness was a problem.  Cacti do not like those wet goopy roots.  So they mounded the soil, added tons of volcanic rock pumice, and made it work.  Established the plantings.  Looks like:


With a garden of fantastic forms and unusual flowers, what kind of hardscape and cultural symbols do you match it with?  Well that is the modern dilemma.  No more lions and dragons and rigid symmetry.  Try some art, ceramics, and a touch of whimsy.


Coming round home again.  Native plants are another ‘style’ or fashion or trend that has hit hard in the last ten or fifteen years or so.  Once relegated to enthusiastic weed warriors and grizzled folks hauling around a tome of Jepson Manual Vascular Plants of California, natives are now used everywhere.  These days, every landscape architect’s plan – full of natives.  So lets go back to the inspiration and the source and see why this style is making a come back.

This here in the mountains is the water source for San Francisco and some of the surrounding cities as well.  In the foreground, bear berry manzanita.


In the garden then, one tries to replicate or imitate or mimic this ‘look’.  This natural and fluid and at ease feel.  My old buddy Luke Hass who took care of Jenny Fleming’s native plant garden in the hills gave us a tour of their epic native plant garden which took decades to grow and mature.  One of the funny things he mentioned was that a favorite part of the garden was a beautiful manzanita growing over the swimming pool out of the rocks.  It had the arching form, peeling magenta brown skin, and branching structure which took your breath away.  And it had not been planted by humans, a little bird probably planted it back in the day and it grew and grew!  Took forty years for it to look good.  Wasn’t even part of the original ‘design’.  So let that be a lesson to all y’all designers with clients who want their garden to look good ‘right now’!  ‘Right away!  I’ll pay top dollar!’  Mosses and lichens take time.  Dense knits of ferns and grasses take time.  A garden takes time.


Start to see the exquisite strangeness of nature, one that is not set in design rules that say ‘no you cant do that.’  Nature says ‘?’  Or she shakes her head and in the clearing of oaks and redwoods this madrone gestures like this:


Or, the oak tree in the mountains forgot to listen to the arborists.  And survived in spite of:


Okay a little off topic.  Back to styles and local color.  San Francisco eclectic is a combination of the myriad of tastes and flavors of the bay area.  In the concourse of Golden Gate Park you have the plane sycamores in a pollarded French kings style, the palm trees reminiscent of southern California or the desert springs of the middle east.  And the new DeYoung Art Museum with its copper clad patina skin and tower into the sky.  Modern?!


How about Shane Eagleton’s wood sculpture, his ‘acupuncture  needle for the earth’?  Set in the children’s garden of the San Francisco Botanical Garden.  Where does this fit in on the spectrum of garden styles?


On 24th Street in the Mission, a little mini park sits.  Thanks to the efforts of the community, Aztec mythology, and landscape architects from the City i.e. Marvin Yee, the park got a make over and a plumed serpent for kids to ride on in their fantastic voyage in the garden.


Tiled mosaics are a great addition to any garden space.  They are durable and vibrant, and spice up that ten foot tall gray concrete wall with some stories and happiness.  Artist extraordinaire Dan Stingle had this to say at a local elementary school:


A  style that has had tremendous and major influence in garden design comes to us from Europe.  It is the formal garden of medieval kings and queens, lords bishops and nobles.  Symmetry, straight and clean lines, attention to detail.  It is  represented minisculey here at the Conservatory Valley in some beds of annuals, well mowed lawn, and a big glass Victorian age greenhouse:


The symbols and underlying mythology and origins are shown here, at the top of City Hall in front of the Civic Center Joseph Alioto Performing Arts Piazza.  Nice caduceus!:



Okay.  Heres the assignment.  Look up 1) Versailles orangerie 2) the Potager garden (kitchen garden) at Villandry, and 3) the gardens at Filoli in Woodside.  Google images and associated texts.  Compare and contrast these formal gardens with another style.  Either a style covered here in this blog, or one in the text.   Maybe the gardens of Mesopotamia or Egypt, or the gardens of the Incas.  Think about the plants used, the hardscapes of stone or wood or ceramics, the overall layout, and the cultural symbols.  Who was the audience?  What was the purpose of the garden?  In addition, discuss the maintenance (high, medium or low) and labor (highly paid professionals, serfs, slaves, etc.).  Lastly, tell me which one you liked better, and why.  About two page essay, typed or handwritten.  Due date announced in class…

Sooner or later in the course of gardening and landscaping, you may be asked to build a retaining wall of natural rocks using something like Sonoma field stone.  The task is pretty daunting at first, moving and positioning those five ten twenty hundred tons of stones that got delivered on a palette in a wire basket.  Once you get into the rhythm and flow of it though, it is a darn right pleasant exercise that takes you straight to the high mountain terraces, ancient island cairns and way markers, neolithic rock mounds, and foundations for a mud straw home.  Here’s a few pictures to help on the way:





















Was dreaming about the chaparral of Monterey County, wedged south of the Salinas River Valley.  Brown blond hills dotted with puffs of green.  These were some of the plants that I saw:









S one

S two

S three

my kid said that there is no god, there is only science

“If there is god, show him to me”


i said – science deals with the material world

it does not deal in human reflection

it does not answer questions of choice and ethics

its perspective of the universe looks out but not in

sees it as an object not as a multi dimensional mirror

it is a useful view, but limited and narrow

in relation to humanity and the mind

consciousness and conscience

and the heart beat of time


do scientists cheat to get their data published, yes

do scientist play connect the dots on paper when the data is actually a shifting sea, yes

do scientists spread disease, even as they are seeking cures and novel fields of inquiry, yes

do scientist destroy natural worlds, even as they create new synthetic ones, yes

are scientists funded by the wealthy or by the poor, yes

are scientists working for the common good or the common evil, yes

are scientists creatures of the lab or animals in the bush, yes

are scientists human, yes


but science is not about people, it is the search for truth

science is the light that destroys the darkness of ignorance

science is consistent and methodical and a foundation of knowledge

that builds upon itself and enables

prosperity and progress, reason and reality


before there was science, people were dumb and stupid

before there was science, people believed in all sorts of invisible things that do not exist

spirits in the clouds and the mountains, malevolent magic and wicked sorcery

is this true?  has science proven these things to be false?  what kind of a test did they run?


before there was science, people were dirty beasts

they lived like eternally hungry, grunting malformed simians

they beat each other on the head with sticks and ate each others young

is this true?  how long ago was that?  what culture are you talking about?


it was science that blew away the fog and mist of fuzzy superstitions

science that freed the shackles of trapped imaginations

science that nailed the concept of divinity on a stick and left it out to dry

then took over as the guiding force of human cultures

science, not god


I have not seen God, in person, nor had a proper conversation with Him

a conversation that is back and forth where you ask a question and get answers, nope

or one of those conversations where you are quite sure he is listening

present, not absent

here, not out to lunch

nope, not even that

but I do know that the origin the split the cockadoodle shabang

was awe lightning and love


how do i know this?

well you can apply the scientific method to the life of a person

examine one who has been drenched in oil

cooked in the coals

parched in the desert

punctured with worm holes

swollen with pus

crippled by rot

shelved in the ice cold corner

and thickened with calluses of the hardest steels

go ahead and dissect that heart


pause, take a good look

observe, find patterns, experiment

analyze and understand

then come to a conclusion

about the existence of soul and spirit

about universal laws

about divine and supernatural forces

find out the answers to

why or how or what is in charge

when or where or who is the boss

(hint:  it is not what you think…)


so kid – I can’t show you something that in essence

has no form no thought no mental splits

a being minuscule and encompassing

an exploded dream of geometric dusts

a clear running stream that floods and falls infinite

but if you join together all the disparate shards of the fragmented mind

suspend the trickle of inanimate garbage spewing from the pipes

take some breaths

and feel for the tiny cave of happy still peace within…

that is God rooted in the mother earth growing a tree that touches the sun and that is you