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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Propagation: Native California plants

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

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

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

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

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

okay, press start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irrigation valves etc

Theres a few lessons all wrapped up together here
Here are the main ideas:

Many things run in a circle or circuit round and round
(reap what you sow, the circle of life, all that blah blah blah)

In a system, things often break at the junction or the connection.
(only as strong as your weakest link)

The more moving parts, the more likely things will break, especially when under pressure or tension, or due to use and fatigue over time.
(Nothing lasts forever, ‘its not the years, honey. its the mileage’)

Circuits and analogies:

Water enters the house at pressure, water leaves through the sewer
pumps and gravity provide the push and drain

blood leaves the heart through the arteries, returns through the veins
the heart and muscles provide the pumps
when you are alive you feed on plants and animals and on bits of minerals and metal
when you die you feed little animals and plants and go back to the earth

in irrigation, theres a circuit between the timer controller and the valve
electricity goes round and round
turn on, turn off, turn on, turn off
timer controller to solenoid to valve and back again in a loop

Lotta different colored wires, but they all finish the circuit together. In this case along the green common wires:

At the junction analogies:

when you turn fifty sixty seventy years old
its knees and hips and shoulder replacements
at the joints
if you are a butcher without a bandsaw
where do you cut?
where the bones meet, cut right through the ligaments
a few tiny cuts, and bend it back
using the bones themselves as leverage
and the point as an anchor to work off of

Where do a lot of accidents happen?
at the intersection or along a straightaway?
where people meet, or where people are off by themselves?
wheres is a fight more likely to happen?
down at the bar or the nightclub, or in the cabin in the woods?
where will you hear the most interesting stories?
where people of all the same gender class height and weight gather
or where there is a mix of experiences and life challenges?

Where do we trouble shoot irrigation problems?
at the valves opening and closing
between fittings and connections
where two wires are twisted together
where the copper meets the brass, or where the brass meets the plastic
at the spot with the rubber washer, the plastic flange, the teflon tape
at the junction

Here, a waterproof silicon filled connector was not used. So over time water snuck up in there and algae and mosses started to grow:

Moving parts analogies:

I have a little fillet knife
a leather covered rapala blade from finland
it is the oldest tool I own, about 36 years old
its still in fine shape, a blade of stainless steel and a hardwood handle
been through the salt and sand and countless fish
still works great, no moving parts
metal is a bit thinner from filing it sharp, but other than that
never had a problem with it

from there we move on to the pruning shears with some nuts and bolts
and on up to chainsaws and mowers
small machines with moving parts
small machines that work well if you take care of them
keep em oiled, keep em sharp

In landscape irrigation:
that gate valve
maybe it crusted over from not being used for fifteen years
metal parts all rusted into one another
That ball valve
maybe it got used too much
kids playing with it, on off on off
maybe there was high pressure in the pipes
100, 120, 150 pounds per square inch of pressure
all that water hammering and stopping and going finally messed up the valve

water carrying lime and iron and bacterial speck sediments full of clogs
rats chewing on wires
wetness and algae seeping into the electrical wire connectors
rain filling up the irrigation box with poor drainage
there is a lot happening in the garden
where it is not dry and clean and pest free
where the sun’s UV lights are beaming during the day, tearing apart atom chains
and that cold wetness chill creeps in at night, making things weak and brittle and rotten

Theres some irrigation boxes that are sitting in soil with poor drainage. Often clay hardpans. This is the result:

its amazing with all that is happening
stuff works as well as it does
until some catastrophic event
that is why you build safeguards and repetition and redundancy into the system
that is why, if you can, keep it simple and elegant
Function is the design

Does it work? Is it working?

There is a thing
called natural contours of the land
it slopes and dips and curves this way and that
around here
with the uplift of tectonic plates
flowing rivers
and up down of the seas
there is not a whole lot of just plain flat land
it goes high low everywhere

in olden times
that bottom spot where the water gathered
would be mostly rushes and sedges, and a sprinkling of horsetails and ferns
on the sides of the hills would be coyote bushes and their friend sticky monkey flower
as you reached the drier well drained ridges
that might turn to grasslands of lupines, and outcrops of sedimentary red rocks

As people settle
they prefer flat usable space to walk on, to place a table on
they want to build a house that is not tilted
a house with a proper foundation
so they move the dirt and rock around
and change the grade from a slope to a level one
the places around town that were too steep or wet to build on, they left them
until the engineers could catch up with 15’ tall rebarred retaining walls
heavy equipment
and pile drivers going deep into the rock
to hold back the dirt that wanted to fall down
dirt that wanted to recline and rest into a relaxed repose

if you build a retaining wall
you cut the soil away, erect a wall, and fill in the pockets behind it
you want to make sure the wall is strong and does not tumble forward
due to the weight of the soil and water
in dry times that soil seems somewhat stable
but when wet it becomes a fairly dynamic weight load
and will collapse that wall in a second
if the wall is not well anchored and sunk deep
if the wall does not have some way to release the pressure building up behind it

another way around the same problem of flat usable space
is to go above ground, not below it
so you pour some concrete footings or piers
attach some wooden posts to em, and go high
this way you do not have to do much excavation
and the water falls in between the deck lumber to the earth below
and keeps going down the hill
while you can sip your morning brew and enjoy your piece of pastry
on the nice level redwood deck

Look around and you will see lots of slopes
and how we have transformed the landscape
to make it fit our lives
plumb and level, flat consistent and regular
horizontal and vertical, not diagonal

To navigate the levels, you still need to get from one to another
the usual method is make stairs or ramps
indoors, architects have a recipe for how big the steps are, and how high each step is
tread is where you place your foot, rise is the height between the steps
2R + T = 26, R is rise, T is tread
so if your tread is 12”, your rise is 7”, and so on, this is about middle ground average fit
if your feet are 14” long, then you want a bigger tread than that
obviously you would not want a tread that is 4”, and a rise that is 11”…
you do not want just the tip of your foot on that step

Also, you want the step rises to be consistent as you walked up or down the stairs
nothing trips up a person more than a step with a rise of 2”, then 4”, then 3”…
its not an obstacle course you are building, just a way to get from one elevation to the next

in the landscape, you do not always have to follow the architect’s indoor recipe
you can have a long sinewy gentle set of stairs, each with a two foot tread, and two inch rise
stairs that wind slowly down to the lakeside
you can have stairs that double as seats, serving as an amphitheater for the performance in the garden below
or you can have a set of stairs like in the japanese garden of golden gate park, with a rise of over 12”, in order that you pay penance and suffer before your reach the top that is a pagoda or a shrine
so the goals, and hence the rules, in the garden are a bit more flexible and variable also
we are not as constrained or rigid or boxy
as far as stairs are concerned

To measure the slope its pretty basic
the rise over the run gives you a number
so for example, sewer pipes in the house, plumbers lay that pipe with a pitch of 1/4” per foot
that way dish water and poop run out the house, and do not sit there
so 1/4” over 12” (one foot) is…
take out the calculator
.0208333333, that is around .o2, that is a 2% slope
you can express the slope as a number, or a fraction, or as a percentage
you can express in in degrees also
say, a forty five degree slope is a rise/run ratio of 1:1, or 100% slope
it dont matter, the numbers and names change but the slope is the same
if you are in town and looking for a steep street
go to 22nd Street between Church and Vicksburg in Noe Valley
that is a slope of .315, or 31.5% slope, looks like a roller coaster

When you are walking on a lawn, what are the grasses you are stepping on? Well if you pull up a piece on the edge it might look something like this. With a white bottom sheath and upper parts of leaf blades and leaf stems.

Being an observant plants person, you want to identify the grass. Take a look to see if the emerging leaves come out folded or in a round roll. You can roll it back and forth between your fingers to figure it out. Like this:

Or like this folded:

Then you want to look closer. Bend that leaf back. Check the veins on the leaf – are they prominent throughout, or is just the middle vein showing? Where the leaf bends back there might be more tiny structures to examine. A little thing called a ligule, or some little ears that hang off of it called auricles. Check out the clear membranous ligule and long clasping auricles on this annual rye grass:

Behind these plant parts is the collar on the back. Sorry dont have any pictures of those here. But they are worthwhile also in narrowing down the name of the grass you are looking at. Sometimes it is the flowers and seeds that will clue you in. The cute lil inflorescences of annual blue grass are hard to miss once you keep an eye out for them. They so short that they flower and fruit and drop seeds before the mower can get to them:

While you are staring at the lawn for sure you will see the green leaves and some dead leaves too. If that builds up you have some thatch to take care of.

Unless you are super manicured and on top of things, the lawn will likely have a bunch of other plants other than grasses growing in it. Heres a sample of them. How many of these do you know? Do you know their medicinal or ornamental uses? Or their scientific names? Or how to make a daisy chain?

And of course before you start mowing better take care of the droppings. If the spinning blades hit em you gonna have a mess:

There is one grass around here that is the super weed. It is called Erharta. As you go around exploring you will for sure see it. In some of the older golf courses they have given up trying to get rid of it. Just try to keep it out of the fairway and in the roughs, mowed:

Here it is again. Grasses, rodents and flies – three creatures that just dominate.

Better get on it. Spring is coming and the grass is growing. Here are a handful of mowers to get the job done:

Back in the day, working down at Civic Center, we would mow the lawns on the plaza, and also around City Hall and the main library. This middle section was once a lawn. And before that, a reflecting pool. Now, it is just decomposed granite:

This is the mower that would be used once a week. Irrigate five days. Let it dry a day. Then mow. Change it up if its been raining, or if big events are happening on the plaza.

Sometimes you would want to dethatch or groom the turf:

And after the demonstration or parade or protest or gathering, it would be wise to alleviate the compaction in the root zone of the grasses and give them some air with an aerator:

At the childrens playground on the plaza, there was kids playing on the artificial turf. It still requires maintenance, just not the mowing and watering variety:

Drifted on down to Golden Gate Park, so that I could show you bent grass. A real peculiar grass that tolerates being mowed real short. It is the grass they use on putting greens, and also on the lawn bowling greens. Mowing height, that is a good topic for discussion:

The pull chord broke on the Snapper mower, gotta fix it. More later…

Hedges & fences

Once you settled down, and had a cow or two and some sheep, then you would draw a line on the earth. This side is mine, that side is yours. This side is private, that side is common. And in the olden times, you’d have to figure a way out so that your cow would not go over to the other side. Cows can be obstinate and free ranging, but not as bad as bison with regards to just pushing things over and going wherever they wanted to go. When you weigh a ton, and number about 30 million, that is what you do…

This is how the idea of a hedge, a hedgerow of intertwined vegetation forming a barrier and boundary came to be. A nice tangle of hardwoods like ash and oak, mingling with the blackberry bramble. Rabbits and songbirds darting in and out all along it. Took a while to grow up into a mature row though. For a whiles in the 1800’s in America, nurseries sold a whole lot of osage orange for this purpose. Awful poky, difficult to work with plant; good for making archery bows though. Tough and flexible wood. Like all things in nature, a hedgerow requires maintenance. Parts may die and have to be replanted. Some sections need cutting back. You would retwine and braid branches back into the hedge to keep it tight and still serve its function.

If you had the time and labor, building a stonewall could serve the same purpose. As could a long line of a ditch and dike. Serve double duty as boundary and irrigation. Fences, thats another good concept. In the winter time, before all the spring chores would pile on thick – that was the time to ‘mend the fences’ with your neighbors. Make sure it was intact and doing its job. Fill in those holes dug by fox and coyote and badger. Take out the rotten parts, rebuild.

In another part of the world, you’d be wise to fence out the lions, and protect your herd of cattle. You might do this with a long row of aloes, perhaps the large robust Aloe arborescens, that lines much of the 19th Avenue median strip in San Francisco. Stick it in the ground, let it grow into a thicket. That way you are not startled at night by the bellows of a heifer. That way you do not wake up being dragged along the dirt, with your head clamped inside of a lion’s jaws.

More recently, the amazon natives have stopped moving around and taken to staying in one place. Now they hold titles and land rights to the territories they have inhabited for thousands of years. To demarcate the land, some have planted rows of spiny palms along the boundary line. Otherwise, how else would you show that some outsiders snuck in and logged your forest? Or poached all of your peccaries? Or eroded your river banks looking for gold? GPS is another useful tool they’ve been using to acknowledge where limits and boundaries lie.

While hedge rows have persisted in some places, in most areas it has been replaced with more and more simple styles of fencing. Fencing that went up easier and took less maintenance than a living thing. Fencing that clearly marked private and public land. A hundred fifty years ago, you could ride your horse from Texas to Wyoming, it being wide open country. Nowadays every inch of soil has been accounted for. Its all owned and taxed and belongs to somebody.

In towns, with people in tight quarters, hedges and fences still serve a function. As a screen for privacy, as a wind block, as an ornamental feature. And us, as gardeners, keep it in check so that the hedge does not totally cover the window, block the view, or look straggly and unkempt. Or, as a landscape contractor, we mix concrete for the posts, and line up all the boards for nailing or screwing. That’s the job.

Some common questions related to hedges are:

What are good hedge plants?
How closely do you plant to make a hedge?
What size plants do you buy? (one gallon, five gallon, fifteen gallon…)
What do you do if part of the hedge dies and the nursery does not have one big enough to replace it?
Can you cut it back to bare wood?
How often can I shear it?
My boxwood’s green leaves are turning red, is that normal?
Can the roots of the hedge invade my foundation?
Is bamboo a good hedge plant?

Some questions that pertain to fences are:

What is a good wood for outdoor fencing?
What kind of screws should I use for pressure treated lumber?
How tall can I make it? What is legal?
What is the spacing between fence posts?
How deep should the fence post holes be dug?
How do I keep deer and skunks and raccoons out of my yard?
and so on…

Knowledge of plants is essential for survival, that is what it comes down to. Plus it is a lot of fun to be outdoors doing walkabouts and working with the animals and plants, rocks and rivers. Here we will share with you a couple of cultures and how they approach plant propagation. It is the text that accompanies an earlier blog entry of photos from last year:

Subsistence slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon:
Back in the day, after marriage, we thought it would be neat to see the amazon jungle for our honeymoon; to visit the grandmother load of plant diversity so to speak. We had been inspired by botanists like Alwyn Gentry working out of Missouri, Richard Schultes from Harvard, and of course the native peoples who safeguard the plants. We made it down to Siecopi territory in Ecuador and met up with some gringoes doing their apprenticeships, folks named Luke Weiss, Jonathon Weisberger, and Luke Hass. Here is a painting I did of the trip later:

Plants grow really well int that steady tropical warmth and light. The Siecopi Secoya peoples practice slash and burn agriculture. That means you chop everything down in a plot, pile it then burn it and ash for fertilizer. Y’all have heard about how rainforest soils are notoriously poor and thin. Well this way you can at least get a year or two production in before you got to move on to another spot. Its not like you can buy in yards of manure or guano down in the jungle. When we were there the generation that is about our age were stoked to have chainsaws to make the work easier. Otherwise you just go at it with a machete, and if it took three days to take down a tree with that wedge cut motion that is what you did. Imagine before metal tools people did just the same but with a stone head and a lashed wooden handle. That is how you get pretty crazy strong working in the forest. In some burned plots folks just tucked seeds into that charred earth. Seeds of plants like the peach palm chonta duro or maybe ungurahui palm used to flavor the chicha drink. Figure if you move around and come back five, ten, fifteen years later there’d be a nice grove to harvest from. Or you could come back and hunt it at night when the pacas come around sniffing for ripe fallen fruits. In other cases the burned plot is planted with cassava, manioc. In the Mexican markets around here manioc is the waxy brown root crop that is called yuca in Spanish. You like – yuca? Like joshua trees? No, that is another plant, spelled with two c’s – yucca.

My wife and I had tragically failed to cross the swollen river in the canoe, one of them local style dugouts with less than one inch from the waterline to the gunwhale. Had a capsize and luckily further downriver swam to the edge of the Agua Rico and got some help. Wife went back in another canoe with the old wise man Cesareo while I traipsed through the trails and got a good glimpse at local agriculture. Came across a plot of manioc tended by the women, looking all uniform and orderly; no weeds. So that is the challenge always when growing food plants, keeping pests at bay and production up. Later on we will talk about disease resistant cultivars, selective breeding for particular traits, and so on. The amazonians solve this dilemma by growing a plant that is poisonous, then leaching and removing the poison as part of the food processing later. This is a good and practical strategy for a place with a multitude of hungry creatures. Come to think of it, California natives did the same with acorns from oak trees. And they burned plots too to cultivate tobacco up by the Klamath River in nor cal.

Another neat concept the Secoya have is regarding the origin of plants. There are many plants there that are intimately tied to the culture but which do not occur in nature. They are so called ancient cultivars that are exclusively grown and propagated by people. The plants do not set seed or grow wild. These plants are always propagated asexually, by cuttings, or division. Caapi vines, snake bite sedge tubers, all come to mind. Of course the Secoya explanation for this is mythical, that these plants come to them as gifts from spirit beings. That is why they only grow in relationship with humans. From a forest management angle, it would be easy, after you harvest some lianas, to stick a few pieces in the ground next to a tree that the vine could climb. This way you are continuously gardening for future generations and ensuring that useful plants are growing all around.

If you want to read or understand more about this culture you can follow up by reading or watching the work of a couple of those apprentices we met. Jonathon wrote a book about his experiences called Rainforest Medicine. And Luke Weiss has been cultivating the bitter morning beverage that is a caffeine rich vine called yoco, and working with the conservation group called Amazon Frontlines to pass on botanical knowledge. A whiles back he did a shaman conference tour in England with his grandfather in law Don Delfin, you can watch the action here: The other Luke, Luke Hass, has been patiently moving huge boulders and melding himself into the leatherwood hills of the east bay. Last time I saw him he was walking alongside some heifers with a drawing notebook and beer in hand.

Settled agriculture in southern Spain:
The forest folks in the amazon traditionally moved around, following game animals and staying mobile. These days of course they are living in more permanent towns, working jobs for the cash economy, and buying goods in a market. Well this sort of gradual settled pattern of life happened all around the world. Once you could secure and store food, then you have the time and leisure to work on any number of other pursuits, from the arts to politics to engineering and so on. In almost every case, it is a balance of carbs and proteins that provides this foundation – rice and soy, corn and beans, potatoes and quinoa, taro and pigs, wheat and chick peas. And always, there are ritual stimulants and depressants involved – tea, coffee, alcohol, yoco, kava, tobacco, khat, coca, cola nut. All plant products.

Propagation wise, to be able to produce plant products year after year, you have to have a consistent supply of water and irrigation. This usually means dams and aqueducts, pumps and wells. In some places this led to the development of water wheels and turbines, terraced paddies, and aquaponic systems like chinampas of the Aztecs.

In southern Spain, small farmers still use the irrigation system that was introduced by the Moors from northern Africa sometime after 711 AD. My nephew Miguel he works as a city water distributor in his small town. An aguador it is called. There are four distributors total. Their job is to go to all the different farms and sell them an allotted amount of water (timed) for a fee. The water comes from the town reservoir and source called El Nacimiento. So you are working all night long opening and closing small canal gates that lead to all the different farms. You get to know every farmer really well in your sector; many become friends, and some even offer hunting privileges and such. The water flood irrigates an orchard or field, or it is stored onsite in a tank to be pumped out as needed. It is pretty hectic because you are on the move every hour or two, and people get upset if they don’t get the water for their crops. Plus if there is a back up or a pump breaks or leak happens then you gotta reschedule everybody down the line and the heat makes everyones nerves start to fray.

The crops that are grown are appropriate for a mediterranean climate. My uncle he grows potatoes and tomatoes. He used to be a pig farmer, but that is another story. Potatoes are bought in as seed potatoes from the Dutch, in 50 kg bags. So the origin is asexual production, likely lab grown micropropagation. At the end of the season that 50 kg has been converted to 1500 kgs of starch, filling plastic crates high on the truck. About a 30 times return in weight. Tomatoes are bought as starts; last summer he was growing two varieties thats it. Nearby neighbors got orchards of oranges and olives, lemons and occasionally loquats cherimoyas pomegranates and figs too. The latest crop craze has been the planting of avocado trees with the hope of a big return on the fruits. Unfortunately they do require quite a bit more water, and are susceptible to the cold if the temperature drops. Agricultural inspectors and extension agents do come by; they offer tips or check on the status of a pestiferous moth. Labor and market prices are another concern. Uncle is tough and strong, but getting on up in age. At some point you just cannot climb up and down the truck, or bend down to haul another crate. Would you like to work all day in the heat for little money? Or would you rather work in an air conditioned restaurant or office? Maybe the Moroccan immigrants can be hired to help with the harvest if they are around? And what happens if after all that work, add in the cost of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, and they pay you only fifteen cents a kilo? Or less… So it is not an easy gig, the work of a small farmer.

If you look at the crops grown in the area, few are truly indigenous to the place. Theres wild asparagus in the woods, and wild chamaerops palm fruits, but they are sparse, far and in between. The production plants originate from trade and travel. The citrus trace their roots to Marco Polo and Asia, the tomatoes and potatoes to the Andes, and olives to somewhere by Asia Minor which is present day Turkey. This is what people do – move plant parts around. And plants, if they are happy in their new surroundings, thrive with a little care and attention.

As a small farmer working in a market economy, you are not the seed collector and saver, the breeder, nor the germinator, you are the grower. You are one specialist in a stratified system. In another part of southern Spain, where Clint Eastwood filmed all his westerns, is the town of Almeria on the coast. There you will find big time producers of food crops like peppers and eggplants, all grown in huge massive greenhouses. Some say the biggest concentration of greenhouses in the world. Combine a nice long growing season, maritime influence, steady temperatures, and a convenient European market. Take a look, here is one link: The climatic and geographical characteristics of Almeria are similar to the ones that put cannabis and the emerald triangle of northern California on the map as well. Not too hot, not too cold, nice little breeze.

Over time, the tendency for farmers has been to automate and get bigger. The work is hard, the profit margin is thin. This pattern is what you see here in the Midwest or in the Central Valley of California. Check out some farm machinery videos on youtube and you will be amazed or shocked at the power and efficiency of modern agriculture. This is why seeds and propagation are so important, and are such a huge business.

New developments in propagation
We have been propagating plants throughout the course of humanity. Some methods such as grafting are recorded from some six thousand years ago. Many of our basic techniques remain unchanged. These days, if you are growing a plant or buying a plant you want it to be healthy, clean of disease, and be successful, whether in producing underground tubers or blooming with a pretty flower. You want a plant product that performs consistently and without problems. So in the twentieth century, that has been the direction of plant propagation.

Steam sterilization of soil was used since the early 1900’s. At Park Nursery in Golden Gate Park and at City College we still have the remains of such systems. Soils can be overheated, and end up killing all the beneficial bacteria and microbes that are present in the soil, and ruining the physical structure too. Nowadays, modern steaming and disinfecting methods kill the insects and weeds and pathogens but do not kill the soil. Some people have taken this one step further and eliminated soil media altogether, growing plants in sterile type media with fertilizer water flowing over the roots. This is called hydroponics. One example is vertical farming in large warehouses filled with LED lights, all the work done by robots. Not sure if this is the future but it is certainly one direction society is taking with venture capital dollars.

Manipulation of plant growth using plant hormones is another modern invention. These substances were isolated around the 1930’s. Over the years, we have learned more about them and their applications. Whether to help initiate root growth on cuttings, produce vegetative somatic embryos, or keep a plant compact in stature, these are extremely useful substances. In class we will likely use a solution of gibberellic acid-3 to induce stubborn dormant seeds to germinate. This in addition to using smoke and fire treatments to germinate fire adapted species.

Micropropagation is a technique pioneered in the twentieth century. It is growing plants in a test tube on a medium that would induce the cells to divide and grow. Not only are you then able to grow identical uniform plants, but you are also able to eliminate viruses and pathogens in this process by excising or cutting from only clean pieces of material. The orchids you see at Trader Joes or Costco? Micropropagation.

Greenhouse growing has enabled many plants to grow in places that were previously out of their range. Important in the greenhouse are the mist and fog systems that improved root growth and cutting success, as well as supplementary bottom heat. Ventilation and heating, lighting, and beneficial insects have all helped open whole new worlds indoors with regards to plant propagation.

Genetic modification is another change in this last century with regards to plant breeding. Perhaps y’all have heard of GMO’s and the crops resistant to roundup, or crops that produce their own bacterial insecticide called Bt. This development follows millennia of plant selection and breeding, but it is done in a lab using DNA transferred from one organism to another, not using old fashioned pollination fertilization and seed sowing techniques. Heres the word from the FDA: . As human culture evolves, as do the plants and numerous microbes that interact with us. It is a continuous and dynamic process that does not stop. The ultimate gauge of our success will be the health of communities, and their relationship with the plant world. Stay tuned, the saga is ongoing!

Gardener conduct and ethics

A few years back, whiles teaching in person classes, we had a couple of fights break out between students. This happened while working outdoors in the garden. Gus and myself were a little bit surprised. Gus had the puzzled knit brow expression, almost confused face. I cannot say that I expected such things in a landscaping class, but tried my best to bring the tension down a notch and avoid folks getting injured. If you must know, the fights revolved around males who did not want to be told what to do by each other… And that sort of thing escalates real quick when you have metal tools in your hands, some blood and hormones running in the vessels, and any latent boredom or frustration that needs to be vented.

Gus, in his forty-five years plus teaching here at CCSF, had not encountered such things before. Hey! This is a college class! This is gardening! No fighting allowed! You would think that would be obvious, that working together and respecting each other was a given. But somewhere along the line, that was not part of the curriculum anymore, or perhaps students did not get that lesson growing up. Gus would say, “They don’t teach common sense anymore” and I would agree.

As as result of the incidents, we made a basic set of rules for our classes that we passed around. We also tacked in the rules some other trends we noticed that needed a bit of correction. It was a time when smart phones became popular. The document was a bare bones basic document that looked like this:

Well things changed a little bit after that, and at least we had no more fighting. In the end, I think Gus and myself tend towards the inspire-from-within school rather than the enforce externally school of training. Gardening best learned by example founded in good will, rather than lessons based on fear and punishment.

It did get me thinking about our conduct and ethics in the garden, as well as any guiding philosophy that may bear upon the topic. As Gus says, sometimes, as a gardener for residential clients, you almost become a member of the family. After all, you often have keys to the yard if not the house. You occupy a position of trust. You are a professional. As a gardener for the city, you are an essential worker for parks and public spaces where anybody can ‘be’. In these places lies the health of the community and society, and you are its guardian and caretaker. You can behave honorably because you have a GPS tracker on your truck, a supervisor watching you with binoculars from across the street, and hidden cameras strapped to the trees. Or you can behave honorably because there is something inside that keeps you motivated and happy to serve.

A professional gardeners group used to meet here at City College. It was made up of landscapers who wanted to network, and pass on knowledge. Many established contractors would all come to attend the once a month Thursday night meetings. We encourage you all to join and to pass on the tradition. This here is their mission and code of ethics to adhere to:

There are a few other professions that are closely linked to our jobs as gardeners and horticulturists. Ranchers, hunters, loggers and farmers all come to mind. Jobs that require us to extract something from the earth. Work that entails working outdoors, a certain amount of risk, and the honoring of a reciprocal relationship. They must all surely have a code or rules to live by…

Maybe it was the reading of Empire of the Summer Moon about the Comanche chief Quanah Parker, or reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, or perhaps watching Quigley down under starring Tom Selleck on Netflix. Anyhow, got on a cowboy journey. Ranchers and cowboys have got to know the plants too, plants that the livestock feed on; this is called range management. So I googled up the cowboy code. Its kinda sparse on the details with regards to cattle roping and braiding lariats, but sure does summarize well the basics and the lifestyle. Some of these codes are the same ones that gardeners live by:

Something that you will overcome as you engage in gardening, or maybe not overcome but at least tolerate and get used to, is death. Death in nature to be specific. Its happening all the time and you are a part of it. You kill weeds, kill bugs, kill gophers and mice, and accidentally cull or kill plants you meant to cultivate. It is all a part of the job. Perhaps you cultivated the soil and exposed all the worms and beetles, then in comes the robin and sparrow to feast. So you inadvertently caused the death of all those creatures as well, by opening the way for opportunistic little birds. You can feel really bad about it and try to find another line of work that does not have such an intimate connection to nature. Or you can reconcile yourself to being a part of the natural world and make up for it in some way. By sharing the harvest, by making a flower bouquet for a friend, or by making some kinda offering to the earth – say a fish head chunk of fertilizer or a bucket of manure. Thinking and meditating about death, that is something hunters do. What is a hunter’s code? I wondered… Found this one online, seems I cant get away from Texas:

Down by my friend’s cattle ranch south, he hosts hunters who come to hunt pigs and deer and squirrels and quails and turkeys and rabbits. This is his sign in the trailer with regards to hunting rules. I much like it because it is honest, emphasizes safety and personal responsibility, and lists real actions, not ambiguous philosophical type words:

As gardeners, farmers are similar to us. While we deal in smaller plots of land that may be strictly ornamental, or that require more intensive attention, farmers usually deal with land on a larger scale. And production is the main thing, not so much access and cleanliness, as it is in town. Farming is one of those activities that needs many people to work together; it forms the foundation of all cultures. The farmer’s code I found belonged to a club based out of Australia, in Molong New South Wales, attributed to Robert Stephens:

I was introduced to another farmer while going to dojo in San Diego. He was a rice farmer whose name was Morihei Ueshiba aka O’sensei. He was also a Japanese martial artist post World War II who modified jiu jitsu, merged it with the nature spirits of Shinto religion, and made it a path to arrive at peace. The dojo was filled with Navy folks from Coronado. I asked, “ Don’t y’all get this training in the military?” They said, “Nope, thats why we are here.” Heard that situation is changed now, but back in the day there was a whole lot of sweaty gi outfits and kiai kiai kiai sounding off of Ocean Beach. On the tatami mats mopping up afterwards is where you learn catchy phrases like ‘many hands make light work’ and ‘when we help each other, we all move up together’. For sure have to thank Sensei Tom and Senpai Ben. The code I found was for samurais, the warrior code. In Japanese it is bushido:

Do you know what DO in juDO, hapkiDO, aikiDO mean? Or TAO or DAO? It means the way, the road, the path. Judo is the gentle path, hapkido and aikido are the paths to become one with the energy and forces of our universe. We are talking about a relationship with nature, the nature outside as well as the nature and turmoil within.

How did this essay become about the way and martial arts?! Sigh. Must be from watching the sequels of Karate Kid called Cobra Kai with kids of this generation. Distracting tangents! Well let’s go back to gardening, and try to provide some worthwhile structure and discipline for this next cohort. Heres a basic set of rules for the semester. Keepin’ it short and sweet:

This all goes back a long ways. Hunters horticulturists gatherers farmers. These are the original old time professions that stretch back to the beginning of humanity and extend into the future infinity. You, as a gardener, is a living link and it is a great community to be a part of. For me, to be a gardener is the best thing in all the world! Welcome to landscape horticulture, maintenance & care, class OH 53. Now, enough chit chat and blah blah blah, to work!