Saturday, November 11, 2017

Big cleanup and homeless update

The Clean & Green Team
Today we had the hardworking Clean & Green Team come to PG, led by Paul, as well as a DPW packer truck to take away all the green waste and compost it.

They managed to completely remove a pile about 20' long, 10' wide and almost 5' high - tough work on a sunny and pretty warm morning!

Thank you Julia, Marissa, May, Paul and the crew - and Chris for moving all the debris up to that spot in the first place!

Before
While the team worked to move the huge pile down to the front by the truck, Matt and I investigated the homeless encampment in the back of the garden. There was nobody home, and it looks like all belongings were gone too, so we spent a couple hours dismantling the encampment, picking up all the trash, and cleaning the area.

We also cut back a lot of fennel and filled the hole in the far bottom fence with a large blue Agave americana - better than barbed wire!

Spiky fence
Now, I don't think this is a permanent solution - halfway through the job a homeless person came down and asked if there was a hole there to go through, and I said no... but I expect it will be back. Agaves, yuccas and opuntias do a fearsome job repelling humans, but only when they get established, which is hard to do when they get ripped out or clambered over.

Hope these ones make it - the opuntias we planted many years ago are gamely trying to form the impenetrable hedge I know they can, but they're a quarter the size they should be, with many broken branches.

After!
A whole lot of the 1 gallon pots of Agaves and Aloes growing on in that back area had been trashed by the homeless encampment, and I threw a number out. Matt planted a dozen pups in the "pup farm" along the off ramp street edge. They'll grow on and recover there, in relative safety, until we can transplant them to their final spots.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Homeless concerns at PG

Hi friends,

Please read: need a bit of help here.

It's been a long time since we've seen homelessness at this level in San Francisco. City services are struggling to provide help to thousands of people affected by homelessness, and the often related issues of substance abuse and mental illness.

I recently met with various people to discuss this: Sophia Kittler, Legislative Aide in the office of Supervisor Cohen, Randy Quezada, who works in the office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Stephanie Muller of the Delancey Street Foundation and Eileen Loughran, Health Program Coordinator at San Francisco Department of Public Health, as well as various local community leaders.

We discussed ways to prevent encampments from growing in front of buildings, and in the gardens we have built, and the meeting was not a moment too soon – at our volunteer day last weekend we saw that an encampment had started at the back of Pennsylvania Garden.

There’s a real emotional push and pull between wanting to help people, or leave them in peace, and dealing with the needles, crack pipes, broken glass, feces, trash, fires, and verbal or other physical threats from encampments.

In order to protect the people who enjoy our gardens – visitors, volunteers and wildlife – I want to outline the steps needed to prevent this encampment growing out of control.

  1. Call 311 or use the 311 app (https://sf311.org/mobile ) to report the issue of an encampment at PG or PRG. I’ve already done this, but it’s not about me calling 10 times – a faster response comes from 10 people calling once each, according to the city.
  2. Call 911 if you feel threatened at all.
  3. Call Animal Care & Control at (415) 554-6364 if you see an animal in an encampment that is suffering, or behaving aggressively. 

Can you take a minute to call 311 or use the 311 app today? Randy Quezada outlined the services offered to these encampments – they’re not going to get a police ticket they can’t pay, and his team has had success getting people off the street.

Thanks for helping – I hope we can resolve the issue for real one day soon.

Annie

Monday, November 6, 2017

Volunteer day: rain TBD!

Aloe ferox flower!
Despite a forecast for a gloomy, rainy Saturday morning the weather in Potrero Hill was sparkling sunshine and perfect for gardening. Probably as a result of the forecast we only had a few hardy volunteers, but a lot was accomplished.

A few months ago I took some cuttings from the Coprosma "Marble Queen" and rooted them. Four nice 1 gallon plants resulted, and they were ready to go in - a perfect replacement for the Impatiens we pulled out last time, under the cherry plum trees.

Small Coprosmas
Hilary and I prepared the holes and planted the plants, with lashings of compost and solid watering bowls to help funnel rain into them.  Hilary watered them in too - hope we get some more rain so they are off to a good start! I'll be making more cuttings of this plant in spring for sure.


Matt cut back several shading branches from the cherry plum trees, and we used them to protect the new plants by making a barrier to the pathway.

Hilary!
We also planted three Mexican marigolds, Tagetes erecta, which came from our pal John, in the middle back bed, and moved a Dietes to accommodate. Hope they take off!


Matt worked on removing the stump of a huge agave that had flowered behind the wrong way sign. he manfully hacked it out and replaced it with a little Agave "Butterfinger" pup which should be very impressive one day.
Stump: removed!

Matt also moved a few other Agaves around - some about to outgrow their spot - and had a good time wrestling them. And Leslie headed on down to PRG and collected a vast amount of trash - along with a fridge - for the city to pick up. Thanks Leslie - lots of deferred maintenance down there that needs to be done, and it's time someone stepped in. I submitted a 311 request, and as of today it appears they picked up the trash. Good news.


Tiny Butterfinger in there...
During the week Chris accomplished a huge feat - he removed all the compost bins contents and piled it at the top of the garden. This is a huge amount of work, but frees the composters to generate useful compost again, so that was well worth doing. Thanks Chris!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Volunteer Workday: Balmy Fall!

Bill trims Leonotus
What a superb day to be in the garden: the weather was just right and our gang of volunteers set about a number of tasks. Wish I got more pics - you'll have to imagine ;)

Hilary and I set up the hoses and watered a few areas - this will be the second watering this year and we saw a huge difference after the last one. Worth it.

Bill removed a number of Impatiens shrubs that looked extremely tired. Let's face it, Impatiens look best with a good bit of summer water and we're not promoting that! So out they went, and now we can replace with something tougher (but what? I'm thinking some nice Coprosmas I've been propagating this summer)

Bill and Hilary also each pruned back a Leonotus leonurus and they're ready to grow back out into lovey flowering shrubs.

Matt chops Agave
Yannicka and Bill cut the dead leaves of several Phormiums, as well as tidying up several Cordylines. It's surprising to see such tough plants looking drought stressed, but I think they'll make it.

Matt in the meantime took the dead flower stem a dn leaves off Moby Dick, our big, and now defunct, Agave americana variegata. It's been a swell ride, and it's over. But now there's room for another mega Agave and I'm excited about that.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Many thanks and goodbye from Emily

After living in San Francisco for over 11 years, I am saying goodbye and moving to Oregon. When we founded the garden almost a decade ago, I knew there might be a time when I’d have to say goodbye. It has been a privilege to work with everyone and I am still amazed we’ve created multiple street parks as an all-volunteer organization! I know the garden is in capable hands, and I look forward to visiting and seeing it continue to grow. 

Our regular workdays are still in full swing, so please join the crew at our monthly workday this Saturday, October 7th from 10am-12; please meetup at Pennsylvania Garden, and we’ll disperse from there. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Roasting

Agave attenuata - extra tough
Unless you were out of state last weekend you'll know it was punishingly hot over Labor Day weekend. So what did we do? Volunteer Day!

In fact, it turned into three days in a row, with Matt and I returning on the following two days to keep up the good work and get things tidy. There's lots more to do though - it's time to make a schedule to get everything done.

A mason jar to direct water
The garden is possibly drier than this time last year. Always the most parched time of the year, we haven't watered anything since last September when a number of plants died.

We replaced them with plants we thought would be much tougher... and now THOSE plants look weak. Quite a shock to see Cordylines wilting, and even some of the Yuccas and even Agaves looking a bit worse for wear.

Stacey and Hilary
So, out came the hoses and we set up sprinklers in a few key areas to save lives. Emily, Matt and I were ably assisted by Stacey, Chris and Hilary, and we all got to work weeding, trimming, clearing and tidying.

Stacey deadheaded all the Agapanthus, and Hilary cleaned the steps out thoroughly.   Emily, Matt and I planted a lot of potted plants Emily has donated to the garden too - Yuccas, Agaves, Crassulas, Cotyledons and other succulents - they look great!

Jungle!
A lot of plants looked fabulous though - these are the ones you want to plant if water is an issue. Agave, Opuntia, Yucca, Dasylirion, Hakea - those are the drought-proof winners. You can see a big jungly mess of them in the photo left. Matt and I thinned a few branches out of the Yuccas and you couldn't even tell what we removed afterwards, they are growing so thickly.

Agave hedge in training
I removed some pups from the Agave "Butterfinger" at the front arch and planted them, plus another from home, along the very top edge of the garden. We'll add more Calandrinias and Euphorbias between them to make a great edge.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How to cut back Stachys and Euphorbia


It's about time to cut the dead flowers off your lamb's ears! These tough dry garden plants are fantastic to fill in around bigger plants with their soft, silvery leaves.

They send up tall spires of honey-scented flowers in a lovely lavender shade, and when the flowers set seed if you leave them for a while, they will seed around and you'll get baby lamb's ears growing everywhere. Bonus!

After all that though it's time to cut back the flower spikes because they start to look ratty. And it's very easy to do, but be sure to do it right. The top photo here shows a small plant that has flowered - the flower spikes are tall.

The second photo shows the plant cut back - but someone left stubs of flower spike! It looks bad - those stubs will die back and remain as little dry sticks, spoiling the look of your plant for the rest of the year.

The last photo shows the plant properly cleaned up. Take those spike ALL the way back so the stubs hide under a leaf. Magic! You're done.

Euphorbia characias and similar species can be cut back just the same way - DON'T leave sticks poking out while deadheading - they'll just look like a mess of sticks instead of a nice small green shrub. Cut them all the way back. Got it?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Volunteer day action!

Yesterday's volunteer day was super busy and super effective. We had a great gang, and everyone made a big impact on our rather dry, August garden.

Emily weeded the top area and moved lots of mulch around to uncover some buried Santolinas.

Matt took on the task of hacking fennel. Some of the ones on the back slope had gotten out of control and needed a chop so badly. They really need to be dug out completely to do the job right, btu when you're pressed for time cutting them to the ground is almost as good.

Marcus took a crash course in pruning from me, and proceeded to cut back the Fuchsia boliviana var. alba by 1/2. That ought to slow it's heat stress a bit, or kill it - either way I'm happy! Then he went on to cut back the Brugmansia just as severely, and the same results there will make me equally delighted. Either it dies and we will replace it with something that LOVES a hot dry garden, or it springs back looking good. Lastly Marcus deadheaded the Aloe striatula, then cut back some branches overhanging a nice Agave angustifolia.

I gave the branches to Hilary who came to help again this month, and she set about cutting back Chasmanthe, weeding and replanting a couple of tired looking Agaves that got moved for the last mulch dump. They should pick up again soon - they are such tough plants!

Chris loves to cut down plants, so I think I made him happy by asking him to cut down the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) - it is finished flowering and will be back in about a month with some lovely new growth. He then moved on to the Phormium on the lower path which has never had a real trim. It lost every leaf that looked dry, so quite a severe haircut!

Next to that is a Coprosma australis (variegated) that's had some ill-considered trims over the years. Really it needs to be cut to the ground and started afresh, but he took out quite a lot as an interim measure, and we'll see how it responds by next month.

I weeded the front sidewalk, and showed Aditi how to cut back Euphorbia characias correctly, She went on the clean out the whole front border and donated an unknown Agave to us, which she planted in the front bed.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

UCSF Making A Difference

I can't thank Danielle enough for organizing such a fun workday for her department at UCSF! Danielle and her department of twenty energetic and capable volunteers descended on the garden for  a Thursday afternoon work party that kicked ass! Chris and I were on hand to guide their work, where so much was done.

  • Weed, weed, weed! Both Pennsylvania Garden and the Triangle Garden received some much needed attention
  • Archway trimmed, paths swept
  • Mulch spread around the pathways and in some beds
  • Agapanthus flowers cut back
  • Major snuggles by dogs that stopped by!
Your crew is welcome back anytime. Like.. next month?


Plant profile: Dasylirion

On the right, under the red Cordyline
Latin name: Dasylirion wheeleri (pronounced "daz-ee-LEER-ee-on WHEE-ler-eye")
Common name: Desert Spoon, Sotol, Spoon Yucca
Originally from: Northern Mexico, in Chihuahua and Sonora and in the southwestern United States, in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, and also in New Mexico and Texas.
Blooms: A very tall, long spike emerges infrequently.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant and very tough
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 3' x 4'
USDA Zones: 6-11
Where to find in P. Garden: In the cactus wall, the middle back bed, and at PRG.

Here's a nice tough desert plant for the garden. I wouldn't call it cuddly, but it's not going to be bothered by deer or human invaders and it makes an impressively pointy pom-pom for the totally dusty dry garden.

This plant sits around on rocky hillsides and grasslands from 3,000 to 6,000 feet in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico west Texas and south into Sonora Mexico. The alcoholic drink sotol, the northern cousin to tequila and mezcal, is made from the fermented inner cores of the desert spoon. It is the state drink of the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila.

Used for food and fiber, its flower stalk can be used as a "fire plow" - for starting fires.

The Tarahumara and Pima Bajo peoples of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua weave baskets from the leaves after they strip off the spines from the leaf margins, which seems like a lot of work. They also make large artificial flowers as holiday decorations using the leaf bases.

We use them to repel all boarders: the leaves have spines facing opposite directions along their length that will just rip your skin if you dare reach in there to pull a weed from between the leaves.

The color of the flower determinate the gender of the plant, being mostly white colored for males and purple-pink for females. We've had one flower at PG and I think it was white.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Street Parks Workshop: my plant recommendations

On Saturday July 22nd I'm speaking at the Parks Alliance's Street Parks Workshop on the topic of water wise planting. Join us if you're interested in learning how to make your own street park!

The plants I'll be recommending that are tough as nails in this area are:
  • Achillea millefolium - Yarrow
  • Aeoniums 
  • Agapanthus  
  • Agaves 
  • Aloes  
  • Artemisia 
  • Bromeliads - Puyas and Dyckias  
  • Calandrinia spectabilis – Rock Purslane 
  • Chasmanthe  
  • Cordylines 
  • Cortaderia – Pampas Grass  
  • Cotyledon orbiculata 
  • Cynara cardunculus - Cardoon  
  • Dudleya 
  • Echiums  
  • Euphorbias
  • Ice Plants
  • Leonotis leonurus – Wild Dagga   
  • Limonium perezii – Sea Lavender
  • Natives 
  • Opuntias
  • Phlomis
  • Romneya coulteri - Matilija Poppy
  • Salvias
  • Santolinas
  • Stachys byzantina - Lamb's Ears
  • Stipa tenuissima - Feather Grass 
  • Yuccas 

Of course there are lots more, but these are some of my easy to grow, zero water favorites. Read the Plant Profiles of many of these plants by clicking here to learn more about them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Neighborly Business

Marcus + cardoon
I wasn't expecting a big workday due to Impending American Holiday on the 4th, but the day was sunny and warm so I trundled over to the garden expecting to work alone. Then, funnily enough, the first person to show up at the garden was a Brit - Marcus who lives in the building next to our place on 17th.

He got down to work on the Annual Weeding of the Bottom of the Steps, which is a treacherous undertaking due to brambles, cacti, Agaves and other spiky stuff lying in wait on a steep slope. usually it involved getting a bit scratched up, and minorly inconveniencing the brambles who are impossible to kill. but we do need to stop them getting too cocky on a regular basis.

Achillea (Yarrow)
We were soon joined by Amanda and she got down to some Chasmathe cutting-back and clearing dead leaves off the Amaryllis belladonna bulbs - watch out for the bit pink flowers popping out of those soon. I didn't get a pic of Amanda but here's the Achillea she was weeding around so neatly.

I noted again that the compost bins are beyond overflowing. It's time for a debris box so we can start over with turning the compost every single workday otherwise compost doesn't break down quickly enough and we end up with just heaps of weeds.
 
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