Friday, September 7, 2018

Wildlife profile: Red-Masked Parakeet

Are they wild, or just feral? I don't know, but two things are for sure: we never know when we'll see them, but we're always delighted when it happens.

Official description:

  • Common name: Cherry-headed conure, or red-masked parakeet
  • Latin name: Psittacara erythrogenys - "sit-ah-KA-ra eh-RITH-ro-jen-is
  • Family: Psittacidae
  • Length: about 33 cm (13 in) long, of which half is the tail.
  • Description: All green, except for a red cap to the head and a bit of red on the upper wing edges.
  • Geographical Distribution: southwestern Ecuador and northwestern Peru
  • Nest: Nests are usually made in tree cavities.
  • Eggs: three to four eggs - incubation is over within 23 or 24 days
The parrots can often be heard flying over the garden, and recently they have been visiting in small groups to feed on the 30' tall Agave americana flower at the front arch, as it is dripping with nectar. I wish I could get a better photo, but it's cool to see them! Check out the video below.

 

The red-masked parakeet is a medium-sized parrot from Ecuador and Peru. It is popular as a pet, and is the tenth most common Neotropical parrot imported into the US with over 26,000 parakeets checked in from 1981 to 1985.

That's led to it being reclassified by the IUCN from a species of least concern to a species that is near threatened in 1994. Importation to the US was restricted in 1993, but the local pet trade and habitat loss continue to put pressure on this species.

Considered the best talkers of all the conures, which admittedly aren't great talkers but ARE great squawkers, this is a noisy type of birds that is active and quite demanding of social interaction as a pet. It is ideal for house-bound and slightly deaf people, as a result. Or people who want to become that way.

At some point in San Francisco's history someone let loose a couple of conures - or they escaped - and the result is a flock of about 300 that now no longer resides only in Telegraph Hill, but can be seen all over the city, and as far away as Brisbane.

In 2003 a great documentary film called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill was released, all about our parrot population, and a book of the same name was published too. Mark Bittner, who was feeding the parrots at the time, starred, and his now-wife Judy Irving directed. You should watch the documentary if you haven't already, and Mark's page is an interesting read too.

Anyway, we're always happy to see these rascally little birds in our neighborhood, and especially at the gardens!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Laboring away: the full weekend of backbreaking work

Chris surveying the carnage
Chris, Matt and I decided to work on a special project on Saturday: fixing up the Aloe nobilis hedge on the lower path.

We set about removing all the Aloes there, sadly reduced in number due to the forces of gravity pulling them into the drainage ditch.  We also removed all the weeds, including wayward Chasmanthe and Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) that have seeded or crept in.

It took about 2 hours to do that, and also cut back all the succulents and other plants leaning into the drainage ditch. Lots of cuttings made. Lots of mess in the drainage ditch.

Rebar pounding...
As we worked we were treated to the sights and sounds of wildlife on the huge floral buffet, also known as the Agave americana flower, at the entry way. This 30' tall attraction is quite a sight. Bees! Hummingbirds! And even two Cherry Headed Conures - the famous wild parrots of Telegraph Hill - flew in and busied themselves with the nectar dripping off the flower. Pretty cool: If anyone gets a good photo of them send it to me, please!

On Sunday, Matt and I returned. We pulled wood chips away from the boards on the edge, and dug into the dirt to make space for new boards we will add on the lower side. We pounded in about 40 two foot long pieces of rebar to hold the old boards in place, adding a few new ones and straightening the whole line.

Dusty shoveling...
Let's just say that was exhausting... and took about 4 hours.

We also cleaned up the steps so as to be ready for new plantings, put 3 trash bags of trash on the street for 311 to remove, moved several Agave "Green Giant" and planned new plantings in areas where plants just look too darn tired to be worth keeping.

After that, we had to go to Flora Grubb to treat ourselves by buying plants.

DONE!
On Sunday we finished the job, installing about 50 board feet of pressure treated lumber to the lower edge of the path, pounding in about 40 three foot long lengths of rebar, replacing ALL the extremely dusty dirt and ALL the Aloes, then watering the whole thing in thanks to the use of Gary's hose  Another 4 hours, and we are just shattered.

I would say there is another 15' of length remaining, where a huge Agave made it too hard to complete, but we will finish that another time.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Labor on Labor Day!

san francisco

You've probably got Monday off to recover - why not celebrate Labor Day by joining us on Saturday September 1st for our monthly Volunteer Day!

What is Labor Day? A day that "honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country" according to Wikipedia, so it's really a fitting weekend to give back to the community.

How can you help? Join us at 10am when we'll be working at the top garden - Pennsylvania Garden - so beautify by weeding, cutting back, fixing and generally improving our corner of the world.

Because it's San Francisco. And we love our city!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Another productive volunteer day!

Awesome team!
Our August workday was productive as ever. The garden is in the dog days of summer, and as dry as can be. We're taking a long hard look at plants that don't look happy now, and considering removing them so we can replace them with plants that LOVE hot, dry sites.

What helped was that Matt and I were recently down at Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles, and saw how they grow their drought tolerant and xeric plants: they don't water them! All their Aloes are looking dry right now, for example - just as they would in the wild - but they'll become succulent again when we get rain, just as nature intended. But they DO water plants that were never meant to suffer through drought, wich just get weaker and weaker each year until they die. So, those are the ones we need to remove.

Agaves on the move
With that in mind, our team spread out and got to work at PG and started the summer tasks of cutting back spent flowers and planting Agaves and other succulents, that can be transplanted in summer with no ill effects.

First up for removal was the Fuchsia boliviana alba in the left bed. It's been limping along but had been reduced to sticks. Chris removed it and Matt replaced it with some Yucca branches which will root in place in the coming months.

Matt actually took a lot of Yucca branches from the cactus wall. When rooted, they'll be planted down at PRG and help protect the fences from graffiti and other damage.

Chris also cut down the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) which we do every year (it'll pop back soon)  and I removed a very leggy Phlomis fruticosa behind it, taking some good stems home to root up and make new plants. In the same area, Matt and I rearranged some Agave parryi and pulled out a lot of scraggly Aeoniums of various kinds - that's a plant that does best with a refresh every couple years: cut all the leafy heads off and re-root them, throwing away the leggy stem.

Gina's signs
Aditi and Gina have been working on a signage project, and had laminated our official No Trespassing signs from the police to post everywhere. This allows the PD to enforce asking people not to camp at PG and PRG. I gave them a number of metal signs asking people to pick up dogs poop too, and Gina added signs about security cameras and others asking Uber and Lyft drivers not to use the garden as a bathroom... Kunaal took the picture of Gina posting signs too.

Gina cut back almost all the Salvia leucantha (Mexican Sage) and a number of Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears) too.

Josh and Hilary
Josh and Hilary set to work planting Agave americana pups I received from Marianne in Pacifica last week. They put half a dozen along the top border after weeding the area, and then more in the Triangle Garden across the off-ramp. While at the Triangle Garden they removed a handsome pup from the big Agave "Green Giant" on the corner, and placed it in the Brights Bed. We've got lots more of those growing so they'll be spread around soon: what an epic plant!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Volunteer Day on Saturday!

Who is in? Starts at 10am, and it's an easy way to make your community look more beautiful every day!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Signs are going up

Yesterday I went to the Southern Police Station and picked up some no trespassing signs (MPC 25 for those who need them), which give the police the authority to move trespassers and folks camping in the gardens along.

I also gathered up the "please pick up your dog poop" metal signs I'd ordered a while back, and delivered the whole lot to Gina who agreed to put them up. Thanks Gina!

While I was chatting to Gina we noted places where the boulders get moved and cars park on the garden at PRG - we need more boulders. About 12 very large ones that cannot be moved by hand.

We also noted two occupied encampments, and a guy who pulled over to pee in the bushes (we gave him a talking to...) so the signs are really needed right now. Gina, thank you for putting them up for us - and Aditi for coordinating with your power drill too!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

See something? Do something!

App screen grab
Last night neighbors teamed up to tackle a couple of issues that seem to keep popping up at PRG, namely people parking on the decomposed granite area after actually moving some of the boulders, and the usual homeless encampments...

I got texts from Aditi and Gina separately, both commenting on the issues and wondering how to approach. We all fired off 311 requests using the handy-dandy app - you should totally get it - for the illegally parked car, and a note was left on the windshield.

My request was quickly marked "closed" on the app because the "officer could not validate" that it's illegal to park a car on top of a street park. Um, OK.  A call to 311 is in order.

App screen grab
Next Aditi and Gina met on site, and the police showed up again, and determined the encampment was empty. That means 311 can clean it out. We 311-ed the encampment, and my request was closed within minutes as a duplicate - frustrating, as I have been told the more people who 311, the better.

The police also said they cannot move people along because it's not illegal to be homeless. Thank goodness it's not illegal to be homeless. It is illegal to litter, smoke crack, destroy plants in street parks and set fires though. All of which the homeless encampments have been doing...

It's time to go to the Bayview station to get the no trespassing signs we need to allow enforcement. I just called to verify they have them so it's  a matter of getting there to pick some up. If anyone is nearby (I'm in Pacifica) please let me know!

As the illegally parked car was by now gone, Gina and her boyfriend then moved the boulders back into place (HOW?!) to prevent it happening again. Either Gina and co are superhuman (well, actually, Gina is pretty badass, so...) or we need bigger boulders. I do love boulder shopping (really) so that's an option to explore.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Volunteer day pruning bonanza

Amanda!
I was away the last two weeks, so didn't think we had much time to promote this month's workday. However, a great team joined Matt and I and we accomplished so much: you just never know!

The day turned into quite a pruning exravaganza. Everyone got a crash course in how to prune or cut back various species, and the pile at the top of the garden awaiting pickup is quite huge now.

Gina!
Gina got stuck in cutting back a lot of dead Chasmanthe leaves in clumps around the garden.

This plant comes up every fall and flowers in winter, which is fabulous as everything else is pretty much dormant then. That makes the work of cutting back the dried up leaves in summer totally bearable, and once removed the garden looks 100% tidier.

Josh!
Josh spent his time on the front bed, rescuing various Agaves from the weeds and generally being detail oriented and cheerful as usual.

Matt moved some Agave attenuata to widen a path, and pulled scads of weeds, and I cut back almost all the Euphorbia characias in the garden and for the steps mostly weeded too.

Leslie!
Leslie attacked some of the Echiums with verve, removing dead flowers and making the paths more accessible. Matt deadheaded the Echiums in the middle back bed too, and that's made a hugh difference to the garden right away.

Amanda told me she doesn't have much in the way of gardening chops. Disagree! I showed her how to cut back the Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) and she did a perfect job.

Sarah!
Sarah cut back Chasmanthe, then turned to the Blue Potato Bush (Lycianthes rantonnetii) which hasn't had a trim in literally three plus years. Working around the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) she got the potato bush whipped into shape right quick.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Genentech slays again!

Amazing results
We were so delighted to welcome Genentech volunteers to the gardens again on Friday for Genentech Gives Back week, as they are truly a force to be reckoned with.

Last year we had a great gang, and the results were incredible - could they do it again?

Great teams
Aditi, Matt and I were joined by 15 volunteers and Kunaal and others took some great pics of the action.

In two hours we managed to fill a dozen huge composting bags, and 4 bags of trash as well, with a huge pile of weeds left that didn't fit in the bags. What a feat!

I can actually see the path!
Volunteers from Genentech are always energetic and focused, and this gang proved to be no exception. They gleefully took it upon themselves to search for and destroy all unwelcome forms of weed life on the path - including digging out the notoriously difficult to remove fennel and malva weeds, whose roots are just devilish.

Weeding is cathartic!
They picked up trash, they hacked back weeds, they raked up heaps of waste and they even carefully cut back Calandrinias and made cuttings to share. All with great cheer and lots of laughs.

I quickly used the 311 app to call in the vast debris piles we made, and a truck from Recology arrived quickly to take our green waste and trash away, while I took home the recyclables. Hurrah for 311!

Teamwork!
All in all, the day was fast paced and very effective, and I'm super grateful for the Genetech and PSG teams - thanks for ALL your hard work! Check out Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using the links on the right of the site to see more photos.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Extra! Extra! Weed all about it!

The path used to be so neat...
Wish you could do some gardening on a Friday, instead of our usual Saturday? Looking for some volunteer hours to fulfill your company's volunteer policy? Just ready for a Friday afternoon in the sun?

Join us for an EXTRA Volunteer Workday on Friday June 15th from 1pm-3pm

Please meet up at Pennsylvania Railroad Garden, on the 100 block on Pennsylvania Ave, as we’ll work there.

We're going to clear the path at PRG so we can refill the granite path covering. Every weed will be obliterated! We have teams joining us from Genentech and other companies, and it's a great opportunity to give back and meet some fun people.

Gloves, tools and drinks will also be available to make it all happen, as usual. We just need YOU and your smiling face to join us :)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Path of least resistance

Hilary taking a break
The 4' wide path at PRG has become quite difficult to use this year. It's overgrown and very narrow in places, thanks to some enthusiastic plants and also the decomposed granite (DG) substrate gets washed into deep grooves by rain. That creates ankle-twisting ditches on one side - not good.

DG needs maintenance every couple years, and I had called a number of companies to get quotes on repair. One of them came out to see the site on Saturday. The representative said the path needs to be completely clear to give a real quote.... so, at our volunteer workday on Saturday we decided to seriously attack the path!

Before
Matt, Aditi, Sarah, Sage and Hilary joined me and the sun was very warm as we worked on cutting back all ornamental plants (not weeds) that crossed the path edging.

Not weeds? Well, we have a weeding volunteer day on June 15th 1pm-3pm (join us!) and that team can focus on weeds, then we can just use the string trimmer if there are any left. Ornamental plants need to be cut back a bit more carefully though.

After
Anyway, away we went. We focused on a couple sections and really hauled out a lot of plant material. The path is now drastically wider in spots, overhanging branches are trimmed, a lot of fennel got whacked, and Calandrinia cuttings were reserved for future planting. More to do though!

Then on Sunday, Matt and I did a couple more hours before exhaustedly heading up to Papito for some well-deserved sangria.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Are you angry? Frustrated? Need a good outlet?

Join us on Saturday and take out your annoyances with life on our WEEDS! Pulling out weeds and beautifying a garden is a hugely cathartic thing to do ;)

Alternately, perhaps you are a person with great empathy and cannot stand to see nice plants smothered by unpleasant weeds? Same solution - help us save the plants by sending those weeds on their way.

Or maybe you just watched the show Weeds and you're keen to discuss the seedy underbelly of drug cartels... while pulling out weeds?

Either way, our volunteer day is fast approaching and we would LOVE to see you at PG: tools and drinks provided. Just show up filled with rage and/or bursting with love, and we will direct it in a useful way!

 
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