Monday, April 13, 2015

Big and Small

First what I consider the 'big' stuff: our neighborhood! The lovely folks at Potrero Kids have put together a plant & bakesale, and I encourage you to stop by and check it out. The tomatoes were actually grown on Potrero Hill, so they will be extra happy in your yard this summer.

The 'small' stuff is everything else! The Greater & Greener  ( conference visited the gardens today, and I was lucky enough to be able to take time to lead the tour an answer their questions. Participants ranged from the Deputy Director of City Operations of Copenhagen to a PhD student from Cambridge, and many, many people involved in conservancy programs in their city. The group asked a lot of great questions and thought the gardens looked great.

Way to go Potrero Hill!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Volunteer day before the rain

Our volunteer day on Saturday involved a lot of weeding, and the team accomplished it with vigor!

Linda showed up all the way from the north bay to help weed the front arch and cactus wall - clearly she's done this before and knew her way around an agave no problem.

Emily took care of the weeds alongside the left bed, and PSG Emily and her mum, Debbie, weeded the dog area and paths. Nate pitched in too, making a huge dent in the ever-growing grass population in the middle back bed, and helping Matt with weeds in the front border.

Before: weedy mess
Many thanks to the awesome team of students from UC Berkeley who volunteered as part of their public health project! Suvruta, Zachary, Marandah, Erin, and Michael got right to work with many tasks getting done quickly; ably emptied one compost bin and turned another, as well as weeding great stretches of the pathway clear of weeds.

The garden's sprinkler, which used to come on for 15 minutes once a week across about 1/3 of the garden, has been switched off for a long time now, and some of our plants are looking a little parched.  Unless you live under a rock you'll know we're in year 4 of a drought that threatens the state, and as a result the nation's produce supply, so xeric and drought tolerant garden is the in thing right now.

After: clean!
When you take into account that a pound of almonds takes an estimated 400 gallons of water to grow, and a pound of beef takes 2500 gallons, you're going to want to lay off the nuts and burgers among other things. And as for lawns? Let them die, people.

If you want some xeric plant suggestions for your garden or patio, you're in the right place: click the Plant Profiles link at the top right and read about the stars of the show at PG and PRG. Yes, you can have a luscious garden without much water.

PS apologies if I have all the names wrong this week - it was hot out!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Many thanks to the Clean & Green Team

Clean & Green Team
I'm going to keep this brief and leave it to the photos! To get the garden ready for the upcoming 'Greater and Greener' Conference that will be visiting the garden, Julia from the San Francisco Parks Alliance arranged to have the Clean & Green Team come work with us. We had a great time and it made a huge difference to Pennsylvania Railroad Garden. Many thanks to everyone who helped!

Paul working hard to make
the pathway better
Julia making the pathway look good
Annie poses before getting
back to work
Despite injury Matt
did a ton of work and
was all smiles!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Two extra special chances to volunteer! March 28th & April 4th

Bentley is ready to help at the workdays
Extra special workdays you say?

We've been invited to participate in the Greater and Greener conference, which will feature our gardens as part of their bus tour. This is a big deal, as the "conference will bring 1,000 global park leaders, city planning and design professionals, and urban park advocates to San Francisco, to discover the power of parks in creating healthy, resilient, and sustainable cities." I think it's an honor that we've been asked to participate, and showcase how hopefully healthy, resilient and sustainable our gardens are!

To get the gardens looking extra special, we have added an additional workday on March 28th. At our usual first of the month workday (April 4th) we will make sure the gardens are in tip-top shape for the conference April 11th-14th, with the big tour being April 13th. You're welcome to attend both or either workdays, per usual meetup at 10am at Pennsylvania Garden. We provide all the necessary tools and training, just come ready to have fun and make your neighborhood look great!

If you have any questions you can contact me at:

For more information on the Greater and Greener Conference, please see:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lost treasures.

Last weekend Matt and I were at the garden eating our customary bagels from Hazel's and coffee from Farley's when we discovered a load of trash at the bench. Which really means a homeless person's stash of junk or the castoffs from a theft. Either way.

Among the pile was a lot of photographs dating from around the 1880s to the 1920s. I like that sort of thing so I brought them home, only to find some had names handwritten on them.

I started looking up the names online, and discovered two that led somewhere. One led me to the Find a Grave website and I was able to add the photograph to the grave image. Hopefully the relatives of Sgt Melvin Gardner Gross like the baby photo I added. He was born and died in Pennsylvania which is apropos, and it seems like he had a good life.

The next led me to the grandson of Edna Laing Bachman, who I found on LinkedIn. I contacted him to ask if he wanted the photo, and he was happy to have it.

"As it happens, we are burying the ashes of Howard Hosmer, husband to Edna Caroline Laing Hosmer at the family plot in Tranquility New Jersey on April 17th. The family will enjoy seeing the pictures."

So her photo will be with her daughter's husband and family. One person's trash is another person's treasure.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dog area reclaimed and other news

Bill, Michelle, Will and Leslie
get the dog area into shape
We had a super productive workday on Saturday, and I want to thank everyone who made it happen: Jackie, Bill, Nate, Will, Michelle, Connie, Leslie and Jean. This crew really got to it and reclaimed huge areas of the garden from weeds and did a lot of extra tasks too. I encourage everyone to make at least one volunteer workday, as we always have a lot of fun and it's a great feeling to look out over the garden and know you made something beautiful and green happen.

All clean! Jean, Jackie
and Nate posing in a now
picturesque dog area
As for the specifics, if you've been in the dog area lately you could not help but notice how much of a weed jungle it had become. As we started pulling out waist-high weeds I half expected to find a small dog living among them.

Even turning compost
can be fun, really!
As a crew we pulled on, digging when necessary, to reclaim the dog area from weeds. Meanwhile Jackie made the path along the cactus wall accessible, as it was almost entirely blocked by shrubbery. Nate also reclaimed a pathway by the beautiful (and getting ever larger!) Agave attenuata, making it a bit wider to accommodate the growing plant.

If you spend $5 on coffee
you can find a trash can!
jeez people 
Later on Alison removed the graffiti from the kiosk at Pennsylvania Railroad Garden with a little chemical solvent (yay for our anti-graffiti film!), and I walked up and down the garden removing a ton of trash. It's amazing how just removing trash makes the garden look way better, so I was glad to spend the time and energy on it.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jim made the garden awesome today; you can on Saturday!

Shed was broken into
 but nothing taken, whew!
Quick announcement that Saturday at 10am is our monthly volunteer workday. Meetup at Pennsylvania Garden, we'll rally, and disperse from there! Tons of things to get done this time of year, Spring is around the corner and we need your help to keep the gardens in good shape.

Fortunately we have some amazing neighbors around the garden, including Jim, who in addition to taking care of the doggie trash (which is a minor miracle to me, thank you Jim!) also keeps an eye on things. Jim noticed our shed was dismantled and pillaged and alerted Annie and I right away.

Jim making the shed whole again,
adding reinforcements too
After work I was able to go straight to the garden and met Jim, and we put the shed back together and sorted through the garden supplies that were strewn about. At first pass it looks like they didn't take anything of value, which is a big relief. We were able to put everything back together pretty quick, but it always feels a little violating when someone trashes the garden. After consulting with the crew at Center Hardware we added some reinforcements to the shed and it is now in better shape to withstand any future attacks.

Hope to see you all at the garden this weekend, there is a ton of good light work to be done so bring  a friend. Alison and I put up a few flyers around the neighborhood, so we are hoping to have a big crew. If you have questions about our workdays or how to get involved please send me an email at:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Fun & Stormy Workday

Monica's keeping the garden
clean and tidy!
Rain may have loomed in the afternoon, but on Saturday morning the weather was perfect for being at the garden getting work done! On account of the rain, one priority today was to plant two olive trees. These olive trees were part of a generous donation from the event we did with the UCSF Medical Center Lights On Celebration. First thing Annie and Matt set about finding a good spot for the trees and getting them in the ground, and I got things ready for our other volunteers.

Will and Riley clearing the pathways
Next on the scene was Wil, a brand new volunteer that was eager to help out. Will and I got started weeding the pathways, and were soon joined by Riley and Monica. We worked our way around the top part of the garden, clearing mountains of grass from the pathways and carefully weeding between the very spiky plants in the middle bed. Eliot arrived soon after, and my mom Debbie showed up too, and both joined in the weeding party, adding to the speed at which we cleared huge swatches of weeds.

One of the two new olive trees
planted today at PRG by Annie & Matt
Now, with so many volunteers on hand we were able to diversify; Riley swept the two paths leading into the garden and the steps, Debbie cleaning out the Agapanthus, and Monica went about picking up trash. Monica deserves a big kudos from everyone, because she has been coming regularly, on her own (!) to pickup trash to keep the gardens looking great. Next time you see her walking her dog at the garden, be sure to tell her thank you!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Our Garden Has Heart

We've always put a lot of heart and soul into the gardens (it really is a labor of love!) but at the moment the garden specifically has a heart someone made out of bricks. It's up in the dog area, slowly being overtaken by weeds enjoying our winter sunshine. Stop by and enjoy a moment of 'heart' in the garden. You can also join us at our workday, Saturday February 7th to keep the garden in good shape.

Go see it in person; stunning combo
of rosemary and Chasmanthes

There are always reasons to visit the garden, and right now a bunch of flowers are bursting onto the scene; our daffodil collection is just starting to get going, and many other bright and cherry blooms can be found. Every year when the rosemary covers itself in light blueish-purple flowers I think about what an awesome plant it is - drought tolerant, fragrant, edible, showy, structural - and why I don't see more of it as a landscaping plant!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Birthday project

It's my birthday today and Matt and I decided the perfect way to celebrate was hit the garden for a little project.

On the way up there we weeded PRG and pruned a few things. Then we set about our task. We've been noticing that the Euphorbia mellifera in the middle front bed always looks ratty in midsummer, as it really needs a bit more water than it gets where we planted it. This year it looked rattier than ever, and finally half of it died. Time to go.

I pulled it out while Matt cut off the lower leaves of Moby Dick, the Agave americana variegata in that bed whose leaves that were crushing other plants nearby.

Then I rescued the Aeonium nobile remnants from the middle back bed and pruned them to shape to plant where the E. mellifera was. That bed is fast becoming the Aeonium showcase!

I grabbed some cuttings from a nearby Senecio serpens (Blue Chalksticks) and ta-dah! All done. Lots of before (left) and after (right) pics above.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Volunteer day lite

Today Matt, Anna and I had one volunteer at the volunteer day, but she was magic! Emily (not the usual Emily) has gardened before, and set about weeding the steps of yarrow, oxalis and all the other annoying weeds very skillfully. Quite a feat, given that they mingle so closely with the 'good" plants there, but the area is transformed.

Anna weeded the Triangle Garden, and I turned the compost and noted that next workday we'll have a full bin or maybe two to dig out and spread around the garden. I had wanted to rent a wood chipper so we could reduce the big compost heap behind the bins down to something more manageable, as all the branches there take years to compost. I'm betting there's 3' of compost under all that, which has built up over the last 6 years (!) but we can't get to it. Sadly the rental company didn't get back to me yesterday. Next time...

After that I planted three Aloe maculata in the middle back bed near the spot Matt improved today by adding rocks where the twig border had given up the ghost. I think the rocks look great - we should get more for areas like that.

Matt also pruned one of the Prunus cerasifera (Cherry plum) trees which hasn't been done in a long time - lots of nice straight branches available now for twig borders.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Phormiums from Phoenix

Today Matt and I planted five or six nice big bunches of deep red Phormium at PRG, along the back edges and filling in gaps. 

These were recently donated by Phoenix and will do the usual Phormium thing: look a bit sad for a while, then bounce back to become fantastic, tough plants. 

I'll add some pics tomorrow. Thanks Phoenix!
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