Sunday, June 19, 2016

Rock on!

Last Friday morning before the successful Genentech volunteer day PRG got five new boulders delivered from Lyngso. Matt and I had gone out to choose these lovely Sonoma field stones individually, which is always fun, and the delivery took just half an hour to block off the street and place the stones roughly where they will live. 

Three of them will go on to form a two sided bench using some yet to be bought wood and hardware, and the whole thing is being paid for by our pals Eamonn and Richie who just built the apartments at 1001 17th st. Sweet!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Genentech Workday: A Whole Heap of Awesome!

There was so much that went on today it would be nearly impossible to chronicle all of it! First off, let me thank the team leads, John and Chris, for giving even more of their time to the gardens. They both did a fantastic job leading Genentech volunteers, and they deserve much more than the kind words, and literally worked for peanuts (salted and honey roasted!) today.

Annie also stopped by and did a big redo of the middle bed among other things, and had some rocks delivered for a project at PRG (I'm sure she will post about that later!) so a big thank-you to her as well. Also, we wouldn't have been nearly as successful if it wasn't for Nancy from DPW. She dropped off a bunch of supplies (thank you!) and even arranged for Recology to come by for a trash pickup (thanks Beto!).

Second, many thanks to the team of +20 Genentech Volunteers who spent their afternoon making both gardens look one hundred times better. I counted nearly two dozen lawn&leaf bags heaped with weeds, and I'm pretty sure we also filled SF Paint Source's dumpster (thanks again SF Paint Source!) with trash removed from the site. Trees were watered, pathways cleared, mulch spread, Salvia potted up, Calindrinia prepped, the list goes on and on! All of this work was possible because of good leadership, and so many motivated, tough, responsible people, that as Annie put it, "moved like locust" through the gardens whipping both of them into shape.You can find a link to all of the photos from today on google photos.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Plant Profile: Coprosma

Coprosma australis (variegated)
I considered the Coprosmas we planted at PG to be insignificant filler plants initially. However, they've turned out to be lovely tough, evergreen shrubs, and I recommend them.

Latin name: Coprosma (pronounced "co-PROZ-mah)
Common name: Mirror plant
Originally from: New Zealand, Hawaii, Borneo, Java and Australia.
Blooms: The flowers aren't the point here - they're usually yellow and insignificant.
Light: Full sun!

Coprosma "Evening Glow"
Water: Drought tolerant and very tough
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: Various - from low growing creepers to large shrubs.
USDA Zones: x
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed we have Coprosma australis (variegated), Coprosma x Kirkii "Variegata" and C. "Evening Glow" in the brights bed a couple C. "Sunset" and a C. "Evening Glow"

The name Coprosma means "smelling like dung" and refers to the smell (methanethiol) given out by the crushed leaves of a few species. I haven't smelled ours but don't let that put you off - the leaves are glossy and colorful. In fact they are so glossy that Coprosmas have been touted as a means of reducing over heating of the earth by reflecting sunshine away. I can't find the reference now but they are pretty shiny.

We have several Coprosmas in the garden:

Coprosma x Kirkii "Variegata"
Coprosma x Kirkii "Variegata" - this is a nice low growing ground cover. I buried several parts in the ground and it rooted, then I made border edging with them. A cute low hedge! Unfortunately it wants to revert to a non-variegated state so you have to cut those parts out.

Coprosma australis (variegated) is a wonderful bright shrub up to about 5' tall and wide with yellow and green shiny leaves.

C. "Evening Glow" and C. "Sunset" are beautiful smaller shrubs with the same shiny leaves but gorgeous red and orange shades.

Coprosma "Sunset
We'll look out for more Coprosmas for the gardens soon - they have been excellent and look great no matter how poorly you treat them. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Yesterday I was at the garden at 9am to meet the guys from Trees Company who were scheduled to come help remove some debris from the garden.

We started with two guys and a 12" chipper and they chipped or removed all three of the big piles at the top of the garden. They left us a huge pile of mulch too.

The top area is now cleared and ready to rehab!

After that, they moved on to the big pile of twigs behind the composters. This represents 7 years of twig collecting - well, twigs, branches, pinecones, phormium leaves and agave leaves that won't compost quickly enough to make nice rich compost in the bins. And this pile had got huge - about 6' tall at the back and 12'x12' square.

They managed to remove about 2' off the top which was a feat, then the truck was full and they had to go around 2.30pm. Still, big improvement and we can now excavate broken down twiggy mulch from the base and resolve NEVER to add more branches to that pile again! If we have that sort of waste we will "mulch in place" around the base of some of the bigger plants in the middle of the beds.

Today Matt and I went back out to weed, water and work. Matt cleared all the chips off the top edge of the garden and started to break up the ancient asphalt there so we can plant around the edge. We'll use the leftover asphalt to make a low terrace to the left of this area.

Then we started imagining the plants we can put in and it was all very fun :)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lavender no more

Ivy, lavender and weeds out!
The top of the garden has been bordered by lavender for years. And very tough drought resistant plants they are. However, they do have a shelf life and ours were starting to peter out.

Since we have hired help coming to remove piles of weeds on the 10th, we decided to remove the remaining lavenders at the volunteer day today. And a vast pile of weeds. John and Emily joined Matt and I in stripping the area bare. 

PRG looking lovely
We will replace them with a border of Calandrinia on the outer edge, and Agaves, Nassella and Euphorbias inside that. Then the plan is to flatten that top area by making a low retaining wall on the west side. We will make a small bed in the middle of that area and add steps going down past where the bench currently lives, through the brights bed. 

I spread a couple tubtrugs of compost and turned the remaining bins and we watered a few needy plants before calling it a day.

The next day Matt and I returned to weed some more. I cleared out the dead Hibbertia astera by the bench which succumbed to drought, along with lots of weeds. It's time to fix up that path and replant. What species like dry shade?

Monday, May 30, 2016


Mystery hole
Strange holes have been dug at the garden by a critter. I filled the two that posed a tripping hazard in, but left the third alone. 

Who is it? What are they up to? Why can't they dig in the compost heap and do me a favor?
Path full of weeds
Instead, I turned the compost myself, during which a rat jumped out of the middle bin. As I dug almost to the bottom I heard a squeak, and had poked my fork into a nest of baby rats. They seemed to be unhurt so I closed the bin and hopefully Rat Mum will be back to move the babies elsewhere.

After that, Matt and I spread four tubtrugs of finished compost, mulched a lot of areas, weeded the cactus wall, steps and assorted other areas, picked up trash, swept the steps and bricked areas, prepped for moving the bench, and cut back many Chasmanthe and Euphorbia plants. 4 hours well spent. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Things that are flowering, clockwise from the top left: Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) Blanket Flower (Gallardia aristata), Dyckia rariflora, Limonium perezii (Sea Lavender, Statice), unnamed pink geranium (Pelargonium)

Today Matt and I weeded a lot. pruned a lot, and enjoyed the hot weather.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Weekend happenings

Unfortunate hummingbird
Yesterday Matt and I popped out for the usual: a quick survey to see if we can do one job that will make us good about being at work in offices all week.

Unsurprisingly we found lots of weeds - still. Somehow the weed fairy has not magically removed them overnight. Pah! So we started weeding while we considered other tasks.

Matt planted 5 Puya laxa (Hay Stack Puya)  that had been growing in pots down on the terraces for some time. This is a fuzzy little bromeliad from Bolivia with blue-black flowers.

I weeded the right side of the brights bed - only the left side remains. I added compost to the base of the lovely Cussonia spicata there, and watered the newly planted plants from last week and mulched them even more. I also spread a lot of the foliage from the Hakea suaveolens that Chris had put to one side on the ground as mulch too - I think it will be very effective.

Matt sawed up the remains of the Hakea trunk and branches, and we now have several new piles of debris in the top area which I'll hire someone to take away shortly.

Today I went out to turn the compost and found the right bin full of ready to use compost. Always lovely. So I put three tubtrugs full on the middle back bed and weeded there. Then two wheelbarrows full on the brights bed. At some point I aggravated a muscle in my back so I had to stop, and couldn't finish the job. I did find a dead hummingbird and buried it under a bright Arctotis. Circle o'life...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Plant profile: Cussonia

Cussonia spicata
Easy to grow, not too tall, strikingly architectural and evergreen, this genus is a great tree for our area and a personal favorite of mine. I'm surprised they aren't more popular, but large specimens are not often available to buy. Annie's Annuals often has small ones though, and they grow pretty fast. Get a hit of funky, tropical, yet drought tolerant action in your garden!

Latin name: Cussonia ("kuh-SOH-nee-ah")
Common name: Cabbage Tree
Originally from: Southern Africa.
Blooms: Big crazy spikes that the bees love.
Light: Full sun
Water: Survived severe drought!
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 15-40' tall and wide
USDA Zones: 9a-11b
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed we have a large Cussonia natalensis, and in the brights bed a Cussonia spicata.

Cussonia leaf
The name Cussonia is named after the Professor of Botany at the University of Montpellier, Prof. Pierre Cusson (1727 - 1783). We got our first one way back in February 2009 - a C. natalensis with shiny green leaves that grew from a 1 gallon plant to a big multi-trunked 15' tall tree in just a few years. Eventually it should reach 40' tall, unless the dry weather keeps knocking it back.

During the 5 year drought it started to die back from the top, and I thought it wasn't going to make it. I watered it twice in the final year, and it pulled through. As of April 20156 it is sprouting vigorously from the base. You can see the dead branches at the top of the photo below.

Our Cussonia spicata was planted in the brights bed in 2011 and survived the drought fine. It's got a way to go to attain it's final height of 25-40'.

I also planted a Cussonia paniculata in the middle back bed, but it was somewhat smothered by other plants around it and died. I'd love another of that species - the blue-grey leaves are lovely, and it only gets 15' tall.

Cussonia natalensis
In addition to its popularity as a decorative garden tree and useful accent plant, the leaves of C. spicata are not only beautiful in shape but also traditionally used as a treatment for indigestion, and the roots are succulent and edible - mashed roots have also been used in the treatment of malaria.

The bark is cork-like, and the wood is very soft and decays easily - it's used to make mole traps and brake blocks for ox-wagons in Africa.

I highly recommend this plant. With an exotic mop of deeply-divided leaves and interesting bark on the trunk, it looks a bit like a funky palm tree.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Got trees? Make sure they are looked after.

This just in from our lovely pals at Friends of the Urban Forest:

"After years of research and preparation, we have crafted a ballot measure that will finally fix San Francisco's broken policies for street trees and sidewalks. FUF is urging all elected Supervisors to place the measure on the November ballot, and we need you to let your Supervisor know this measure is important to you.

***Click here to send a quick email to your Supervisor, and fix our urban forest***

To ensure a thriving and safe urban forest for SF, the measure will:
  • Fix all the sidewalks broken by tree roots
  • Publicly fund the pruning of all street trees and fixing of sidewalks to keep them healthy and safe
  • Make the city -- not property owners -- liable for tree falls, limb drops, or trip-and-falls
  • Set the stage to plant and care for an additional 50,000 street trees
  • End the disastrous "tree relinquishment" program that punishes residents and trees

When the plan is enacted, the City will have adequate funds to maintain all street trees and adjacent sidewalks with high standards of care.  Property owners who have trees in front of their properties will be relieved of financial risk, and the streets will be safer for everyone.

This plan is good for trees and good for people!

Click here to send a quick email to your Supervisor, and save our urban forest.

Doesn't take a minute to send an email to our supe, Malia Cohen. Do it today!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

4 hours

Salvia gesneriiflora "Tequila"
Today Matt and I went up to PG to have our morning bagels and noticed a few (haha) jobs that needed to be done. One was staking up the Euphorbia lambii (again!) so we popped over the Flowercraft to buy some really good stakes. And a few plants.

We decided that after the staking we'd weed a little and ended up staying in the garden for four hours! Lots got done.

In the brights bed, I noticed our gigantic Salvia gesneriiflora "Tequila" is NOT dead and has re-sprouted which is great news and means the area will soon be fill of salvia again. Then I weeded five tubtrugs of weeds out and planted:

3 Arctotis "Hearts & Tarts"
3 Artemisia arborescens (Large Wormwood)
5 Aloe vera from the back terrace

I also moved half a dozen little volunteer Euphoribia characias in to better groupings, and rearranged some Aloe veras into a group too, and after watering I mulched the new plantings thoroughly.

Agave gypsophila
In the meantime, Matt moved some Aloe maculatas to the middle back bed and weeded all over. He grouped some stray Yucca flaccida "Garland's Gold" together, and some variegated Furcreaeas too. He also added a third Limonium (Sea Lavender) to the front border, so the pattern of purple flowers repeats nicely down the bed.

While he was hauling out weeds I planted a big Agave gypsophila that Emily donated to the garden. It needs more sun - you can see how different the new one (left) and established one are in form. The new one should perk up soon.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

What are the chances? 0.3% apparently.

Today Matt and I had a workday in the light, refreshing rain. I didn't expect many people to come weed in the rain but I was happy to see Chris show up as he's always good for conversation and a hard worker :)

Later on, I because even more grateful that Chris was there...

As we started the day I mentioned finding needles in the garden, and how I'd picked up a dozen or so. I told Chris to be careful. I've been worrying about what might happen if a volunteer got a needle stick injury, and I wanted to have a protocol to follow in case that dreadful day arrived.

Turns out Chris is a retired AIDS doctor! I asked him what he would do, and he gave me some great and balanced information. The chances of getting HIV or Hepatitis from a needle stick are very, very low... 0.3% according to various legit-sounding sources online. You can also take drugs that will reliably prevent you developing HIV. So needle stick injures seem less terrifying.

The real question is "what is your tolerance for stressing about it" because it can take 2-4 weeks to develop a testable case of HIV, and if you don't start prophylactic medication within 72 hours, that's a long wait to know if you're safe.

About five minutes later as I was lifting a pile of weeds into a tubtrug I felt a prick.

A used needle lay in the weed heap.

What are the chances of THAT?

There was no blood, but it poked me in the palm - through my glove. Chris directed me home and I scrubbed it with Hibiclens and noted my last tetanus shot was in 2012. Back at the garden, Chris reassured me some more and told me to get on the phone to my doctor. And they called the hotline for such things. And called me back to say "don't worry" - there has never been a single case of HIV infection from a needle found in the environment.

I'm going to go in Monday for an HIV and Hepatitis test, and repeat that in a month just in case.

In the meantime, stay safe out there gardeners. I think some heavy leather gloves are in order.

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