Saturday, May 4, 2019

Composter on the move

Before... weedy...
Today's monthly volunteer day was a challenge. I had long wanted to move the composter so it was easier to use. Situated facing the tool chest, the space between them was too narrow to make shoveling in, or out, weeds/compost very easy.

Matt empties
That's led to us not using the composter much - that, and the fact that people tend to put non-compostable stuff in it, which I always had to fish out.  Don't put twigs, branches, wood, trash and other junk in there!

We determined that turning the composter 90 degrees against the fence would be ideal, so I started our crew on removing weeds and trash in the area, and leveling the ground so it sits (somewhat) level. We removed the composter's instructional sign so it can go on the other side and be visible when the composter has been moved.

Team levels
Luckily we had a good number of people, so while it was heavy work we managed it. And we also got a lot of weeds cleaned up too: Amanda and Katsuro weeded the back slope and steps areas all day!

Matt, Chris, Aditi, Leslie, Amanda, Katsuro, and Mikey joined me on the task, and we pretty soon had all the weeds removed from the area, as well as a lot of rooted yucca cuttings.

Amanda weeds
We removed a dozen tubtrugs of good compost from the area behind the composter, and piled it at the top of the garden to use later.

In the meantime, Matt and Chris removed all the contents of the composter bins, including a lot of branches and twigs (ugh!) and several wheelbarrow loads of fresh compost from the bins and spread it around the base of some hungry plants.

After that we started leveling the dirt so the composter would sit straight. A lot of bricks were unearthed, and we used them to shore up various areas by placing a board held with rebar and backfilled with bricks and dirt to prevent everything falling through the fence.

Next we worked on seeing if we could even move the (very heavy wooden) composter at all. It took 6 of us to get it going, pivoting around one corner.

Almost ready!
We finally got it in place, and reattached the composter sign, started attaching a board to reinforce the base, and ran out of time.  We still need to fix the lids, finish shoring up the base, and make a gravel base to stand on there, as well as in front of the tool chest. Quite a lot of work to go, but we will soon be ready to start composting again. Yay hooray!

Great job team :D

Friday, May 3, 2019

GoodData goes rogue on weeds

Today we had a super VTO day at PG with the fine folks at GoodData. They came over and spend 2 jam packed hours pulling weeds from what I initially thought would be a smallish area... and ended up being a lot more than expected.

First of all, we set to work at the very top of the garden. Partly because the weeds there are bad, and partly because the building next door, longtime home of the Brickley Production Services business aka our friends Gary and Annelle, is being torn down. This is very sad for us, although they have a great new building for their business.

And the demo was in full swing... and mildly terrifying. As heavy machinery crunched through the building we stayed away. I was scared to think that the plants along the cactus wall would be destroyed, and while we had loads of warning and moved everything we physically COULD move, it's still sad to think of plants being crushed.

I took some drinks over to the workmen, and asked them please to be careful... and by some miracle, so far only the Opuntia at the front took a hit. Fingers crossed they manage to keep up the track record tomorrow when more demo happens.

Back to GoodData! They cleared the top bed lightning fast, trimmed up a Dasylirion and cut back some Chasmanthe, removed pups from an Agave americana and quickly tidied the area.

We moved on to weeding paths and cutting back more Chasmanthe in the other beds, as well as Narcissus and Amaryllis belladonna leaves that are past their sell by date.

The sun was so warm and it was all rather jolly, so the end of the workday crept up on me. We hauled armfuls of weeds and foliage to the massive pile at the top of the garden and let the team go home to clean up and relax. Hope they come back - they were awesome!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Plant profile: Beschorneria albiflora

Latin name: Beschorneria albiflora ("beh-SHORN-ah-ree-ah ahl-bee-FLOR-ah")
Common name: Mexican Lily, Amole
Originally from: Southern Mexico - Cerro Azul in Oaxaca and Chiapas, also found in Guatemala and Honduras. Found on very steep, rocky slopes in moist, mossy oak forest at high altitude (2000 m / 6600 ft.) 
Blooms: Green to creamy white flowers are held above the foliage in late spring/early summer.
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: They are said to like a bit of summer water if they are in full sun, but we don't give them any.
Height x width: 2-6' x 3-4'
Zones: 9b-11b
Where to find in P. Garden: One at the very top of PG, a couple dotted around PRG.

Is it a Yucca? Is it an Agave? Is it even a Furcraea? At first glance you might think any one of those.  Yes, it's an Agave relative - it grows dense wide rosettes of 2-3 foot long medium green leaves, but they are softer to the touch and a bit floppy towards the tips.

Then it grows a trunk up to 6' tall and flowers annually with the most crazy, 5' long pink and red branching infloresence with cream to lime green flower bells. And when you see that you say "uh, wait... what?"

(You and the hummingbirds, who are all over this stuff and are the plant's pollinators in the wild.)

There are 10 species in the genus, but this is the only Beschorneria that forms an above-ground stem.  The name Beschorneria was given to the plant in honor of Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Beschorner (1806-1873), a German botanist.

Dr. Dennis Breedlove, Curator Emeritus of the California Academy of Sciences started cultivating the plant and it has been grown in the Berkeley Botanic Garden and Strybing Arboretum for many years. It's pretty rare in cultivation, so come and check out ours.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Weekend weed-whacking

Matt and I headed out to the gardens this weekend to kill some weeds. Matt attacked part of the path at PRG with our string trimmer and I pulled weeds from the beds.

Later on we headed up to PG and cleared paths - from the arch into the garden, and up in the back from the top of the steps to the very top area were almost impassable, but not anymore!

Go check out the flowering Beschorneria albiflora at the top of the garden - it's got an insane 10' tall pink and green flower stalk.

Also did you know we have TWO volunteer days this week you can join? Friday from 2-4pm we're weeding with GoodData at PRG, and Saturday 10am-12pm we're at PRG for our regular monthly volunteer day. Join us!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Recurly's Earth Day Work Day

Yesterday was Earth Day and what better day to have a volunteer event?

We were contacted by the team at Recurly who were looking to make a difference in the neighborhood. We set up the perfect day and time for their team to get out and enjoy the sun.

Did you know? A lot of companies are encouraging volunteering now, and we benefit greatly from that. It's being called VTO - Volunteer Time Off - and a bit like PTO more and more employees are asking if they can help their communities with their employer's blessing in this way. Recurly stepped up to the plate!

John and Josh joined me for the two hour workday and the small but mighty team of 10 met at the north end of PRG and set about clearing weeds from around the rocks on the street side.

Let me  tell you, without any recent rain, the weeds were clinging in there tightly, so the job was pretty tough - and dusty! The sun was also beating down and it felt like mid summer. Staying hydrated was the key.

Despite the challenges, the team was enthusiastic and cheerful to the end! We managed to fill six bags with green waste, and made a huge pile of trash from the now abandoned encampment that's been at the corner for over six months now.

I put in three 311 app requests for pickup: one for green waste, one for loose trash from the encampment, and one for the three bags of trash dumped at the middle of the garden too (seriously people who live at 503 Potrero Ave according to the mail in the trash... along with three bags of used diapers... does your building not have trash cans?)

I also put in a text request for needle pickup to the SFAF Needle Pickup Crew at (415) 810-1337 after finding half a dozen of them at the encampment in the corner. The needle pickup team texted me back a couple of hours later to say they had disposed of the problem already! Love these guys.

Thank you Recurly for all your hard work - I hope you'll enjoy the gardens for years to come, and join us again one day :)

Saturday, April 6, 2019


Yucca "Silver Star"
Today's volunteer day was wonderful. The crew planted a dozen new yuccas at PRG and PG, the weather was great, and we welcomed some new faces to the mix.

Matt started off at PRG, planting lovely big specimens. He put in an Agave malpisaga "Lisa" which is one of the biggest Agaves in the world. This beauty will reach 15' wide eventually. He gave it plenty of room to grow.

He also planted 3 more Yucca aloifolias, and moved 3 Yucca  guatemalensis as well, to better spots.

Yucca rigida (Blue Yucca)
At PG, I was joined by John, Aditi, Chris, Josh, Katsura, Leslie, Marie and Katerina. The plan was to plant all the remaining large Yuccas, and weed as much as possible.

Marie, Katerina and Katsura started on the area by the bench, and carefully stripped weeds from the whole area. We added wood chips when that was done, and the result is absolutely lovely now.

Bench cleared, courtesy of these guys!
Meanwhile, John and Josh were busy planting three lovely and quite large Yucca "Silver Star" up in the top bed. The ground there is pretty rocky, but they made it happen - not without expending quite a lot of sweat I have to say. Well done chaps!

Chris and I
Chris worked on planting three stunning Yucca rigida (Blue Yucca) up at the top area too. This is a new Yucca for us, and quite gorgeous. 

A vast quantity of wood chips had to be moved to make it happen though, and Josh was called in for reinforcements after a while. The weather was pretty warm and the work was nonstop!

Leslie worked away deep in the brights bed, clearing weeds around our Cussonia, which will really help it thrive, and I moved between projects hauling weeds and wood chips.

Whew - a lot of work done. Well done team!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Spring has sprung!

Echium fastuosum
Last weekend Matt and I headed to the garden to get some plants planted and assess the weed situation. The Echiums are flowering in their gorgeous blue now - go check 'em out! The bees love them.

Wow - have the weeds gone crazy at PG! Some of the pathways are really tricky to get through because weeds have almost cut them off.

Lomandra longifolia
"Platinum Beauty"
We got to work and cleared one particularly bad area, removing 8 huge tubtrugs of weeds there alone. You can see the difference in the before and after picture.

Matt planted three Lomandra longifolia "Platinum Beauty" in the middle front bed, and as very drought tolerant plants, I'm hopeful they will do well there. This is a new genus for us, and while it looks like a grass it's actually not. Hm, how does that work?

According to San Marcos Growers, "Matt Rush is a common name for Lomandra, a genus with 50 species of tufted dioecious perennial herbs with long narrow blade-like leaves that arise from a central stemless base (acaulescent) and have thick woody rhizomes and fibrous roots. Flower inflorescences are cymes, panicles or spikes with male and female flowers on separate plants with both sexes of flowers looking fairly similar."

Check out the before an after pics, and join us next weekend for our monthly volunteer day: let's get rid of some weeds!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Plant profile: Austrocylindropuntia subulata

Latin name: Austrocylindropuntia subulata ("OSS-tro-sill-in-dro-POONT-ee-ah sub-you-LAH-tah")
Common name: Eve's Pin, Eve's Needle
Originally from: The Peruvian Andes.
Blooms: Peachy pink
Light: Full sun to extreme furnace.
Water: Nope. Skip it.
Height x width: Up to 13' tall and as wide. If you let it.
Zones: Seventh slope of Hades, and up. (9a-10b)
Where to find at PSG: We have some at PRG, some on the cactus wall at PG, and in the very top bed too.

The genus Austrocylindropunia is useful to know, simply so you can rattle it off and impress people. The species name subulata comes from the Latin subulate, as in "like an awl" - in other words, something that can pierce leather. Yes, this is a very "cactusy" cactus. It's got that cylindrical shape to the branches, and lots and lots of long and perilously spiky spines ready to stab you. No hugs for this plant! Stay the heck away from it, actually.

It's very easy to grow - just suit yourself up in full body armor and grab a pair of tongs so you can pick up a bit of it, put it in the ground, and step back. You're sure to regret it one day.

I jest of course - it's a great plant for PSG because it's so easy to grow, obviously requires no water and awful soil is fine, it repels all boarders, and grows quickly for a cactus. It's also a great potted plant for a sunny outdoor spot.

As for the common name, Eve's Pin, you could totally use the spines as pins. I am guessing Eve was a destitute Peruvian dressmaker who discovered this one day, but I could be wrong.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Planting more plants

Matt and I headed out to PG last weekend to get more plants out of our yard and into PG. Chris had mentioned it was looking pretty weedy, and he wasn't kidding - an explosion of weeds happened! However, we had planting business to do so those weeds will have to wait...

First up we unloaded six 15 gallon Cordylines from the trailer. We got 3 "Torbay Dazzler" and 3 "Red Sensation" because they are the most drought-tolerant varieties out there. Matt grouped them in the left bed and the middle back bed, and they got watered in.

Meanwhile I worked on weeding one side of the steps. Again. Didn't I just do that recently? Ugh! I planted 10 Achillea "Coronation Gold" there - the toughest, least invasive kind. I also found two large pups of the Agave there. Whose name I can't remember.... OK well now we have 4 of them on the right side of the steps. Surrounded by Achilleas. I can't think of a tougher plant grouping, but time will tell - this area has been changed up so many times over the years, and very few plants make it there. We'll see!

Also worth noting that there are lots of very SCENTED flowers in the garden right now. In the picture, clockwise from top left they are: cherry plum, narcissus, bronze loquat and mock orange. Go have a sniff - they smell simply divine!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Workday with Juul a success!

Today we had a 3 hour corporate workday at PRG with local company Juul. They sent along about 30 very enthusiastic employees who worked their tails off to make our neighborhood a nicer place to be, and they far exceeded my expectations!

There was a lot of prep for this workday - pre-weeding, ordering wood chips, blocking off parking spots for the chip dump, picking up tools from DPW (and returning them), picking up drinks for everyone, packing the trailer and a thousand other details.

At 11am I had 10 cubic yards of wood mulch delivered by Miguel from Bayview Green Waste - a pile that was a bit daunting, if I am honest.

I was really grateful to get volunteer leadership help from Chris, John, and Gina today: thanks for answering a million questions and keeping everyone going with great cheer all day!

And the Juul team was full of energy! I divided them into two teams - weeding and mulching. All the beds needed to be weeded, then have a thick layer of weed-supressing mulch laid on top.

And of course while that was going on, trash needed to be picked up and divided into recyclables and non-recyclables.

The teams set to work as quickly as they could, but as the day wore on I was worried chips might be left in the pile - which means I'd have to move them myself somehow, as we cannot fill parking spots with wood chips. I decided to strategically bet John $10 that his team couldn't finish the task in the time allowed. Challenge accepted: John rallied his team and they plowed on.

I finally called time at 2pm, but the mulching teams kept wheelbarrowing mulch down the street until it was all gone. Troopers! I guess I owe John $10 now, but it's money well spent.

We filled 40+ bags of green waste, piled up and ready for Recology to compost up. That's a truly impressive result. Thank you Juul for sending your finest people over to make Potrero Hill gorgeous.

Have a walk down the block soon and enjoy the clean beds. We have a few weeds left over - we do need a few for our next volunteer day on April 6th and with GoodData in May, after all. Hah!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Preparing for a big workday

Agave vilmoriniana
"Stained Glass"
We have a corporate workday on Wednesday March 13th: we're excited to have 40 volunteers from Juul coming to PRG to help weed! If you'd like to join us, we're going from 11.30am-2.30pm.

This means lots of planning. I am ordering wood chips, organizing extra tools, buying more gloves, and need to get lots of beverages too.

In addition, I've been at the garden preparing. Which feels a bit like cleaning before a house cleaner comes, but I want everything to be ready to go. That means preparing for a huge amount of wood chips that, if they are dropped on the street, need to be moved OFF the street and into the beds in one session: we cannot leave piles of wood chips on the street!

Acacia melanoxylon
(Black Acacia)
So I've been taking a census of areas that a) need heavy weeding, b) need a light weeding or c) need no weeding before wood chips can be spread there. I've been working on weeding areas that only need a little work to be chip ready, and right now PRG is divided equally between those three categories.

Gonna see how much weeding I can do in the next three days to prepare! Yesterday I did the top area, and planted a dozen Nassella tenuissima too. Today is too rainy... try again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Plant Profile: Yucca "Blue Boy"

Latin name: Yucca desmettiana ("YOU-ca dez-met-ee-AH-nah")
Common name: Yucca "Blue Boy"
Originally from: It doesn't exist in the wild!
Blooms: It blooms July-August with large clusters of waxy, translucent white, pendulous blooms.
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Rain is plenty.
Height x width: 4'-6' x 3'-5'
Zones: 7-10
Where to find in P. Garden: We have a group of these at PG in the middle back bed, around from the bench.

You know we love Yuccas, and this one is a fabulous new plant to the trade. While it's been called a
hybrid of Yucca desmetiana, it's also been described as Yucca aloifolia "Purpurea" and I am starting to wonder about that. I have some at home which I got from different places - one set has that very stiff, dagger-like leaf that Y. aloifolia has, although these are much smaller plants so far than the rest of my group. The rest of them have a softer, curving, leathery leaf that won't kill you. We'll see what happens...

The variety name is misleading too - it's not blue. But it is a superb maroonish-purple and that's unusual in Yuccas.

Over time, it reaches 4 to 6 feet high and up to 5 feet wide, with several stems - but it's a slow grower. In most climates the stems will grow straight upwards, but they may also swerve and meander a bit before turning upwards. We can't wait to see what ours do. Right now they appear like a huddle of Cousin Its from the Addams Family !

This plant thrives best in hot, dry climates, but it's adaptable. They say it's not bothered by humidity but I have noticed that the foliage color may vary with the weather, being more blue-green at the coast and yellowish inland. Deer steer clear of this perennial, and periods of drought will not faze it.

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