Friday, November 30, 2012

Our trees arrived!

Heidi waits in the rain....
This morning I met Heidi and her crew from Friends of the Urban Forest (FuF) onsite at 7am. It was light outside, but raining, and as the commute traffic whizzed by us on 17th we waited... and waited! The nursery truck delivering our 22 trees and the contractor with the augering machine were both delayed. Annie came out and chatted with us before leaving for work, and having good company made it much more pleasant.
Annie & Matt watch the trees arrive

Eventually the trees and augering machine did show up. The mad-max style jeep augering machine set to work digging out the holes Annie and Matt had laid out the night before, and the small crew of FuF helpers helped guide truck with our trees into Regent's Cab lot. They have been super nice to let us store some Yuccas there for months, and are letting us store the trees there overnight as well.

Once the truck was backed in we began unloading in the rain, a splattering of mud coming from off the trees/truck as we unloaded the large, wet, heavy trees and stakes. All worth it! Needless to say I was also getting covered in mud, so no photos of this part of the operation. After I was clean enough to operate my cell phone I was able to snap a photo of one of the boxed trees on site for perspective, and an example of one of the augered holes.

Tomorrow we will meetup with FuF and their crew of volunteers to install the trees - so stay tuned for some great photos. Maybe drop by with a warm cup of tea?
Tree onsite
Exemplary Hole

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tree positions marked

It rained all day, in case you didn't notice, or are vacationing in Hawaii! I went and checked the street at 6pm to mark spots for the tree augur guy to come drill holes for them tomorrow morning. It was raining and several cars were parked in tree planting spots. Gah.

I went and did some more work for a few hours, and just now at about 10.50pm Matt and I returned from marking the spots in the rain. Only one piece of machinery is blocking a tree spot now and hopefully Mike the contractor will move it tomorrow.

We are wet and cold but that part of the job is done. We had to measure each spot twice to be accurate: 19' from the roadway, another 5' for the sidewalk, and then halfway between the fence and that point for each tree. Oh, and 20' apart. Our measuring tape got very muddy, and we went through a couple cans of paint. I have to say the new area looks amazing though!

Tomorrow morning Friends of the Urban Forest are meeting Emily at 7am to drop off the trees. Emily thinks I am getting up at 6am to meet her at 7. Haha. Hah!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best thing to do after it rains

An honor: first daff of the season
Given the rather wimpy storms we get here in San Francisco, I knew in between rain showers I could get to the garden today and get some work done. I was not wrong! The best thing to do right after a good rain is to pull out weeds, they will be much easier to remove. I weeded the brights bed, pruned back the old parts of the Glaucium grandiflora there that is one of my favorite plants, took off the dead bits on the Echinacea and tidied up the Iris by removing dead leaves. I also took a walk throughout the entire garden admiring how lovely the plantings are right now and pulling out offending weeds as necessary. I highly recommend taking a quick walk through the garden before it rains again, and you can spot the first daffodil of the season blooming. The Salvia and Yarrow next to it are blooming are well, we are so lucky here throughout the winter to have so much color!

A favorite: Echeveria 'Fred Ives'

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Aerial views and more!

Maybe it looks even better from above!
Annie and I received two great emails this morning from neighbors Jason and Nataly. Not only did they tell us how happy they were about the new street park, they sent over aerial photos of the site. A double whammy of happiness! I hope they continue to take aerial shots of the street park as it progresses. If you have photos of the site you'd like to share, please email them to me at

Yea, heavy equipment!
Just as it was getting dark I was able to take my dog Bentley on a walk and check out the day's progress. A good portion of the street has been roped off so that the asphalt can be safely removed. We are still maintaining two-way traffic and perpendicular parking on both sides, so don't worry! The area between the parking and the fence has a bunch of rock, asphalt, and unmentionables dumped over the years by countless people of questionable morals, so it all has to be dug up and safely removed. No more dumping allowed in our street park!

Bentley checks out the BRC to be
In addition to the area being removed along the fence, there some additional features that will have the asphalt removed from them as well - these are labeled 'BRCs' for bio-retention cell. It is basically a fancy way of saying a planted area that acts to slow down and filter rainwater. There are 4 of these located along the parking zone to slow and filter water as it travels down the street. You'll love them, we promise.

Beautiful, level park
The site was originally quite sloped, so much so that if you stood at the bottom by the fence you could not be seen from the street level. Now with the retaining wall finished and the area back-filled with dirt, the site is almost level. I am honestly overjoyed to see things at this stage of completion - so many meetings about the retaining wall,  grading of the site, the eventual redwood fence that will top the structure... endless.

Night-time Agaves at P garden
After walking through the new street park Bentley and I headed up to Pennsylvania Garden to dispose of his doggy waste and enjoy night-time at the garden. With the new street park we may incorporate some features that are not found at Pennsylvania Garden - like a larger seating area with lighting - but for now we're just dreaming up the possibilities.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Make hay while the sun shines

Agave, Bulbinella, Phormium
Whenever people complain about the weather in Frisky Town I think that a little perspective would not go amiss. I grew up in Wales so if you think 10 inches of rain a year is bad, try 10 FEET.  On a local level though, I also spent many years living in the Haight and yes - it gets pretty foggy there, which is depressing. But Potrero Hill? No so much! When I look back on my blog posts the sunny weather gets mentioned so often it's almost relentless.

Anyway, today Matt and I went out in the, yes, warm sun and checked a few tasks off the list.

First I staked the Cordyline "Electric Pink" in the middle front bed - it got wobbly recently, and I really want it to suceed.

Matt removed a good-sized Agave americana from the cactus wall, along with a dozen pups. These gorgeous blue-green plants are almost a weed. We planted these as small pups back in January 2009 and they have grown so much they're out of control. The plan is to remove all but one, and replace them with other types of Agave for variety. The removed ones will go to the SPUR project (now known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden) down the block.
Yucca gloriosa "Variegata"

He planted the mother plant temporarily in the gap behind a still-weak recently planted Phormium tenax near the shed in the dog area.  Recently it's clear someone scrambled through that area, mashing the Phormium and an Aloe vera among other things, so the Agave should stop intruders dead!

I planted a plant of new genus for us in the same area - Bulbinella robusta (Cat's Tail) - a lovely yellow-flowered plant from Africa that's similar to a Kniphofia. It loves summer drought, so it should be happy in that spot...

While Matt was potting up some seedlings he found at the base of the Bladderpod (Cleome arboria) I planted a small Yucca gloriosa "Variegata" at the bottom of the steps. It's tiny now, but should grow strongly - another drought buster! I gave the Salvia involucrata in the dog area a quick prune, and we called it a day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just half an hour

Matt and I ran up to the garden to move an Agave today.

We had 30 minutes and Matt got to work right away and removed the Agave vilmoriniana (Octopus Agave) from the cactus wall, where it was being overpowered by the massive Agave tequilana (Tequila Agave) sitting next to it.

I cleared a space at the top of the steps of yarrow (Achillea) and popped the Agave in. Done!

I think it'll do very well there - the cactus wall was a bit hot for that particular Agave in my opinion.

Retaining wall progress

Yesterday work continued at the project site, with lining fabric being attached to the inside of the wall, as you can see in this photo.

Tomorrow Emily and I will meet to  mark the locations for the trees on the streets so that Friends of the Urban Forest can augur holes on November 30th for the December 1st tree planting day.

We are also going to delineate the areas of asphalt to be removed from the street which will be planted in order to prevent the erosion at the bottom of the street, and to slow traffic - one of DPW's stipulations for the project. If you've ever tried to turn the corner at the bottom in a car you'll know it's perilous, and there's been more than one speed-related accident as people zoom round there to avoid the 4-way stop at Mississippi and Mariposa. Simlarly people park very haphazardly at the corner, often leaving cars almost in the middle of the street.

As a result we plan to make 3 or 4 car-sized bulb-outs into the parking on the east side only to collect storm water and slow traffic. We will not be performing any work to the West side of the street at all.

Friday, November 23, 2012

This is why we live in California!

During and after
So sunny and warm in the garden today - Matt and I worked up a sweat in tee shirts. Not bad for late November.

We decided to tackle one part of the middle back bed that has got out of control. The Aster "Bill's Big Blue" is done flowering, and needed to be cut back. Bill is a bit of a handful, so we are pretty tough on him - Matt cut him back and dug a whole lot of him out (anyone want some?) s well as installing a board below ground to stop Bill creeping back over and leaning on the Aloes and Kniphofias next door.

While he was doing that, I was similarly quite aggressive towards a clump of Crassula lycopodioides that, while it's a good ground cover, can also be a bit of a pest - it was mashing my row of Aloe brevifolia.

Aloe ferox
After cleaning that out I removed a Dudleya farinosa that was in great shape, but whose green color was a bit lost there - I replanted it along the edge of the left bed. Then I added 7 more Aloe brevifolias to my group in the middle back bed, we rearranged some Aeonium arboreums, removed a floppy-headed Aeonium haworthii (why do they do that?) and brought the Echeveria "Fred Ives" to the front. Matt put a big rock in, I added a Nassella tenuissima and voila! Makeover complete.

In other news the Aloe ferox flower is starting to open - it's so bad ass!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for our neighbors

Retaining wall in progress
Happy thanksgiving everyone. Today we're feeling grateful to our friends and neighbors on the street who have come together to help make this project happen.

This week contractor Mike Glynn has been hard at work with his crew installing the retaining wall - as you can see the wooden supports are also now almost complete.

Next week he'll be removing some asphalt and back-filling the retaining wall to create a slightly sloped area we can plant on. The design for this wall was donated by geotechnical engineer Bryce Neuman, and all the hardcore storm water calculations and intense water flow math was donated by landscape architect Andrea AlfonsoJerad Wiener and Sandra Zuniga at DPW cleared the path for us to make this project happen, and DPW Director Mohammed Nuru gave us the nod when others said it couldn't be done. heck, even Mayor Ed Lee said he wanted to see this happen when he came by the project site!

Steve Schweigerdt and Maria D'Angelico at the San Francisco Parks Alliance helped us through the painful grant process, and kept us going when we wanted to give up.

Richie Hart and Eamonn Herlihy who own the Dorsett & Jackson property on the street will be donating a 5' tall, approx 200' long redwood fence to go on top of the retaining wall in case anyone things driving over the edge is a good idea, and it should mitigate a little of the noise from the train track as well.

On November 30th our pals Heidi and Doug at Friends of the Urban Forest will be delivering our trees to the Regent's Cab parking lot at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue - thanks Steve Anton for letting us use that space! December 1st is tree planting day - we hope to see everyone there! (Put December 8th and 15th on your calendars too - it's a 3 workday series and we need as much help as we can get!)

And yesterday James Fregosi of Fregosi Paints gave us a key to his water bib so the very awesome  Emily Gogol and I could perform a water pressure and flow test last night (it's looking good!) He's giving us water for the new trees.

Thank you all (and everyone else who's been involved in any way at all - there are many more!) for helping us with this project. It's going to be so darned cool when it's done.

Monday, November 19, 2012

New beams added to the retaining wall

Beams ready to go!
Today I went down to the site to talk with our contractor, Mike, about the placement of the decomposed granite pathway and removal of asphalt from the site. There could be a lot of asphalt underground that we do not know about, so we have to wait and hope the process will go quickly and smoothly. Asphalt removal will be after Thanksgiving, and I can hardly wait. It is so exciting to see the street park taking shape, one week at a time!

When I was onsite they were installing the wooden beams that bridge the steel posts. Measure twice and cut once! It was a beautiful day outside, and I am hoping they were able to get all of the wooden beams put in.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Trees on the way

We have worked with Friends of the Urban Forest to select trees for this project, and it looks like we have candidates lined up with the help of Heidi L. our contact over there.

Our requirements were quite stringent, and we did a lot of research on the best species for the spot. Here's our wishlist:
  1. Extremely drought tolerant, or xeric.
  2. Evergreen, so they look good year 'round.
  3. Not too tall (we have overhead wires.)
  4. Low litter - less fruits, nuts and leaves falling all over the place.
  5. A nice mix of 4-5 species.
These are the trees it looks like we're getting:
  1. Olea europea (Olive tree)
  2. Agonis flexuosa "Jervis Bay Afterdark" (Purple Peppermint Tree)
  3. Acacia stenophylla (Shoestring Acacia)
  4. Tristaniopsis laurina "Elegant" (Small-Leafed Tristania)
  5. Acacia baileyana "Purpurea" (Purple Fernleaf Acacia)
We tried for a few other species but they weren't available - Psoralea pinnata, Cussonia species and the like - but we're happy with the one's we've got. They're sure to look fantastic on the street. Planting day is December 1st at 10am: join us!

Plant Profile: Aloe ferox (Bitter Aloe)

About to flower
Latin name: Aloe ferox ("AL-oh FER-ox")
Common name: Bitter Aloe
Originally from: The Cape Region of South Africa
Blooms: In fall a huge candelabra of orangey-red flowers emerges.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water needed.
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 9' tall x 4' wide
USDA Zones: 9 - 11
Where to find in P. Garden: On the cactus wall, near the entrance arch,

Also known as Cape Aloe, Bitter Aloe, Red Aloe and Tap Aloe, this species is one of over 500 indigenous species that are concentrated in Southern and Eastern Africa. Common in the south western Cape through to southern Kwazulu-Natal, it is also found in the south eastern corner of the Free State and southern Lesotho. 

The Latin name Ferox means "fierce" or "war-like" and refers to the leaves that not only have spiny edges, but also spines randomly growing on each side, with younger plants being spinier than older ones. It's not even half as vicious as your average Agave, but compared to the average plant it's pretty scary looking.

A form of Aloe ferox is found in Kwazulu-Natal, particularly between the midlands and the coast in the Umkomaas and Umlaas river catchment areas. This used to be known as A. candelabrum and has subsequently been included in the species. The "A. candelabrum form" has an elegant shape with the leaf tips curving slightly downwards. 

Just planted
Our A. ferox was just a little mite when we bought in April 2009 it at Annie's Annuals - a mere 4" pot sized baby. I planted it on the cactus wall and hoped for the best, assuming it'd be quite some time before it amounted to anything. As is often the case, I was wrong. It has grown from 6 inches high, with 6 leaves, to a good 30" tall and about 50 leaves, and is flowering for the first time in 2012. It makes me proud!

Growing into a short tree, the single trunk will eventually reach about 9-10' tall. Old, dried leaves cling to the trunk as the Aloe grows, creating a crisp brown skirt that Aloe fanciers admire. Any Aloe that makes it to tree size is an object of wonder to gardeners outside Africa!

One day it'll look like this!
A. ferox is most famous for the medicinal qualities of the plant, which contains anthrone C-glucoside aloin (=barbaloin) in the leaves, and for over 200 years has been farmed for that purpose in the Cape region of South Africa.

The hard, black, resinous stuff that is produced from the bitter, yellow juice just under the skin of the leaves is known as Cape aloes or aloe lump and is used mainly for its laxative properties but is also taken for arthritis. "Schwedenbitters," which is found in many pharmacies contains Aloe ferox and has been sold for over 430 years. It was first brought to Germany during the 30 year war by Swedish troops in the 17th Century. The plant is also used in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound healing properties.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Here Comes Street Park!

It reads better as street park
Finally, after years of waiting and struggling to get the green light, today is the first day of big trucks and workers in high visibility jackets! It was an awesome sight to walk West on Mariposa street, and see all the heavy equipment.

As soon as reached the corner of Mariposa and Pennsylvania, I spotted our contractor, Mike, heading out for the day. I stopped to chat, thanking him for all of his hard, and avoided getting hit by the commute traffic as I walked north on Pennsylvania towards the site.

All that work getting done!
As I got closer it was obvious that major changes were happening - numerous steel posts were already cemented into the ground, and they were busy positioning more at the very northern end. The guys running the concrete truck were waiting for the next pour, so I went over to say hello and thank them for their work. They were also keen to know what the final plan was for the street. One worker was looking forward to rain tomorrow, as he has been working 10-15 hour days and wanted a break, business has been too good. Nice to hear business is going well! My vote however is for no rain - that park can't go in fast enough.

Kessler and Crew
The crew positioning the steel posts were busy working, so no commentary from them, but I was able to take a bit of a group photo. Hopefully I can go back tomorrow and continue the progress, so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Baby it's cold outside!

A Red Admiral butterfly having
a snack on an Echinacea
Well that spot of hot weather ended with a cold bucket of water to the face, didn't it? Today was sunny but with a wintery chill in the air thanks to a lot of icy air blowing down from Alaska.

Matt and I popped out and looked at the damp garden, and noted how quickly every weed in the place is growing right now. A pox on weeds!

I pulled common white yarrow (Achillea) - a once-favored plant and now a weed - from the steps area where it was busy taking numbers and unmercifully kicking the asses of the other plants in that area.

Matt moved three Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Avena Grass) clumps in the back border around to better spots nearby. Sometimes I look at where a plant is growing and think "what blind person put that there? It clearly should have been put a foot to the left!" and then remember that it was me who did the planting. Oh well. Plants love to be moved around and appreciate a change of scenery as much as you or I!*

We need another accent plant in that border, among the Blue Avena Grasses,  Agapanthus, Aeoniums and orange Calendulas. I'm thinking of adding some Aeonium "Zwartkop," and another Phormium "Guardsman" or two to tie in the burgundy colors further down, plus a few clumps of the variegated mini Agapanthus that are getting swamped in the middle back bed for a bit of brightness.

*This is not true.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Expanded Edition of Intern Fridays

Diane, Stephanie, Ryan,
Brittany and Shelby!
What a full workday on Friday! The task of the day was to clear out the dog area of weeds and lay down something that would act to suppress weeds - in this case, a very large piece of free jute carpet. Did I mention free?

Our regular interns were there, Shelby and Brittany and Brittany's beau Ryan was also there to help. At the last work day Diane and Stephanie had said they wanted to come back as well, so I invited them too. So, this expanded edition of 'interns' was set to clear out weeds, and they did a fantastic job. The mulch we laid down last Fall has composted significantly more than I expected, so I've made a note to get extra mulch delivered when we mulch the new street park. All in all, looking much better up in the dog area. Go team intern!

So much lovely

Flower ladies: Kimiko & Mary
First off, the fundraiser last night with Mariquita Farms was a great success! We sold all of the bouquets and received so much goodwill from the neighborhood. Lots of thank-you's, smiles, and even extra donations. It was great talking with everyone, and I hope to see you all at the garden sometime soon too.

Our display; half sold!
Carol, a big supporter of the garden!
Mary, Kimiko and I arranged all of the flowers in my kitchen. We were able to make two different arrangements, one more of a 'Fall' theme with sunflowers, solidago, rose hips, mums and so on. The second arrangement was a rich assortment of blue-greens (honeywort, hydrangea), deep pinks (carnations), and soft purples (mums). Both were lovely, great job Mary and Kimiko!

Next, we rushed off to Piccino to setup. Gary and Annelle donated a card table for us to use (thank you!) and as the customers came to pickup their veggie boxes from Mariquita Farms, they stopped to pickup a bouquet too.

Nate came by as well to help work the table, and we were sold out before the event was over, with Mattie, a volunteer from last Saturday, stopping by to purchase the last bouquet! It was a wonderful evening, and we are so grateful for everyones support!

Monday, November 5, 2012

$10 bouquet is for real - a fundraiser for the new garden!

Bentley anticipating his bouquet
As if things couldn't get any better around the garden! So many awesome volunteers over the weekend got Pennsylvania Garden into shipshape, and the new garden on the 100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue is going in this month, a big wow there! Now, we've been given the opportunity as part of the Mariquita Farms Mystery Box Thursday at Piccino to have a fundraiser. Cloud nine!
This Thursday from 4:30-7pm we will have bouquets available for a suggested donation of $10, outside Piccino at the corner of Tennessee and 22nd. The lovely bouquets have been donated by local florists to help raise funds for a new garden on the 100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Wow!
Which reminds me, if you are ever able to make a donation, no matter how small or quirky, just send me an email and I bet we can make good use of it.

Hope to see you all Thursday,


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Volunteer Day: mental!

Carlin, deep in a bed
Today's volunteer day was busy. Very busy. When Emily and I arrived the arch at the top of the steps had been knocked down, so we quickly straightened it and fixed the broken ties holding it in place. Seems like the jasmine on it survived, but I think the arch is rotting out.... do we need a new one?

Then people started arriving. We had 18 people working away in the garden and got so much done it's outrageous! We divided all the tasks between the people, and this is how it all went down:

Stephanie & Diane
Carlin and Patrick weeded assiduously all around the paths and into the borders. They can always be counted on to do that job perfectly! Carlin also moved Dahlia and lily bulbs around.

Stephanie and Diane weeded the steps area. I pulled out 5 weeds to show them what had to go, and left them to it. 2 hours later the steps are weeded very carefully and with great attention to detail - yay!

Nate and Tania pulled nasturtiums (aka weeds) out of the front border, which is an ongoing problem there.   

Eliot: before and after
Eliott, Nate, Emily and Steve worked together to make a low wooden shoring for the bottom of the steps where the slope tends to crumble. Not anymore it doesn't!

They installed several pieces of redwood with wooden stakes and replanted the lamb's ears on top of the little retaining wall. It'll be lovely when they grow over the edge and cascade down.

Molly gets dug in
Molly and Matt weeded the border behind the wrong way sign, and pulled out the Agave gypsophila there. It had 6 pups that went in along the front of the border, and the original plant went back in.

They also moved an Agave scabra, some Aeonium zwartkop, and added three more clumps of regular Aeonium arboreum too, into better positions height-wise. They pulled out 4 Limonium perezi that were not really doing well there (not enough water, and the purple flowers got lost among the Agapanthus behind them) and set them aside so we could decide where to plant them later on.

Erika and Mattie
Erika and Mattie helped me remove all the Aloe maculatas and Festuca glauca (Blue Fescue) from the middle back bed and rearranged them much more cleverly.  There was a great deal of digging going on there, but the end result is so much more pleasing!

We also took out the two Sedums and Matt replanted them in the middle front bed, and 3 variegated Society Garlics (Tulbahgia violacea) as they didn't match the planting plan.

Later on, Matt moved the 4 Limonium he'd dug out, and the 3 variegated Society Garlics from the middle back bed to various spots to the front border, and also moved a Euphorbia myrsinites to the arch area from the middle front bed. Matt took the three Aeonium nobile from the middle back bed and set them under the Euphorbia lambii tree there, which is a much better place for them I think.

Brittany and Ryan energetically turned the compost and removed two wheelbarrow loads which were spread about the garden - great to see that happening! Sometimes you think you'll be buried under all the plant waste, and when it turns into something useful - whew!

And with that, we were done. Another glorious, sunny, fun day in the garden. thank you all for helping to make the community look so much better!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Groundbreaking info

DPW has removed all the homeless encampments and cut down the weeds on the street per our request (and the requests of countless other residents and businesses) and we're delighted to announce that our contractor Mike Glynn will be starting work on the retaining wall at the north end of the street in the next 10 days. 

We will be reaching out to businesses on the street to ensure accessibility can be maintained as much as possible, and regular street parking will be affected - please bear with us during this work phase and contact annie at or emily at if and issues come up.

We will be having three work days in December where volunteers can join us in making this project happen. We're volunteer led and believe in the power of the community to get things like this done, so please come out and help! Volunteer days are as follows:

Dec. 1st. 10am-1pm:
Tree planting with Friends of the Urban Forest - FILLED (more always welcome!)

Dec. 8th. 10am-1pm:
Building the sidewalk: installing edging and landscape fabric, and putting in decomposed grantite - NEEDS VOLUNTEERS

Dec. 15th. 10am-1pm:
Installing sidewalk edging rocks as wheel stops to prevent cars driving on the sidewalk  - NEEDS VOLUNTEERS

We hope you can join us - please sign up here to get involved (there will be drinks and snacks for everyone, as well as buckets of good karma to take home!)
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