Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Workday this weekend!

Join in - from 10am to noon we will be creating a brand new bed in the top area of the garden, weeding and tidying and hopefully avoiding any inconvenient rain!

Monday, February 26, 2018

More movement, more weeding

Hm, chips...
Matt and I popped over to the garden on the weekend to see if we could move some more plants, and arrived to a mixed surprise. A huge pile of wood chips in the top area...

Great news: we needed chips! Not so great news: we didn't know these were coming, and whoever dumped them completely covered a few plants in chips. meaning we had a lot of work to do uncovering the plants before they died, versus other important tasks...

Agave rescue
We got an Agave tequiliana out from under the pile, and it looks OK which is good news.

I'll be contacting the wood chip company to straighten them out...

I weeded one of the top terraces and spread some chips on it right away, and we put some chips in the brights bed too.

Freshly weeded
Then we finally moved to the cactus wall. Matt set about taking down some Yucca branches and setting them up in the back area to prevent encampments, while I weeded the bottom path some more. I did another 5 yards of path, and two more of the steps as well - each freshly weeded section is so nice and neat :)

Matt also pulled some Opuntias out, and a small Aloe. All these plants will be set up in a new bed at the top of the garden, or put in pots for the short term.

I pulled some trash out and left it on the curb for 311 to pick up, and was notified by the 311 app that it was gone a couple hours later. Great app - I recommend everyone download it!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Time to start moving...

Austrocylindropuntia subulata
The owners of the building next to PG have let us know that they intend to demolish the building in June. I went to their offices and looked at the plans for the site - 59 units of residential, all rentals!

Center Hardware has already relocated, and Gary's Brickley Production Services will move too - very sad for us as Gary and Annelle have been wonderful over the years.

What does this mean for PG? Well, for starters, we need to move the plants along the cactus wall so they can build a retaining wall along it.

These plants have done a superb job of protecting that wall from graffiti and have thrived in the hot, dry spot with no water at all. In other words, they're mostly very spiky cacti, which means moving them will be tricky. Matt and I have started the process but we will need to work on it for the next few months to get it done.

Last weekend we cut out a few more Yucca branches to root elsewhere, and left a pile of cuttings on the sidewalk for people to help themselves to. If you want cactus cuttings to start yourself, let me know and I can cut some for you.

We also reinforced some of the plantings at the back of the garden to help reduce the chance of homeless encampments somewhat - a lot of our cacti will end up back there.

I worked on weeding a bit too. After the rains and sunshine, the weeds are very vigorous - I cleared one section of the bottom path completely. There is so much more to do that we're having our annual weedathon again this year - watch out for more on that!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Project Spiky

Before: hole patched
On Friday I got another fence repair quote, this time "only" $500, but I also got the phone number for a maintenance supervisor for Caltrans from a NextDoor neighbor, and have him a quick call.

Chris the Caltrans guy went right down to the garden and fixed the hole. BAM! :)

Then, on Sunday Matt and I went down and started Project Spiky.  This tried-and-true method for preventing nefarious behavior involves planting spiky plants in areas that seem to attract encampments and drug abuse.

After: less inviting
We cut several large pieces of Opuntia subulata aka Austrocylindropuntia subulata aka Eve's Pin, the mildly terrifying cactus native to the Peruvian Andes which grows so well here. We planted them right where the hole was, being careful not to be stabbed ourselves, and mostly succeeding by wearing two pairs of leather gloves and wrapping the cacti in tarps.

Then we added some Opuntia ficus-indica - your basic prickly pear - several large branches of Yucca, and a few Agave americana. All of this will root into a morass of spines.

More Yuccas. Better protection
Now, I'm under no illusions that the plants will take off overnight, or be unmolested - two of the Yucca branches we planted last week had already been broken or uprooted by homeless people. So we'll likely have to add a lot more, and they'll likely get stomped on and look raty for a long time - just like the other Opuntias we planted there years ago, who have suffered a lot. But it's a start.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Plant profile: Narcissus papyraceus (Paperwhite)

Paperwhites! A glorious, almost jasmine-scented flower that pops up in late winter to cheer you up when the weather is dismal. Should you grow them? Yes! How? Read on.

Latin name: Narcissus papyraceus ("nar-SISS-uss pap-eye-RAY-cee-us")
Common name: Paperwhite
Originally from: The Mediterranean - Greece to Portugal, plus Algeria and Morocco.
Blooms: White or yellow and white flower clusters open from late winter, spring
Light: Likes full sun
Water: Rain is enough
Height x width: 18"x12"
Zones: 8-10
Where to find in P. Garden: There's a clump up by the top of the steps.

Although beautiful, delicate and scented in an expensive way, paperwhites are easy to grow. You can find bulbs at most garden stores or online, then just add water and away they go: they'll burst into bloom 4-6 weeks after you plant or pot the bulbs, and if you plant them at 2- to 4-week intervals you'll get a nicely a staggered display.

You can plant them in the garden, or in a pot, or even in a vase with water. To do this, just put the bulbs upright on some gravel in a clear vase, and add water until the level reaches just below the base of the bulbs, but no higher (if the bases of the bulbs sit in water, they will rot). Makes a great holiday gift! Keep them in a sunny windowsill and enjoy the sight and scent.

After they're done flowering, if your paperwhites are in the ground I personally leave the flower heads intact on these - unlike most daffodils to which they are related these guys will seed around. And more paperwhites is a good thing!

If you'd rather the plants save energy for more flowers next year though, just deadhead them as the flowers shrivel up. Then leave the leaves along until they dry up completely. This lets the plant store energy for next year's display. Leave them in the ground, and forget about them until next year. They'll be back! In fact, the bulbs multiply each year, and after a while you can dig up the bulbs and make new groups elsewhere.

If your paperwhites are in a pot or vase, let the foliage die down and dry off the bulbs, then store in a cool dark place, in a paper bag, till next fall. Unlike other Narcissus species (daffodils etc), paperwhites do not need to be chilled to start them flowering.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

All clear!

After a flurry of activity over the last 24 hours, the latest encampment has been cleaned up.

I don't know if SF HOT or SFPD got the people to move, as we contacted both, but I do know the camp was vacant this morning. And I won't share the other photos of the mess that was left behind but it was pretty disgusting.

At any rate, as soon as Chris told me the camp was empty, I used the 311 app to notify them it was ready to clean. At the same time, our contact at SFPA, the lovely May, contacted DPW too.

And just a few hours later, Gary let me know that the camp was cleaned and gone.

Now, we know it will be back, but we have to make the garden a very unappealing place to be for homeless people otherwise we're going to end up with another used needle and feces covered mess. Putting pressure on government groups to help clean up also transmits the message that a real solution for homeless people (vs shuffling them around) is desperately needed.

Now let's get the fence at the bottom of the garden fixed! I've called some companies for a quote - around $900. But if enough people ask Caltrans they will fix it - submit a CSR here:

Monday, February 5, 2018

You've got to be kidding...

Aaaaand, today both Chris and Gary told me the encampment is back. Already.

SFPA got back to me on what to do for PG, which is an update to the previous information I posted:
  1. SF HOT (Homeless Outreach Team) are available to offer homeless persons services and connect them with resources. They can be contacted at (415) 355-7445 - SFPA has called them today.
  2. SFPD is the agency to contact for any enforcement requests such as asking persons to move or to prevent persons from returning. I called them today.
  3. DPW crews can only clean up debris, trash, etc. They cannot move people or prevent them from returning.When the people are gone, we can get DPW to clean the trash/needles etc.

I have called  SFPA, SFPD and Caltrans, and submitted a new ticket to Caltrans at

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Workday follow up

Paperwhites - worth a sniff!
Today Matt and I went back to PG to do something to prevent the inevitable: a new encampment in the back area.

Matt cut a number of large Yucca branches, and we planted five of them along the terraces. We have more waiting to be planted, and will add some Agave americanas as well so this area is as inhospitable as can be.

I also planted out 8 smaller potted Agaves, various species - all that was left after the homeless people destroyed all the plants we were propagating down at the back of the garden.

We will need to plant not only more Yuccas and Agaves, but also be very vigilant that another encampment doesn't spring up. If you see one, let me know right away by emailing annie at, AND by following the directions here for encampments at PG, which is Caltrans land:
  1. First post a CSR here . You will receive a CSR number by email, automatically
  2. Call Caltrans rep Dennis at (510) 286-6438 and tell him the CSR number 
  3. Within 7-10 days they remove the encampment.
  4. It will return! However, when you repeat the above process 3 times, the state posts the area meaning there's more protection.
For encampments at PRG down the block, which is DPW land, here's what to do:
  1. Call 311 or use the 311 app ( to report the issue of an encampment at PG or PRG. I’ve already done this, but it’s not about me calling 10 times – a faster response comes from 10 people calling once each, according to the city.
  2. Call 911 if you feel threatened at all.
  3. Call Animal Care & Control at (415) 554-6364 if you see an animal in an encampment that is suffering, or behaving aggressively.

After - Furcraea
I also weeded heavily and moved a burned Furcraea to the front where it can recover, positioning the burned side out of sight. Matt rescued a Dasylirion and put it in what will be a new bed at the top of the garden, too.

Right now the garden looks serene. Let's keep it that way.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Epic volunteer workday result!

Before and after!
This weekend's volunteer workday was planned to have two tasks: weed the pathways at PRG and a tutorial on how to propagate some Salvias. It didn't quite go as planned...

Since last workday, the homeless encampment at the garden had been growing and becoming more of a concern. I'd contacted 311, Caltrans, DPW, SFPA and others in an effort to clear the site without calling in the police or CHP. It didn't appear that much was happening from any agency as nobody responded that it would be taken care of.

Aditi, Marcus and Sharon
Feeling pretty annoyed by that, I decided we could clear it ourselves as long as it was vacant, and I prepared with extra gloves and trash bags.

On the day though, thank goodness, the camp was empty and in fact had been burned to the ground, which is really concerning as it was very close to a building and clearly burned hotly and for quite some time...

That's a lot of used needles...
Many plants nearby had been destroyed, or burned. Strewn with trash, 20+ used needles, used condoms, vomit and feces, the whole back area was truly disgusting. My brave volunteers dove right in and started cleaning, carefully putting needles in our sharps container and bagging up the waste with no complaints. YOU GUYS ROCK!

Not for trash
I also removed a huge bag of trash from inside one of the composters. Please don't throw trash in there folks!

In total we removed almost a dozen trash bags of waste and a couple of old Christmas trees and other burned wood to the street side. Using the 311 app I called in a pickup, and DPW picked it up a couple of hours later.

One of the Coprosmas
After that task was done, most of the team moved down to PRG and worked to clean weeds from the pathway. In the meantime, I gave Aditi a tutorial on propagating Salvias and sent her home with enough cuttings to keep her busy till next month! She'd donated two lovely Coprosmas to the garden, as well and we planted those right away - they look great.

Chris cleaning trash
Matt cut down some Yucca branches in preparation for planting in the back area as well, and worked on re-leveling the pathway a bit.

Huge thanks to everyone who came and helped: Chris, Aditi, Sharon, Marcus, Leslie, Matt, Sarah, Yannicka and Hilary made a huge difference to our neighborhood today. Thanks also to Louk who dropped off oranges and water for the crew - much appreciated neighbor!
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