Thursday, December 26, 2019

Xmas gifts!

On xmas morning Matt and I popped out to plant some plants. Merry holidays to everyone on P Hill! Here's what we put in:

3 Agave desmettiana variegata
3 Furcraea selloa
7 Agave parryi
37 Aloe nobilis - yes, thirty seven!

We made a new bed on the way to the composters with most of these, and planted about 8 plants opposite them. We have lots more plants to plant, so come to the next workday if you enjoy that type of thing :)

Matt brought along the chainsaw to cut down a tree stump but for whatever reason it would not start (unlike yesterday when it worked perfectly...) so we gave up on that.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Rain means new plants

Aditi planting
Yesterday’s workday promised rain so Matt and I packed up some plants that needed to be put into the ground and assumed that nobody would show up to help plant them. Which is OK! Nobody likes working in the rain. Except us

However, we were wrong. Chris, Josh, and Aditi showed up to help us out. It's always so nice to see your friends show up to help! With our excellent core team we managed to get a good list of plants in the ground:

4 Nassella tenuissima
6 Salvia leucantha
2 Salvia canariensis
4 Furcraea selloa variegata
2 Cortaderia selloana “Silver Comet”

Other jobs were taken care of too. Chris also moved an unknown agave (any ideas on the species?) and worked on revamping the bed behind the wrong way sign - his personal project. Josh planted pups in our pup farm, I picked trash, Aditi changed out the dog poop bags, and we all noticed tiny weed sprouts... everywhere...

Matt also felled the Agave americana flower spike by the arch - after a year of flowering and seeding, it was finally done.

Despite my predictions, it didn't hit any cars or people when it came down (aaaahh!) and Matt got it all chopped up and put in bags for 311 to remove right away. We brought the dried up top home to use as a Christmas tree.

We only had one quick shower during the workday and it was great to see plants responding to the rain. Grow on!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Plant Profile: Dasylirion longissimum

Latin name: Dasylirion longissimum ("daz-ee-LEER-ee-on lon-JISS-ee-mum")
Common name: Mexican Grass Tree, Longleaf Sotol
Originally from: The Chihuahuan desert of northeastern Mexico
Blooms: A light yellow stalk of flowers grows 8-10' above the plant in summer.
Light: Full sun.
Water: No watering, just rain - don't let them get soggy or they will rot!
Height x width: 6-12' tall x 6-8' wide
Zones: 8b to 10b
Where to find in P. Garden: We have one up at the top of PG, and a clump of three small ones at PRG

You may have noticed our big new plant at the top of PG recently, and I blogged about how we got it from Craigslist and planted it too, which was a huge job. Why all the fuss? Well, for one it was hard work for the team and that deserves a mention, but it was worth it because this plant is unusual, and usually very expensive to get in a large size.

Long included in the Agave family (Agavaceae) this genus is now considered to be in the Nolinaceae family with Nolina and Beaucarnea. We have another in the same genus - D. wheeleri - in the garden too.

The name for the genus Dasylirion comes from the Greek words 'dasys', which means "dense" , "rough" or "shaggy" and 'lirion' meaning "lily" because of the long, rough leaves. However, D. longissimum doesn't have rough leaves. They're amazing - blue-green in color, 4-6' long, fairly stiff but not rigid, and smooth, with a point at the end. They radiate out from the core symmetrically, and the effect is like a giant koosh ball or a fiber optic lamp.

Show off that trunk!
Eventually (over decades) the plant will grow a woody trunk and the whole thing can get to 12' tall. In order to show off the trunk (and make it look longer) older, bottom leaves can be trimmed off to expose the trunk. Lots of ones for sale are trimmed so hard that no leaves are left on with an angle of less than about 60 degrees. It looks pretty unnatural but the plant appears older so probably commands more money.

The name for this plant in reference books has gone back and forth between Dasylirion longissimum and D. quadrangulatum. The reference books say D. longissimum is right, but other sources say it should be D. quadrangulatum. Either way, the name is as long as the leaves on this amazing plant!

We have a Dasylirion longissimum at PRG too, but this one was a much smaller plant when it arrived. Then it suffered damage by being crushed by someone, and I thought it would die. Nope, it grew back with multiple heads. It looks very scruffy, but perhaps one day it will recover fully and be as outstanding as the one at PG.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Dasy planted!

Digging another hole...
Matt and I woke up quite sore and stiff from the previous day of digging, but we knew we had to get that Dasylirion in the ground. And out of our truck, whose rear door wouldn't shut.

Happily, both John and Josh volunteered to help us, so we met them at the garden at 10am and got to work...

A suitable location was found at the top of the garden, a good 8" of wood chips removed, and a hole dug.

Dragging the giant plant...
The guys dragged the plant out of our truck, and hauled it up to the top of the garden on a tarp. I stood by and admired their efforts, smugly, while not sweating.

Then we filled the hole with water so the bone dry earth would not hurt the roots of the plant. After that, the plant was positioned in the hole and the hole back filled when the plant was upright. There was a bit of adjusting, but we got it straightened up.

I trimmed off the lower leaves that got damaged in transit, then watered it in thoroughly. After that, we all admired our gorgeous new giant koosh ball aka Dasylirion longissimum.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saw it, wanted it, got it, needed a nap

Wrapped and ready to dig up
Browsing craigslist the other night I saw someone offering up a 7' wide Dasylirion longissimum free to anyone who would dig it up.

Actually, the ad described it as a "large yucca succulent like thing" but I knew right away it was one of my favorite plants - the Mexican Grass Tree - a species of flowering plant native to the Chihuahuan Desert and other xeric habitats in Northeastern Mexico.

I emailed the owner and he replied right away saying he'd love for lots of people to enjoy it at PG, so we arranged to head down to San Carlos today at 9am to dig it up. I was pretty sure he'd overestimated the size of the plant, as most people do, but brought along lots of tools and of course Matt to help.

Digging bar bouncy action
The owner and his wife watched as we wrapped the plant in plastic and started digging... and digging... they kindly brought us some water, and no doubt congratulated themselves on not having to DIY this task.

Eventually we had a moat dug through the rock hard clay dirt around the plant, and it was time to start using the 25# digging bar to pry the darn thing out of the earth. It did not want to come.

Three punishing hours later, it was out of the ground, wrapped in a tarp, and we had to get it down a dozen stairs and a log driveway and up into the truck. Less fun than it sounds - in other words, negative fun.

Body bag?
At last we got it in the car and drove home with the back door tied shut with a rope because the plant is too big to close it. It's literally 7' wide and a couple hundred pounds and we are both utterly shattered. Too tired, in fact to get it out of the car, so it's just gonna stay there.

Tomorrow John and Josh have agreed to help us plant it at 10am, so if you're around and want to help, PLEASE DO!

Thank you everyone who makes donation to the gardens - be it plants, time, or actual cash money: we are all making Potrero Hill a better place to be.

Friday, November 8, 2019

BRCs get beautified

Suzanne, Will and Bill
Sarah, Amanda, Josh, Chris, Matt, Gina, Janice, Bill, Will, and Suzanne - these are ten local (and visiting!) heroes who joined me at Pennsylvania Railroad Garden in the gorgeous November sun.

It was a real family affair!  Bill and Suzanne brought their son Will and dove in like experienced gardeners. Gina brought her mum Janice and well - they too know what they're doing! It's geat to see families working side by side like this - especially when they came to sort out our BRCs.

BRCs? Those are the bio-retention cells. Those four parking spot-sized bulb outs that catch storm water in the winter and divert it back to the water table.

The BRCs are full of extremely well-draining dirt which we added, and plants that love that type of lifestyle. So much, in fact, that they have enthusiastically overgrown the BRCs.

Janice and Gina
In case you're looking for planting ideas for your own garden or street park project, the species we used that are total rockstars in this location (full sun, no water except rain, fast draining dirt) are Phlomis fruticosa, Salvia leucantha, Agave weberi "Arizona Star", Agave americana variegata, Santolina chamaecyparissus, Cortaderia "Silver Comet" and Calandrinia spectabilis.

And yes, each of those names are links to a Plant Profile I've written about each species so you know how to grow them. Read more Plant Profiles here.

The BRCs got completely weeded, cut back and trash picked in just two hours - thank you for making a big difference team! Your work is noticed and appreciated by everyone in the neighborhood!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The tree aloe madness continues

loidendron barberae
Matt and I got around to planting another tree aloe last weekend. This time we got a big 15 gallon Aloidendron barberae (formerly known as Aloe barberae or Aloe bainesii before it got reclassified recently) into the ground in the left bed, near the entrance to the garden.

This aloe will grow to be a serious tree - with branches, up to 60 feet high and 36 inches in stem diameter. Eventually. I'm just hoping to keep it alive until it gets established, and will do my best to stop the cardoon from flattening it...

Aloe ferox
I also noticed that our Aloe ferox is starting to flower and has an actual trunk under there. Yup, it's also 10 years old (happy birthday!) and looking really good. One of my favorite plants in the garden.

We watered the new plants in and did some weeding, and called it a day. 

Don't forget to come to the volunteer day on Saturday!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

We've gone tree Aloe mad

Aloe sp.
At the last volunteer workday, Josh planted a tree Aloe in the brights bed. And last weekend, Matt and I planted more tree Aloes, bringing PG's total up to five - almost. Kinda.

We have had one tree aloe for many years. Our Aloe ferox, was planted in 2009 and it's now an impressive specimen in the cactus wall bed, although like all of them it'll be another decade before it attains actual tree status. It flowers every year and puts on quite a show. You can read about it in the Plant Profile, here.

A. thraskii
The one Josh planted was a donation from Mat at Farallon Gardens. This big Aloe thraskii took a bit of a beating in transit sadly, but I expct it will go bananas soon. It will eventually hit 10' tall, and they remain an unbranched columnar plant, instead of a wide branching tree - like Aloe ferox.

We used to have an Aloe "Goliath" at the garden, but had to move it twice as it wasn't thriving - the last time, to a pot where it recovered very nicely at home.

A. "Goliath"
Now that we have a bit of water access, the time is right to replant it at PG and it's in the left bed now.

This cross of the large South African tree aloe, Aloe barberae (aka A. bainesii), and Aloe vaombe from Madagascar usually grows really quickly to about 10' tall, but they also tend to have spindly trunks and fall over. We will stake this one up safely.

John gave us a Craigslist rescue Aloe a while back too. Now that it's grown lots of roots we put it in at the garden last weekend. The species is unknown though - it could be another ferox? But it certainly has a trunk so we shall see what it does. It's in the middle back bed.

The last big guy hasn't been planted yet. We have a 15 gallon Aloe barberae (aka A. bainesii) at home, and will plant it in the garden soon. This will be a massive tree in a couple decades, up to 30' tall with loads of branches. It has salmon-pink flowers too - hope I get to see them one day!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Welcome to summer, SF!

Those who've lived here for a while know the weather in the Bay Area is always best in the fall - we call it our summer. And this weekend we had a beautifully summery day for our October volunteer workday at PG.

Matt, Chris, Josh and I were joined by Veronica, and the team set about more winter prep tasks.

Josh and Veronica planted an Aloe thraskii - a new species for us that was donated by Mat McGrath of Farallon Gardens. This should grow into a nice tree aloe, and with a lovely watering basing built by the team, I hope it thrives.

Matt set up the water again  the second time this year. We deeply watered quite a few plants and noticed the watering done last time had helped a lot.

Already, the Phlomis and Leonotis have sprouted new leaves, and I think we saved a few Cordylines from certain death.

Matt also cut back the Matilija Poppy and worked on bagging up a lot of the branches from last time. 

Chris got down (right down... on the ground) to business removing fennel from the back slope, and then bravely de-pupping a large, exceptionally spiny Agave "Green Giant" up at the triangle gardens. Dangerous work!

He and Josh replanted some there as an encampment deterrent, and more pups will go on the back slope. Knowing how fast they grow it'll be a Green Giant forest before you know it!

I cleaned trash and Veronica helped me get the composters ready to use again. We'll fill them over winter, when it's wetter and the compost will break down quickly. We used some of the Chasmanthe leaves she'd removed to start the process.

All in all a very worthwhile Saturday!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

VIPKid makes a difference

Go team VIP Kid!
On Friday we had a really wonderful VTO day with the outstanding team from VIPKid. Based in SOMA, they zipped over to help us prepare PG for winter.

I was joined by PG regulars John, Carrie, Matt and Josh as my volunteer coordinators, and we got a LOT done with so much help: go team!

Tasks we dove into included cutting back Salvia leucantha, Salvia canariensis, Leonotus leonurus, Chasmanthe and all sorts of plants that will spring back as soon as we get rain.

One volunteer even cut down a dead Pittosporum tree, which was fun to watch. We will need to remove the branches over time, but at least that dead tree is more or less gone. And no we can replace the tree with something much, much cooler… maybe a Cussonia?

Thanks to all the work done at PG this year, very few weeds are in evidence there, but we still managed to fill a dozen big paper bags with green waste, and a few big plastic bags of trash too. John led a team at PRG to pick trash as well, an area that seems to collect a lot of waste.

Loads of green waste for 311
At the end of the day I’m always shocked at the impact a group of volunteers can make on the gardens: we cannot maintain the gardens without the help of these groups, so if your company want to join us, or even better you want to come to a Saturday workday, remember we’re out there rain or shine on the first Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm.

Thank you VIPKid: you rocked it!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Planting more plants

Mikey and Andrew
Our last volunteer day looked like it was going to be a bit rough. Matt and I had been at an event the night before and felt, shall we say, slightly furry around the edges? Anyway, we pressed on.

Our plan was to work on PRG, and we loaded up and headed there. Happily we had some great volunteers to get us focused, the sun was shining beautifully, and we planted lots of plants, which is always fun!

Yannicka and Harley
Yannicka and her sweet doggo Harley joined for pathway weeding, and Mikey and his friend Andrew worked to remove a large Agave that had flowered, as well as helping my efforts to cut back fennel along the path.

I called the SF AIDs Needle Pickup Crew (in case you find needles, text them a photo and lcoation at (415) 810-1337) and Michael returned to remove needles for us: always with a big smile :)

Josh, Matt, Mikey and Andrew put in three Agave geminiflora, moved three Yucca elephantipes, and added two Yucca filifera to the north end of the street.

There's more room for additional spiky plants in that area too and in fact I'm ordering some super-tough Yucca aloifolia for that spot which should make a real difference.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Agave drag!

Me and Jamie
Big day! We had to get the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania cleaned out and a lot of spiky plants put in as a deterrent to more homeless encampments at our volunteer day today, and the team comprised me, Matt, Chris, Jamie and Aditi. H'm, smallish team for such a big job, but "OK: we will see how far we get" I thought.

Luckily, we had help from some additional people, as you'll soon read...

Right away, Jamie, Aditi and I removed two huge Lavatera bushes from the corner, and several trash bags of garbage - the remains of a large encampment. I put n a 311 request for the trash, and Aditi put in a text to the SF AIDS Foundation for needle pickup.

Ready to drag!
Meanwhile, Matt and Chris set about trying to dig out a huge Agave franzosinii from up the street. After removing ht ebottom leaves and digging around the base a bunch, as well as removing a large pup for later use, they quickly determined that the Agave was not coming out due to the rock hard dirt.

After all that effort, they moved on to another Agave franzosinii and started preparing it to move too.

Having uprooted it at last, they managed to wrestle it onto a tarp. It was much to heavy (maybe 300#?) to drag down the street by hand though, so next they moved the truck in place to do the job, only to discover that the rope that lives in the back of the truck was missing.

I popped over to San Francisco Paint Source and asked if they could lend us a rope. Cody was happy to oblige! Back at the truck the Agave was lassoed and finally made it's way down the street... slowly...

Check out our Facebook page for a video of the Agave being dragged down the street!

Meanwhile Michael from the SF AIDS Foundation came by to pick up the needles: Thanks Michael!

After the Agave made it down the street, the guys discovered they'd need to get it from the curb into the bed. Not so easy... it was too heavy to drag, the tarp underneath it was pretty shredded by now, and it was all starting to seem a bit much.

Back to the paint shop I went and Cody this time supplied a very sturdy dolly. Thanks Cody!

As I was wheeling the dolly down the street I saw that a random passer-by, Mike, had been dragged into the fray to help move the plant.

Completely unfazed by the request, he leapt into action and helped manhandle the plant into place, getting pretty dirty in the process and no doubt acquiring a few scrapes as well.  Thanks Mike!

Finally in place!
Between the 4 of us we got the Agave planted, as well as a large Austrocylindropuntia subulata, a Yucca aloifolia and some other Opuntia pads.

Phew... what a day! Well done team :)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Volunteer Days

Josh + Dendromecon
Some volunteer days are busy - 20 or 30 people will wear you out! But some volunteer days are very quiet, and last volunteer day was just that. Me, Matt and lovely Josh. Down at PRG. Weeding. Chatting. Enjoying the sun.

Next volunteer day is coming up this weekend: please come! We will be working down at PRG again, removing a large Lavatera at the corner. In it's place I'm hoping to add some... guess what? Big Agaves! because why not. Anyone? Can anyone think of a reason not to have more Agaves? I cannot.

Lastly, a quick tip. Not sure which garden we're working in on Volunteer Days? They're only a block apart, and our email newsletter and website always says where we're working (hint: look in the right column over there!) but if you went to the wrong garden, our new signs should help.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Genentech Brings It Again!

Astounding team!
Every year Genenetech has a volunteer week where they show up at various nonprofits and help out. For the last few years they have worked with us, and Friday was their big day. We're always excited to have Genentech-ers at PG because they work darn hard!

I packed up my trailer with a couple dozen extra tools and three additional wheelbarrows from the SF DPW yard, coolers full of chilled beverages, and of course all our usual hand tools, gloves and so on (and on!) and headed to PG for noon.

As I was unloading, I saw a woman creating a lovely flower mandala for the solstice. We don't encourage flower picking, but this was for a very unselfish reason, and we had a nice chat about it.

New gravel path
At 12.30 I was joined by volunteer coordinators Carrie, Josh, Mikey, Matt and Gina. Around that time, Bayview Greenwaste arrived to deliver 10 yards of wood mulch for the paths.

And then the Genentech volunteers started showing up! We had about 13 this time around, and we quickly split them into teams to do the work required.

Josh took one team who set about removing the last of the gravel from the street and clearing and renovating the pathway to the composters.  Josh also weeded the nearby beds, and the whole area looks fantastic now, and is MUCH more functional.

Weeds - gone!
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew set about weeding the paths in preparation for wood mulch. This was a pretty fast job - we've been keeping up the paths pretty well. However, we still filled 10 leaf bags with green waste for Recology to pick up - no mean feat. A fair bit was cut back Euphorbias and Romneyas from the bottom pathway, too.

Then the huge job of shifting 10 yards of mulch started... and it ALL had to be moved away from the street by 3.30pm, so I was a bit stressed! I'm always a bit stressed about leaving material in the street, obviously, but somehow we usually make it happen...

Mulch pile - gone!
Incredibly, we finished early - by 3pm all the mulch was GONE and the team was giddy with exhaustion and (I think) joy, at finishing early.

Thank you Team Genentech for helping us with one of our biggest tasks of the year, with unrelenting good humor and energy!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Golden Gate Park turns 150 next year

Well, our gardens have been around a bit over 10 years but glorious Golden Gate Park blows that out of the water: in April 2020 they're celebrating 150 years.

Matt and I went to their 150th birthday planning meeting at the Koret Auditorium at SF Public Library last week, and they're looking for groups to put on events from April onward next year, in the park, to celebrate the event.

If YOUR organizations puts on events there, or is thinking about it, make them extra festive and add the GGP150 logo and so on. Visit the website for the event, which just launched and is basic for now, to find out more.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

All Hail the Renovated Composter!

Leslie: no friend of weeds!
My word, today was a blast. I sent out an email to our mailing list that I'd be giving a demo on succulent cultivation and a free succulent to folks who came down, and we had 14 volunteers! Bribery is a thing!

By NO means do I imply these volunteers weren't ready to work for their little succulent though - and wow, did they ever work.

Chris, John, Josh: pre-sweat
First order of business was finishing up the composter. I had sent out a pleading email to the core volunteer group asking them to help Matt and I literally push rocks up hill. Yep, I had done the calculations, and figured we needed a bit less than 2.5 yards of gravel to fill the composter steps that Matt and I built last week. The gravel was delivered at 9.30am to the Pennsylvania Ave side, and we needed to wheelbarrow it all up the hill.

Sarah: weeding machine!
Last time we did that was burned on my memory, and I recalled the exhaustion as fresh as if it was last week...

Happy day: Chris, John, Josh and Matt are strong lads and like a challenge. They were soon joined by Aditi's Dad and the next two hours were spent stapling hardware cloth to the bottoms of the steps, pounding rebar into the little retaining wall, and filling up those steps with the seriously heavy gravel. Heck, they even planted a line of yuccas along the bottom edge to hold all the loose dirt in place. Mind = blown.

While this feat was occurring, a similarly transformative feat of weeding happened elsewhere.

Leslie, Aditi, Aditi's Mum, Laura, Katsue, Dagmar, Gina and Sarah were weeding, and honestly it was not until everyone left that I realized the scope of their work.

Leslie carefully picked weeds out from the middle back bed and uncovered a lovely group of Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga in the diligent way only a real gardener would weed.

Katsue and Laura took on the steps area, and a similarly detail-oriented and careful restoration of the spot ensued.

Dagmar and Sarah went through the Aloe nobilis hedge along the cactus wall, and they also thoroughly weeded the other side of that pathway too, uncovering all the plants so they can now enjoy the sun and the emerging flowers will shine. 

Josh is not afraid of Agaves!
The whole bottom pathway looks wonderful right now, and you can even see downtown SF from there for the first time in decades as the Center Hardware and Brickley Productions buildings are gone. It's quite strange!

As you probably know, a new building full of condos will be replacing what was there, so get down and enjoy the SF skyline now, while you can.

Aditi + Mum!
Gina, Aditi and Aditi's Mum got stuck into the weeds along the sidewalk and the middle front bed. And I cut back the rambunctious cardoon and lopped back a load of Chasmanthe.

The net result of all this activity was that the collection of Recology-bound bags of weeds at the front of the garden doubled in size. 

Despite both Chris and I using the 311 app on them, they're still sitting there...

Aditi's Dad and John
A landfill trash truck stopped to pick them up but no - Chris told him to leave them: we want this stuff to be composted, since we have gone to the effort of making sure these bags are green only. 

Sorry neighbors - hopefully they're picked up soon and go on to create excellent compost to feed the vines of Napa. Can't really argue with good wine, can you?

Epic result

I did a quick demo on succulent cuttings and propagation, and folks left with new plants to enjoy. What a day!

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