Getting ready for the garden show, I’ve been having fun playing around with some large pieces of scrap basalt from the stone yard. Their fabrication shop has been making benches out of hexagonal basalt columns; they cut big rectangular pieces from the center of the hexagons and then sell off the parts that they cut away — the irregular outer ‘skin’ of the basalt column — for cheap. The skins are really interesting stuff, unusual shapes with a smooth cut face that can be flamed or polished to several different textures and rough natural faces that contrast nicely with the cut face. I bought a bunch of the long pieces to use as a low retaining wall and edging, and also some randomly shaped ones to play around with. I need to make an upright fountain basin by the time I’m done, but to get used to the stone I made a couple easier pieces first.
I hadn’t really done this kind of stonework before. Building walls, I mostly just clean up the stones, shaping edges or squaring corners or removing high points. I hadn’t ever really tried to break into the mass of a stone like this, so I started with this relatively small, trapezoidal stone as an introduction. I scored a grid into it with a grinder and then knocked the pieces out with a point chisel. I hadn’t worked with true basalt before, and it has a much different feel from other stone I’ve worked with. It’s hard stone, with a high, glassy sound when I hit it, and it’s noticeably heavier than other stone, always taking a little more effort to move than I’m expecting. But the work actually went pretty quickly.
The photo above shows the basin after the first pass. I scored it a couple more times after that, making it deeper towards one end and in the middle. Apparently, larger birds like a two or three inch deep birdbath, while smaller birds like the water only an inch deep. So far, though, with it set up temporarily in our yard, I’ve mostly just seen our dog using it as a water dish, though I have found bird droppings on the rim, so I know something is using it. In the garden show I’m going to site it at ground level, but after the show I might give it some sort of pedestal to raise it up out of cat range. I still need to sand the rim to make it darker, and I might change the surface below the water level, where you can see chisel scars and one cut mark from the grinder. I could polish the part under the water so it gets dark and glassy, but I kind of like the chisel marks and I might pock mark the whole surface for a bigger contrast with the smooth rim.
After the trapezoidal piece, I moved onto this larger one. I liked its polygonal shape well enough, but I wanted to see if I could make it round. I thought I might have to cut around the edge with a grinder, but it was surprisingly easy to shape with a big handset chisel.
Like the trapezoid, it still needs to be polished. I’ll probably do that next weekend, and then a week after that it will be in the show. I’m pretty excited to see how it looks with plants around it. I’m about halfway finished with the fountain basin I need, and I have a large block I want to make into yet another basin, but so far the large block has pretty much laughed at my efforts to shape it (my sledgehammer broke instead of the stone). I’ll have the fountain ready for the show, but the block is probably going to sit in front of my house for a while. It’s been fun working on all of it, and should be fun finding a final home for each of the pieces after the show.
“It’s pretty spectacular what plants do. The more I work on them, the more I’m amazed.” Ted Farmer, University of Lausanne
I’d already heard about a lot of the research referenced in this video, but it was nice to see the concepts illustrated with sharpies. There’s also an article at Wired about essentially the same thing and a longer article by Michael Pollan in the New Yorker Magazine giving the research his unique pop science treatment. Also, when the article came out, he was on Science Friday for those who prefer more of a podcast format. A lot of this research seems like confirmation of things that gardeners intuitively know, but it’s great to see science giving evidence of the some of latent genius of the plant world.
Happy Bloom Day. This is an unusual bloom day for me because I have mixed feelings about seeing my plants in bloom. I haven’t mentioned it on this blog before, but I’m doing a display garden in the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show next month and a lot of the plants in bloom are things I want to still have in bloom four weeks from now for the show. A few are long-bloomers that I expect to keep going, but a couple are in danger of finishing too early. The biggest question is probably my two native annuals, Meadowfoam and Tidy Tips. Both of them began blooming a month ago, so I have been pinching off all of the flowers as soon as they appear. So far it seems to be working, but two months is a long time to suppress their bloom.
These are a couple of meadowfoam plants that I have given up on and am letting bloom unchecked. I have other meadowfoam plants that aren’t as far along, and the slowest ones are probably going to be the best at show time. My biggest concern is to make sure they also keep producing foliage as well as flowers.
The Tidy Tips is actually looking a lot better because of all the pinching. I decided to let this leggy specimen bloom, but most of the others are nice bushy little plants that will bloom as soon as I let them. I think the flowers will be smaller from all of the pinching, but there should be a lot of them. I keep telling them to wait; hopefully they won’t give up on me.
Other plants in the garden are doing well. Sidalcea is blooming nicely; I think it will keep going until show time. I deadheaded a Solanum today, the first time I’ve ever bothered to deadhead one of them; it should be prime in another month. Asarum caudatum is blooming, but with all respect to them, there is no way their brownish flowers will show up under the strange garden show lighting, so it doesn’t matter if they bloom or not. Mahonia repens will probably finish too early, but they’re left over from a project rather than something I intended for the show. Non-natives like the Hellebore and the Daffodils aren’t earmarked for the show, so I have no mixed feelings about seeing them in bloom. I’m not deliberately trying to exclude non-natives from the display garden, but I do want to make sure that the natives are well represented and that’s mostly what I’m growing for the show. Back in the fall when I agreed to do the show, I looked back at several years of March bloom day posts from here and from other California bloggers like Town Mouse and Country Mouse. Natives always look really good in March; even when they aren’t blooming yet, their foliage is usually at its best. This has been such a strange year, though, that I’m not confident that I know what will be happening a month from now. It feels a little ridiculous to worry about plants finishing before mid-March, but it’s better than the usual problem of speeding them up to get them ready for the show. Strange year.
I’m not sure what I have to say about doing the garden show itself. Anita and I did it once before, in 2008, though at the time we had never actually been to the show and really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in for. We got plenty of work afterwards, so in that respect it was a success, but we finished with the feeling that we could have been smarter about it if we’d had a better idea what to expect. It’s such a strange artificial creation, and we could have done it more smoothly and efficiently if we had understood the differences between show gardens and real ones. We’ll see in another month if I actually manage to be smarter, smoother, and more efficient, but so far I’d say I’m having more fun this time. I’ve also lined up final homes for most of the plants and materials we’re using in the show, so there shouldn’t be much waste involved, though a few things like the annuals will get discarded after the show and some of the bulbs won’t be usable until next year.
The show has new owners this year who want to shift the focus of the show more towards sustainability. Partly as a result of that, we decided to conceive of the garden as a lawn conversion project. Lawn conversions are something we do pretty often, and with the crazy drought this year, a lawn to garden display seems even more appropriate than ever. It’s a little contrived to make a garden that is supposedly built on top of a lawn that never existed, but we’re going to have a sheet-mulch demonstration that should be interesting. People are often confused and intrigued when they see us covering a lawn with newspaper mulch as if we’re doing some sort of crazy landscape paper maché, so it should be fun to talk about.
The garden plan shows the concept we submitted to the jury, though the final design will end up somewhat different. I created the original concept with a partner who decided to drop out due to time constraints. I’m now doing it with a different partner, Sha-Khan Starks of Deep Rootz Design, so some of the elements designed with my initial partner are going to change as Sha-Khan and I move forward and actually build the garden. Essentially, the yoga/meditation deck and the walk-thru reflecting pool were the domain of my first partner, so now that he is out of the picture, we’re changing the big water feature into a smaller stone/water element that is more water-conserving and closer to what we personally tend to do in gardens. There are also a few other stone elements that I’m fabricating on my weekends. I’ll probably post about them fairly soon. I don’t know how interesting the garden show is to people, but it will be dominating a lot of my attention and probably this blog as well for the next month or so. In the meantime, check out May Dreams Gardens for lots of proper bloom day posts full of flowers. I have a list of what’s in bloom in my garden below.
Happy New Year. I took a bit of a blogging break there. I’ve been busy with projects and a vacation down to Baja. I should probably comment on this crazy drought we’re having or this evenings blessed rain, but my head is still in vacation mode.
These watercolors are all from Cerritos Beach on the Pacific coast north of Cabo San Lucas. I was staying in a palapa on the beach, but there’s an upscale hotel, Hacienda Cerritos, on the bluff overlooking it. I’m not usually interested in resort architecture, but this one is done really well, with beautiful detailing, including hand-carved doors, carved stonework, colorful tiles, custom wrought-ironwork, a diaper pattern in the brick dome, and lots of other grand touches. I would describe it as tastefully ostentatious, if that makes sense. There’s a video tour if you click thru to their website, though I recommend first hitting mute because there’s an audio track that cheapens it. While I was painting in the courtyard I heard a few different groups of people go through, and everyone gave out some form of ‘wow.’
Happy Solstice everyone. This seems somewhat solstice appropriate. While I was working on my friend’s project in San Francisco, I went by the James Turrell skyspace at the De Young several times. Titled Three Gems, it’s a little dome with a hole in the roof for viewing the sky. The acoustics are very cool and, after you sit for a while, the blue sky showing through the aperture seems just as much a physical thing as the concrete roof.
The feeling of the space, staring up at the sky, reminds me of the giant Cor-ten double-moebius by Richard Serra that I posted a couple of years ago. There’s a nice photo on the De Young site that shows the aperture, the circle of cast light, the doorway, and the stone circle in the center of the space all together in a single photo without too much lens distortion, but I also like just the simple flattened image of the aperture which feels somewhat abstract and flattened in person, too, after you stare at it for a while.
Sort of an interesting before and after on this patio. I did a design for the backyard of a rental property a friend of mine owns, one of those San Francisco backyards that you can only access by walking through the building. A general contractor, or rather the guys he delegates everything to, did the installation. I tried to keep everything really simple, designing the patio as a simple square made up of 24″ x 36″ Connecticut Blue rectangles, which in the Bay Area cost just $7/sq.ft., making it it one of the most cost effective materials after you factor in the simplified installation.
The contractor’s crew butted the stones up against each other as if they were pavers. You can do that with some stones, but these are a little too irregular. I’m not sure how bad it looks in the photos, but in person it didn’t quite look right. It almost looked right, and my friend signed off on it, but it bothered me enough to spend a couple of hours with a helper spreading the stones to give them the quarter inch decomposed granite joint that I’d spec’d. No doubt it’s partly just my personal preference, but it looks much better with the joint. The joint also lets the patio drain better and allowed us do a better job with the DG bed underneath the stones.
With the stones butted together, your eye is drawn to the places where the stones don’t match up perfectly. With the joint absorbing the irregularity, your eye lands on the stones themselves.
Giving the patio a DG joint also made it match better with the stepping stone path leading to the patio.
A couple of before photos. The garden used to have a lot of roses and fruit trees before the owner passed away and everything fell into neglect. There were several grape vines, which confused me at first because there was little chance of them fruiting, but I think they were grown for the leaves.
For now, we only installed the larger plants in the design and everything is sheet mulched in an effort to suppress oxalis. The plants are all nice but fairly common — a fernleaf Japanese Maple, a Lemon tree, a Star Magnolia, a Variegated Buckthorn hedge, Spiraea, some groundcovers — but if a gardener moves in and embellishes the plantings it could be a sweet space.