Plants and Stone for California Gardens


Return to Duck Pass Trail


While I was on the east side, I went for a hike on one of the trails where I led a crew about five years ago, Duck Pass Trail. I recognized some of our work but I had a hard time remembering exactly which things we had built, which is actually a good thing; it’s often said that good trail work blends into the environment, that it’s not meant to be showy or eye-catching, a good trail is one that let’s hikers ignore the walking surface and focus on the landscape.

I didn’t linger on the trail as much as I might have and I didn’t take any photos of the scenery, which is gorgeous on a clear day. The weather deteriorated soon after I left the parking lot, alternating rain, hail, graupel, sleet, and eventually snow. It was disappointing that I didn’t have better weather, but educational. I’d never hiked one of my trails in such foul conditions, and I was shocked at how much water flowed on the trail, in some places frothing like a creek with little cascades surging over the steps.


Above is a little wall we built to reroute the section of trail you see in the first photo. The trail used to pass to the right of the tree, but erosion was exposing the roots and forcing hikers to make a high step, so we brought the trail around to the downhill side of the tree. The section of tree trunk was put there by a later crew that cut up a nearby tree that had fallen.


Years ago I was taught that this combination of a step and waterbar was called a Dolly Bar, named for a trail worker in the Sierras who presumably built a number of them. Because of the rain, I got to see it in action, the water rushing off the trail just as nicely as anyone could have hoped.


This is a step that I remember my crew building. It was nice to see it looking almost exactly as it did five years ago, despite all of the runners, hikers, horses, and mules that have stepped over it in the last five years. Trail work never really looks like all that much, a clean stretch of dirt instead of a gullied one, but I’ve had a chance to revisit some of the trails I worked on, and it’s always immensely satisfying.

Saddlebag Ditch

I haven’t blogged all that much about the drought. It hasn’t really affected me as much as I might have expected. Certainly I see a lot of dried out lawns around the Bay Area and I’ve stopped watering my garden for the most part. I’ve done more lawn conversions this year and for the most part lately I’ve been holding off on new plantings until (hopefully) the rains come back. But many impacts of the drought have been off-camera so to speak. So I felt a little shocked when we went up to Saddlebag Lake on the east side to see it had turned into Saddlebag Ditch. There aren’t many things uglier than a reservoir with no water.

Rock Creek Watercolors


Last week we went out to Bishop for a wedding and then afterwards spent the rest of the week camping in the area. We went a few different places, including three days at Rock Creek, where I made several watercolors along the creek heading up from our campground to the lake, my first watercolors of the year.



Though it’s called Rock Creek, the prominent feature in that section is a beautiful riparian grass. I’m not sure the species.


Up top, Rock Creek Lake is a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by pines and aspens. It seemed like peak time for the coloring of the aspens, a great time to be there.

Tournesol Containers?


One of my recent projects includes some containers for a roof garden. I don’t generally do a lot of containers, and it can be a struggle to find the right ones. These are from Tournesol. They make a number of products and I see their advertising in various magazines, but I wonder if this was a small project for them that didn’t have their full attention because they were a frustrating company to work with. There were long waits for estimates and other information, the turnaround time was a couple of months, and then the containers showed up without the specified drainage holes on the bottom, which was irritating because they had made us specify and draft out the holes for each container. For the price we paid, we shouldn’t have needed to drill our own holes. I’m curious if other people have had similar experiences. I like the containers and how they fit into the space without distracting from the views, but it was a lot of effort to get ten pots and I doubt I’d use Tournesol again.



I grew up in the suburbs, so it’s always kind of amazing to me to be up on a rooftop like this. A different type of Bay Area garden space than I usually get to work in.


Renaissance Sculpture Restoration

I’m not particularly interested in figurative renaissance sculpture but this is an interesting story. An important Renaissance sculpture, Tulio Lombardo’s Adam, fell over and shattered into twenty eight major pieces and hundreds of smaller fragments. Instead of quickly glueing it back together around a metal armature, the restoration team took took over a decade to painstakingly restore it using a reversible adhesive and pins in only the ankle and a knee. Quite a process. There’s a cool time-lapse of the restoration here.

Scarlet Monkeys Like Greywater


Our garden is looking pretty sad these days. I’m not watering much, and a lot of the plants look drought stricken, struggling to hang on until the rumored El Niño arrives. Plus our dog has been marauding through the veggie garden chasing after a squirrel. One spot, where she repeatedly slams to a halt after missing the squirrel, looks like a shallow bomb crater. The happiest plants are the larger plants that she has to avoid or else safely in containers, out of the trample zone. Far and away the best thing in our garden right now is the Scarlet Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis, in our greywater bed.


Above is what the greywater bed looked like in November when I rebuilt the bed and planted several divisions of the Monkey Flower. Below is a similar view only eight months later. Needless to say, the Mimulus has thrived with the greywater. We’ve had profuse blooms for nearly two months.


They make such a profusely blooming mass, I don’t always notice the form of the flowers, but up close I like the flowers quite a bit. Scarlet monkey flowers aren’t the most refined looking plant, they reseed a bit, and they do best with good amounts of water, but they’re a good plant. I don’t know a lot of flowering natives that thrive with greywater, so as that kind of planting becomes more common, maybe we’ll start to see them used more.