DryStoneGarden

Plants and Stone for California Gardens

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The Pueblos Mancomunados

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I spent a week hiking in the Pueblos Mancomunados a couple hours by bus into the highlands above Oaxaca City. The Pueblos are a group of 8 towns communally organized with tourist cabins and a place to eat in each town. They’re about ten to twenty kilometers away from each other so it’s easy to hike from town to town with just a daypack. It’s pretty country, a nice easy walking tour, and the highlight was a section of pre-hispanic trail between Lachatao and Latuvi. My photos and watercolors from the hike are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Oaxaca Watercolors

While I was in Oaxaca I tried to do a watercolor every day. I didn’t quite manage that, but I was quite prolific by my standards. Kind of fun, I’m hoping to continue maybe once a week throughout the year. This isn’t every single watercolor I did — I did a few others that I’ll mix into my upcoming posts — but it gives a decent overview of my trip while I work on my more targeted posts. The first one is from the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden in the center of town inside the walls of the historic cathedral complex, a fantastic garden; I’ll do a post about it soon. The second shows a booth selling clothing in the street nearby, set up in front of the side entrance to the cathedral.

Both of these views show the cathedral, Santo Domingo. On the left side of the wide angle view is the entrance to a terrific museum. It was featuring an exhibition of one of my favorite sculptors Jorge Yazpik; his work will probably get two separate posts. The agaves in front of the church were wonderfully dramatic. Gotta do agaves and palms if you’re going to watercolor in Oaxaca.

I also went to Monte Alban and Mitla, Oaxaca’s two best Zapotec archaeological sites. Beautiful stonework, I took many photos. Mitla has a Spanish church built onto the Zapotec ruins.

I did some hiking from town to town in the hills above Oaxaca City in an area known as the Pueblos Mancomunados. One section of trail in particular was spectacular, with pre-hispanic stonework to admire and bromeliads flowering in the trees. That will probably be my next post.

After some time in the highlands, I went down to the beach. The coast there is beautiful, warm and friendly and suitably tropical for a January vacation. I made this watercolor of the town laundry in Mazunte. There was a sign boasting that everything was ‘Washed with Love’; I probably should have incorporated that into the painting.

These two are from neighboring San Augustinillo. Walking along the road from Mazunte, the landscape of dusty sun-baked scrub opens onto a view of the ocean surrounded by palms, sudden technicolor like when Dorothy opened her eyes on Oz. I find that Mexico’s beautiful places are often made more impactful by the undistinguished scrubland surrounding them.

Oaxaca has a strong graphic arts tradition, which led me to make several other watercolors which are more graphic, less realistic and perspectival than what I usually do. They’re included below for anyone interested. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tule Tree

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Happy new year. I’ve been on a trip to Oaxaca, skipping out on a lot of the rain and mudslides we’ve been having. I’ll probably have some posts related to that at some point — among other things a sinkhole opened in one of my gardens where EBMUD punctured a storm drain — but for now I’ll be posting about Oaxaca. Its stonework, ruins, art, and plants are the stuff DryStoneGarden dreams are made of.

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One of the first things I did was visit the Tule Tree, a Montezuma Cypress with the world’s widest tree trunk, 46 feet across at its widest point, 147 feet total in diameter. I recommend clicking on the photo to get the full size view. The people in the left corner give a sense of scale.

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The tree is beside a church in the center of a town. One legend says it was planted 1400 years ago by a priest of the Aztec wind god, another legend says it was a walking stick planted by a king or god. More recently, someone planted hollyhocks, roses, and a lawn around it, creating a distinct ‘world’s biggest ball of twine’ vibe. The topiary collection includes a dinosaur, a teddy bear, and kissing ducks.

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But in spite of that, a 1400 year old tree has a presence powerful enough to overcome any indignity presented by its surroundings. The trunk is truly superlative.

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And even more than the trunk, the canopy is magnificent, like an entire forest in a single tree. The branches droop down nearly to the ground, giving a wonderful sense of enclosure, and the trunks rise up like the clustered columns of a gothic cathedral.

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I’ve been in groves that felt like a cathedral, but I’ve never had that feeling from a single tree.

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The (Not Entirely) Native Green Wall Revisited Again

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I stopped by the Drew School green wall again recently. Planted with California natives by the world’s foremost green waller Patrick Blanc, it’s the most interesting green wall in the Bay Area and I’ve been checking in on it periodically. Helpfully, it’s a few blocks from one of my ongoing projects.

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I was impressed the first time I saw it in 2011 and again when I visited in May 2015. This time not as much; there’s a lot of bare felt and dead foliage. November is not its month to shine, so maybe I’m being a little unfair, but photos of green walls seem to always show them either looking brand new and gorgeous or or completely dead and failure-soaked, and this one is somewhere in between those two extremes. I didn’t see anything wrong with the overall system, just that it could use some maintenance and replanting; I’m sure it will be better looking in the spring. At this point, I still think it compares reasonably with a conventional garden — more ambitious, more expensive, requiring more maintenance, and more thrilling when it hits its peak. Even with the bare patches and dead foliage, it’s still an exciting thing to see on the side of a building.

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One disappointment, though, is the use of non-natives where many of the California plants failed to establish themselves long term. The wall now sports some New Zealand Tree Ferns and a lot of European Geranium. Penstemon heteropyllus and Mimulus bloomed prettily at first but were short-lived. Heuchera, a plant which often grows on cliffs, thrived in the first few years but is now almost gone. Oxalis and Asarum have faded away, and the long runners of Beach Strawberry, which draped over several sections of the wall when I first saw it, must not have managed to attach roots to the felt and have now withered away. None of that is entirely atypical for a native planting in such an urban area. This was Patrick Blanc’s first time using California natives, and he always acknowledged that it was somewhat experimental. I wonder what he would say about it. It’s no longer the tapestry he first planted but it has begun to approximate a recognizable native habitat, the type of fern-covered slope I showed in a post about the Bouverie Preserve. With deciduous ferns lower down and scruffy shrubs higher up, that particular habitat is gorgeous and green in spring, less delightful in its off-season, and then gorgeous and green again.

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Pendent Boulders

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Lately my commute has been taking me past a collection of giant metal sculptures. It’s pretty dramatic. The first ones that catch your eye are figurative works, oversized humans kneeling or beseeching the sky behind chain link fencing and barbed wire, surrounded by cracked concrete and weeds and graffiti, but my favorites are these abstract ones with granite boulders hung from a metal framework. The suspended boulders have a certain energy. I’d like to scale the fence and climb on them, maybe swing around on the one on the chains, but no doubt that’s why there’s barbed wire. The yard is part of a large studio warehouse space that recently sold; the new owners reportedly intend to keep it going. The studio’s facebook page links to a new organization, formed after the Oakland warehouse fire, devoted to sustaining Oakland’s creative spaces. I hop this one sustains. It’s a highlight of the commute.

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Sea Ranch

I was up in Sea Ranch with my family for Thanksgiving. I’d stopped there before and explored a little, and I once posted about the chapel, but this was my first time staying there. It’s great, deservedly iconic. The landscape is dramatic, the houses are sited nicely in the landscape, and the hiking trail along the bluff has some great moments as it moves through the tunnel-like cypress windbreaks and the open bluffs.

While I was there I experimented with using an ipad for drawings. I’m skeptical of the ones I did entirely digital, but I like the results when I hand drew a little thumbnail, photographed it with the ipad, then colored it digitally. It’s not all that different from coloring it with markers, but it let me erase or adjust the color and there’s something nice about the flatness of the digital color. I’ll probably experiment some more with entirely digital drawings in the future, but this method seemed like a good addition to the bag of tricks.

I also did a couple of watercolors. I’m hoping to do more of them next year.

Thanksgiving weekend marked eight years of this blog. Posting has slowed for me and just about every other garden blog I follow, and commenting has faded away, but I still prefer the blog over all of the other online formats. It remains a great tool for organizing thoughts, images, and links, and I often find myself going back into my archives or sidebar. I intend to keep posting, my thanks to everyone who keeps reading.