Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for January, 2009

Full Sun Flagstone

babys tears between flagstonesbabys tears between flagstones

Sunset should have a description for Arizona flagstone: drought-tolerant, best in full sun, tolerates some shade, longer lived in well-draining soils, short-lived in zones that get hard frosts.

It’s from the Southwest, so it likes Southwestern conditions, same as the plants. The stones were all freebies leftover from a project where I was working for another designer who had ordered too much stone. To give the stone proper drainage, it’s best to lay the stone in decomposed granite and gravel, but at our house, a rental, we wanted to keep things cheap, so we laid our flagstone in dirt, and it has done okay for us. It settled more unevenly than it would in DG, several of the thinner flagstones cracked, and the stone didn’t hold its color, but the graying, mossy flagstone patio fits into the rustic aesthetic of our yard so we’re happy enough. Arizona flagstone tolerates shade and clay soil, it just doesn’t thrive in it.

We planted a few different groundcovers in the joints of our patio. The baby’s tears is looking the best these days, during the winter rains. It used to dry out during the summer, but this year we had some pots near it, so it got the water that drained out the bottom of the pots and managed to stay green all year. It’s probably our favorite groundcover for damp, mossy areas.

— Addendum —

Arizona Flagstone Patio

Arizona Flagstone Patio

Here’s a photo of the patio in May. The baby’s tears is in the back behind the heuchera flowers.

Stone Quarries

Rock of Ages #1 by Edward Burtynsky

I got excited during the opening of the new James Bond. During the big car chase, a character said, “They’re heading for the quarry!” I’m into quarries and figured something really good was going to happen. After all, the best scene in the last Bond was the chase through the construction site. But Bond-in-the-quarry was a little disappointing: no great stone moments, no Indiana Jones boulders, nothing particularly quarry-specific. Bond drives really fast, dodges a lot machine gun fire, then shoots the driver of the other car and wins. Note to villains: machine guns don’t work against Bond. 

I occasionally come across links to webpages about former quarries. I’m going to try to keep some of them bookmarked here. We’ll see how many I add over time.

Bringing Down Marble from the Quarries in Carrara, 1911, John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent did a number of works at the quarry in Carrara. My favorite is above, a rare instance where I like an oil better than the watercolors. Others from his Carrara paintings and drawings can be seen here.

Canaletto’s The Stonemason’s Yard

I also like a quarry watercolor by Stewart White.

Other paintings include Old Quarry, Rockport by Henry Aiken Vincent, Quarry of the Chaise-Mre at Fountainbleau by Corot, The Sand Quarry by Guillaumin, Chou Quarry by Gauguin, a series at Bibemus Quarry by Cezanne, Bibemus Quarry was also painted by Andrea Masson. I can’t find Childe Hassam’s series at Rockport Quarry online, and I don’t particularly like The Quarry Pool, Folly Cove, Cape Ann.

The best quarry photographs, including ones from Carrara, are by Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky’s website has a great gallery of quarry photos.

The best quarry scene in film is still the one in Breaking Away. That youtube link has gone dead. Garden State has a quarry scene too. I have mixed feelings about it.

Quarries and Beyond has the most info.

Quest has a writeup on some of the old quarries in the Bay Area.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont is probably the most famous park made from a former quarry.

Opus 40 by sculptor Harvey Fite, a quarry site turned into a massive dry stone sculpture. It’s currently falling down because he didn’t break his joints, but there are efforts to preserve it.

Robert Morris made an amphitheatre/scultpure from a gravel pit, Untitled (reclamation of Johnson Gravel Pit). Robert Smithson’s Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is in a former sand quarry in the Netherlands. IHilary Anne Frost -Kumpf has a webpage about reclamation projects which includes info on the Morris and Smithson pieces, Opus 40, and a Michael Heizer piece Effigy Tumuli.

Quarry Garden in Shanghai Botanical Garden, a former quarry turned into a park, won an ASLA award in 2012.

Reordering Old Quarry, a residential landscape on a former quarry, by Reed Hildebrand also won an ASLA award in 2012.

Stone Quarry Hill Art Park

An article about the San Rafael Rock Quarry in Marin Magazine

A video about the Quarryman, a rock climb at a stone quarry, has some historic footage of quarrying.


sustainable sites test case  

sustainable sites native garden case study

Sustainable Sites Initiative has a collection of case studies that illustrate green building practices. The most interesting to us is Garden/Garden:A Comparison in Santa Monica, where the city installed a traditional front yard lawn garden and a low-water, native, sustainable design garden on adjacent lots so that people could see the side by side comparison. 

The native garden cost about one third more to install, $16,700 vs. $12,400; that cost difference came from the installation of a DG walkway to replace the existing concrete walkway and installation of rain gutters and a stormwater infiltration pit.

The native garden used 77% less water, 283,981 gallons/year vs. 64,396 gallons/year.

The native garden generated 66% less green waste, 219 pounds/year vs. 647.5 pounds/year.

The house and yard of the traditional garden look like relics from the sixties. I sure wouldn’t want my front yard to look like that, so I salute the owners taking a hit for science.

sustainable sites traditional garden test case

sustainable sites traditional garden case study


Our garden is smack in the middle of the Bay Area fog belt, so we are marginal for every heat-loving plant. We don’t even try to grow bell peppers, but we get good harvests of poblanos every year. We grow it with an ugly blue plastic bag and bottles of water around it to give it as much heat as possible. I’m not sure how much it helps, but we harvested a fistful of small peppers on New Year’s Day, so I’ll be putting the bag and bottles out next year too.

ryan 1/2

Tree Racing with Leptospermum Dark Shadows

leptospermum 'dark shadows'

Leptospermum 'dark shadows'

These are two Leptospermum “Dark Shadows” that we’ve been racing. They have both been in the ground for almost two and a half years. The one on the left we planted as a 1 gallon, the one on the right as a 5 gallon. The race happened by accident (we originally planted three fives, but I messed up on the irrigation and one of them died, to be replaced two months later with a one gallon; so, technically, the one on the right had a head start) but we’ve been watching the two plants grow with about as much excitement as a race between two immobile objects can generate. 

Supposedly, the one gallon tree will catch up after three years, and be the larger, healthier, more drought-tolerant specimen after five. That’s a bit of garden lore we’ve been repeating to clients, and this was our accidental test case. As you can see, the one gallon has caught up in height, after only two and a half years, though the five gallon is much fuller and has a significantly thicker trunk.

Sadly, the race has now concluded. The client moved to a new site and decided to try to take his tea trees with him. One tree has been moved already, and the others have been severely root pruned in an unfinished or aborted transplant attempt. We’re pretty sure they’re all going to die. I wish I had a better photo of them.

ryan 1/3/09

— Update 9/20/09 — The client left the largest specimen behind, probably because it was too big to transplant. It survived the root pruning and looks healthy. One of the transplanted trees is dead, but the other one — the one gallon — was is still alive, though with very little foliage.

— Update 6/15/10 — The race is back on. The one gallon tree survived its transplant. I guess it was still young enough and I should never doubt the resilience of young plants.

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, 5 gallon

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, original location

The five gallon tree that was root-pruned but not transplanted is still healthy. The one gallon is smaller but has more foliage.

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, transplanted

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, transplanted

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