Archive for September, 2010
Sometimes I get reminded that Richmond is a refinery town.
The biggest corporate property owner, employer, tax payer, and polluter in the city is Chevron. Their relationship with the city is often adversarial, with a business tax measure (T) aimed directly at them 2 years ago, an audit finding $28 million in underpaid taxes last year, and more lawsuits and threatened lawsuits and petitions than I can keep straight. Anita and I get opinion-polled about the company on a monthly basis, and recently the company invited us to a tour of their refinery. It’s the first time in anyone’s memory that they’ve opened their doors to the public, so getting the invitation felt a little like getting a golden ticket. I was expecting to see oompah loompahs or something.
The tour was, of course, tightly controlled. We were on a bus the entire time, and there were no cameras, cell phones, or bags allowed. I was hoping they would show us their restoration project in Wildcat Creek Marsh on the north end of their property, but they kept the tour within the main facilities. I’m not sure what I learned, maybe that they have a lot of pipes (5,000 miles on 2,900 acres) or how they sell the various bi-products of the refining process, including CO2 to carbonated beverage companies. After the tour, they gave us gift bags with aluminum water bottles (made in China), reuseable shopping bags, and some unconvincing literature touting all of the things Chevron does for the community and the environment. The Chevron logo on the shopping bags should cause much envy at the organic market.
A couple of weekends back, we went to a party in one of the gardens we installed this spring. I realized that this doesn’t happen all that often, that we don’t often get to see people out using and enjoying the spaces that we create, and that we don’t often hang out in and enjoy those spaces ourselves, so it was really nice to be in one of our gardens in something other than a professional context.
It was also interesting because the project was at an Eichler house. Eichler was a developer in the 50’s and 60’s who built homes in the California modern style, mostly in the Bay Area. The homes are known for their vision of California indoor/outdoor living, often with floor-to-ceiling glass looking out on the backyards, and it was nice to see that in action. The house and garden really do have a seamless transition.
The plantings are still young, so the No-Mow fescue meadow is the most interesting horticultural element while everything else grows in. The no-mow blend is one of those things that we’re not always sure that people will like; it’s not manicured enough for some people, and the sod looks like a bad shag carpet when you first unroll it. This one has been a big success, though; everyone at the party seemed to like it and talk about it and to find it much more interesting than a regular lawn. Someone recently wrote into the Chronicle describing the no-mow blend as looking like ‘bear fur or yak fur or something, really beautiful.’ I wouldn’t have expected yak fur to be used as a compliment, but I guess I can see their point. I just think it looks more appropriate for California than mowed bluegrass. I have tended to think of the no-mow blend as a form of lawn, but this summer it sent up golden seedheads that glowed in the sun like a proper meadow.
We’re planning to add bulbs to it this fall and see what we can get to naturalize. It was too late in the year to do much this past spring, but we did put in a few starts of Allium unifolium and two kinds of Rain Lily, Zephyranthes candida and flavissima. Neither of them were in sufficient quantities to make a big show, but the rain lilies have taken and we’ll see if the alliums come back this fall. (update 10/20 — I just did the bulb planting and the alliums did indeed survive through the summer. A. unifolium really is the most moisture tolerant of the alliums in my experience.) We’re doing our bulb order soon, and if all goes according to plan I’ll have some photos with a bunch of flowers in the meadow next spring.
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