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Archive for December, 2011

The California Native Vertical Garden

Last weekend I went to see the Drew School vertical garden by Patrick Blanc, the French botanist who started the current green wall craze. He designed a wall in San Francisco that was installed this past February (San Francisco Magazine did a feature with photos of when it was first installed and a planting plan). I was a little skeptical of the whole green wall thing, but then looking up at his wall — four stories high of California natives with over 100 species — my doubts evaporated. The whole thing absolutely overflows with enthusiasm for plants. Two big walls covered in natives, what’s not to love.

A pair of gardeners were doing maintenance while I was there. At first I was a little bummed to see this big orange cherry picker in front of the wall, but then I realized that it was a great opportunity to find out about the wall. I mean, I see this thing and I wonder how much does it cost, how will it age, how much maintenance does it need, and who will give me one for Christmas? Watching them work, I was impressed at how easy the maintenance actually seemed. Like any other gardeners, they cut the plants back with Felcos; they just let the green waste fall to the sidewalk and they barely even had to bend over to work. Progress was steady. It looked quite pleasant.

The plants are essentially growing hydroponically. The black flannel acts as the planting medium for the roots, and water mixed with nutrients drips down the wall, collects at the bottom and then recirculates. This is the first time anyone has ever tried something like this with California natives (he usually uses tropical plants), so the project was considered something of an experiment. Some species like Oxalis oregana or Mimulus cardinalis seem like reasonable candidates for a hydroponic wall, but some of the others like Artemisia tridentata and the Fremontodendron were a shock to me. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but up at the top there’s a Ribes sanguineum, a couple of bushy Mallows, and at least one Ceanothus.

The gardeners said they had done some replanting in September, but this was the first full maintenance pruning. They were cutting things back to do a one-year assessment of the planting and see how everything was growing. After a year of growth, some plants were starting to cover others. The Beach Strawberry was running all over the place, the Dudleyas were getting covered by other plants the same as they did in the Academy of Sciences green roof, the Lupines were short-lived, Penstemon heterophyllus looked like it was also going to be short-lived, but overall the plants were doing really well. The shrubs up top were growing exuberantly, maybe a little too exuberantly; the shade groundcovers down towards the bottom had the best year-round appearance. I found that in the places where the fabric showed between the plants, it didn’t bother me or diminish the effect.

Pretty healthy for a bunch of plants on the side of a building.

I definitely want to make it back in the spring when a lot of the plants have grown back in and are blooming. It really does have tremendous impact when you see it on the street.

Changes to the Veggie Garden

This weekend I pulled out our summer veggies and started most of our winter plants. It was a little late to be taking things out; our basil was starting to brown from the cold, the green beans were being eaten by a pest, and the zucchini was still healthy but had slowed its production. (I had planned to wait until we finished our garden shed, but that project has gotten more ambitious and is taking longer than I expected. The shed will be very cool when it’s finished, but for now it’s just at that tantalizing phase where we can see what it will be like but can’t yet use it.) After five winters at this garden, everything this winter will be plants we’ve grown before — favas, snap peas, beat greens, chard, kale, broccoli, parsley, radishes. There’s less of it this year, as our veggie garden has been slowly turning into a fruit garden, with blueberries, huckleberries, currants, and strawberries now filling up the edges

The other change from past winters is the stone edging on three of the four beds. In August, I pulled out the old scrap wood edging I built five years ago and I replaced it with scrap stone from several recent projects. Some of the stone is a little small and raggedy on the backsides of the beds, but overall I had good stuff to work with and it was fun working with four different kinds of stone in one little area. I came up one stone short with the cabernet wall and I bought the two corner stones to use with the beige sandstone, but it was a near-perfect quantity with about eight of the little bluestone squares leftover and nothing else. The saw-finished sandstone is more contemporary than I would have chosen for our garden, but I really like it.

Without the zucchini it looks a little bare and and in need of more tidying, but the stone just makes it so much better.

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