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Archive for December, 2016

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 completely dead and failure-soaked. This one is somewhere in between those two extremes, but probably more towards the dead side of the spectrum at the moment. I didn’t see anything wrong with the overall system, just that it could use 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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Update — May 2017 — Even in the heart of spring it looked pretty dismal.

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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The Sea Ranch Bluff Trail

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. I loved it, of course; there’s a reason why it’s beloved and iconic. The landscape is dramatic, the houses are sited wonderfully 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 didn’t save the ones that were entirely digital, but I liked the results when I hand drew a little thumbnail, photographed it with the ipad, then colored it digitally. The result is not all that different from coloring a drawing with markers, but it was quick and it let me erase or adjust the color and there’s something nice about the flatness of the digital color under the quick line work. I’ll probably experiment some more with entirely digital drawings in the future, but this method seemed like a good addition to my bag of tricks, allowing me to make two dozen sketches during a single hike.

I also did some watercolors, my first since our trip to Baja in February. I played with a few different kinds of paper and styles, getting a little more ambitious as I went. My focus was on the hiking trail. As far as I know, Halprin didn’t lay out the trail, but it highlights many of the ideas from his master plan: cluster the houses, keep them back behind or against the trees, and keep the meadows and coast open as commons. Some of the newer houses, including the one where I was staying, have pushed out into the meadows, but overall the plan has held up with remarkable integrity. It’s a tribute to the quality of the planning and architecture that the hiking is as pleasant as the hiking down the road in Salt Point State Park.

This last one isn’t really part of the hiking trail, but it’s one of Sea Ranch’s most iconic elements and I love design moves based on grading. Halprin used the soil excavated for the swimming pool to create these exaggerated berms to keep out the wind and make a sheltered space around the pool. After hiking on the open bluff trail, the enclosed space feels like a grotto or cenote.

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.

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