Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for the ‘bay area’ Category

Occupy Oakland with Gardens

At an Occupy Oakland rally on Saturday, I saw a group of people setting up an edible garden on the former lawn in front of city hall. For those who haven’t been following the saga of Occupy Oakland, it’s a former lawn because it was covered by a tent camp for several weeks and then the city drove over it with machines when they demolished the camp. Now it’s just a field of mud. The city was running the sprinklers during the rally — despite all the recent rain and the large patches of standing water — finding it convenient to keep this contested space as muddy and un-occupiable as possible. I’m not sure how long this little guerrilla garden will be tolerated by the city, but it’s a nice gesture. More likely to survive are the plantings of edibles, possibly done by the same people, in several of the planters edging the lawn.

After reading James’ post at Lost in the Landscape and surfing around the internet, I realized what will soon happen to the garden:

Salt Pond Kite Photos

Salt Pond Montage by Cris Benton, click to see it larger

I meant to post this with my photos of the Salt Ponds, but I got caught up in a bunch of projects and didn’t quite find the time. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. The true master of Bay Area salt pond photography — putting my efforts with a camera merely held in my hand to shame — is UC Berkeley architecture professor Cris Benton who has taken thousands of photos of the salt ponds using kites. Really good stuff, both the images and the fact that he is sending his camera up on a kite. He has slideshows all over the web. There’s a long one here, another one here, a shorter one here, and an interview at ConservationMaven that includes a video about how he uses the kites. He has a blog, Hidden Ecologies, specifically devoted to his salt pond project. Kite photos of salt ponds seems like something that would do well in a contest for the ‘most obscure but interesting’ blog topic on the internet.

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

Last week I went to Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, a new reserve in the former salt ponds you see as you get on the San Mateo Bridge heading west. It’s part of the larger South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the biggest wetlands project in California. Strange place, and very different from my mental images of the bay area. I still can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of the Bay Area as one of the world’s major salt producers. Actually, though, it’s a natural result of the topography (south of Hayward, the bay averages only 1-3 feet in depth) and the dry-summer climate. Salt forms naturally in the shallow areas of the bay and has been harvested since the times of the Ohlone. The first salt ponds were built in the 1850’s and were developed like other forms of agriculture, small plots consolidating into larger and larger ones. Nowadays, Cargill, the giant corporation that’s currently recalling ground up turkey, is the last one still producing salt, 650,000 tons per year according to their website. In 2003, they consolidated their production and sold/donated-for-tax-write-offs over 15,000 acres (25 square miles) which are slowly being turned into nature reserves.

NASA aerial photo of the salt ponds, Eden Landing is towards the upper left

Eden Landing is only recently opened to the public and is still a work in progress. There are levee roads to walk on, former ponds in various stages of restoration, lots of birdlife, weedy pioneer plants with a few new native plantings at the margins, and the ruins of one of the salt production facilities. It’s the kind of landscape that is rather bleak in full sunlight, but beautiful in the first and last hours of the day.

The main focus of the restoration project has been to open the dikes and return the landscape to tidal wetlands and create habit for endangered wildlife such as snowy plover, clapper rail, black rail, and salt marsh harvest mouse. I only saw the more common species of wetland birds, but lots of those. The ruins of the salt works and about 10% of the salt ponds are going to be kept as a remnant of the site’s history and as photographer bait.

The ponds are most striking when you look down on them from the sky and see the colors of the micro-organisms living in the water. Different colors form depending on the salinity of the water: green, rust brown, orange, milky pink, and at the highest salinity a shocking purple. I could see rust in one pool and pink in another when I leaned out over them and looked downward. The NASA aerial photo below is completely untouched; those are the natural colors of the ponds.

NASA Aerial View of the Cargill ponds

QUEST did a segment on the project, focusing on the southernmost of the three sites, Alviso:

One of the areas that I saw on my visit (but didn’t photograph) was opened to Alameda Creek this week and will soon be opened to the bay.

— Addendum 1/7/12 — Chuck B. at My Back 40 Feet has a collection of posts on the Bay Area salt ponds and photos from a visit to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge a little bit further south, worth a look.

Baxter Creek Wildflower Area

Beginning of the Wildflower Area

Near our house, along the Ohlone Greenway bike path, there’s a wildflower area tended by volunteers. I’m not sure how long the area has been tended, but it was already established when we moved to Richmond five years ago. It’s a mix of native and non-native wildflowers, kept remarkably well weeded. From March until about June it has a consistent show of flowers and is impressive enough that I sometimes ride the mile or so out of my way to see what’s in bloom. This week I counted about two dozen different annuals blooming or budding. Cal poppies and phlox are the stars at the moment; later in the year there is always a big show of clarkia.

Looking North

Looking South


Baxter Creek

Past the wildflower area, the bike path effectively ends a few hundred yards later when it hits San Pablo Ave. The wildflower area used to be the turnaround point, but now there’s a restoration project just past it that is starting to grow in and be quite nice, too. The restoration project is in Baxter Creek Gateway Park, built in 2006, part of Richmond’s plan for the Richmond Greenway that would continue the bike path across San Pablo Ave and through the city to connect with the Bay Trail. Poor little Baxter Creek comes out of a pipe, gets a few hundred yards of daylight, and then goes back underground to cross San Pablo Ave into the brownfields of central Richmond.

Poor Little Creek

Under Construction

These two photos are from a powerpoint online showing photos and drawings of some of their creek restoration work. I didn’t realize how much earth moving had gone into the restoration project, in contrast to the wildflower area where the work was little more than weeding and seed-scattering. The two projects go well together with the garden/flower appeal of the wildflower area and the ecology/infrastructure goals of the restoration.

After Construction

The city reshaped the bed of the creek to make it more sinuous, using grading and habitat to help slow, filter, and infiltrate the water. Willows are the most obvious plant, but there are also young oaks, maples, buckeyes, coffeeberries, Toyons, monkey flowers, artemisias, yarrow, coyote brush, and probably others.

Baxter Creek Shaded by Willows

Artemisia californica


Even with the wildflowers and restoration work, there is no hiding that it is an urban setting. But I can appreciate the juxtaposition of native plants and corrugated metal, and nothing can undermine the look of a happy monkey flower.

Monkey Flower

El Cerrito Then and Now

View of El Cerrito

El Cerrito before it was El Cerrito, from A State of Change by Laura Cunningham

In the course of holiday shopping, I stumbled on A State of Change, a book of paintings of the California landscape as it would have looked before it was filled with towns and cities. Paleo artist Laura Cunningham researches the historic ecology of a site and then paints the specific landscapes as they might have looked like thousands of years ago. I was most interested in the ones with before-and-after views, a painting of the past contrasted with a photo of the same location in the present. They give an interesting perspective on the landscaping job Californians have collectively done for the state.

Halfway up Moeser Street, El Cerrito, December 30, 2010

One painting from the Berkeley hills is fairly close to the view I get on my way home after work, so I took my own photos to compare, one with daylight, the other as I usually see it this time of year, with the sun going down. Albany Hill, prominent on the left side of the painting, is just outside of the frame in the daylight version and at the edge of the frame in the twilight version taken higher from up on Moeser.

Near the top of Moeser Street, El Cerrito December 30, 2010

There is a review of the book at Berkeleyside. Cunningham has a website with some other paintings and before-and-after views of the state.

El Cerrito Rain Gardens

Rain Garden Perspective Drawing by Gates and Associates

As part of the stimulus program and various water quality initiatives, El Cerrito got funding to add some rain gardens along San Pablo Avenue, the main commercial street in my neighborhood. A huge percentage of the area is covered with concrete, so when it rains the water has nowhere to go and the streets can look like this photo I took in May; sometimes I feel like I should get out a kayak. To help mediate that, the city redid two sections of sidewalkswith plantings set below the grade of the street. Instead of draining straight to the bay, stormwater will now flow from the streets and sidewalks into planting areas where sediment will drop out of the water and pollutants and trash will be filtered by the plants. There are 600 total linear feet of basins in the two separate areas, calculated to treat 1.23 acres of paved surface; the San Francsico Estuary Institute is going to monitor water quality to see how big of an effect the gardens have. There’s a podcast about the project here. It’s a nice use of plants to address an infrastructure issue.

San Pablo And Eureka Ave

The plantings are all natives. Juncus, leymus, and a grass that looks like a melica are the main species, peppered with some yarrows, two monkey flowers, two California fuchsias, two Ribes speciosa, several Verbena lilacina, two wild roses, a redtiwg dogwood, and a Doug Iris. There are one or two blooming plants in each planter right now, not a big impact, but just enough to focus the eye as you walk past each one.

Mimulus and Leymus

Monkey Flower and Leymus

The El Cerrito Patch says the cost of the project was $350,000 for the two sections of rain gardens.

San Pablo and Eureka

Island Pink Yarrow, Achillea millefolium rosea

There’s a meme about public plantings, Out on the Streets, hosted by Veg Plotting. Click through to see other posts about public plantings. I have a few more photos of the planters below the fold. (more…)

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