Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


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The Real Estate Value of Trees

$195,140 worth of birches?

$195,140 worth of birches?

We once had to do a lot of talking to convince a client that he didn’t want to chop down a healthy live oak that was just beginning to develop the kind of dramatic architecture that can’t be purchased with anything other than time. Since then, I’ve been wanting a dollar value for what a tree can add to a property, a number that’s easily cited and perhaps easily dismissed, but undeniably monetary and specific. A number like $8,870, the number that a recent study came up with after looking at how the presence or absence of street trees affected the sale prices for homes sold in east Portland during 2006-7. (The houses with trees also sold an average of 1.7 days quicker.) It’s obviously one of those statistics which can’t be applied too literally, but the researchers seem to have made an effort to account for some of the other variables that might surround the real estate sales. And though it is somewhat mercenary and doesn’t account for the many environmental and aesthetic benefits of trees and there probably isn’t a direct causal relationship, it might help people appreciate their trees more. What homeowner could hear that stat and not go right out to get a street tree? Personally, I’m sure I’ll cite the number at some point in the future, possibly to our landlord who knows that Anita and I are responsible for adding six street trees to our block. Shouldn’t that get us $53,220 credit towards our rent?

In a somewhat related note, I’ve always liked this planting of birches in my neighborhood and this post seems like the most reasonable time to mention it. The planting has an impressive total of 22 birches, which is 19 more than anyone else ever has. I’m pretty sure the birches count as ‘good overall tree cover,’ rather than as individual $8,870 trees, but there’s no question they make the house more valuable and desirable. The trees do the sun-in-winter, shade-in-summer thing for the house, and the planting always looks remarkably good, even when the understory needs maintenance. Designers talk about being bold or committed; 22 birches shows a serious level of commitment. Props to whoever planted them.

And in an unrelated note, the New York Times did a feature on Humphrey Slocombe, the ice cream store I mentioned a couple of posts back. The article’s a little heavy on the ‘wacky San Francisco’ angle, but then the ice cream parlor is actually pretty wacky and it’s hard to imagine it existing somewhere other than San Francisco. As an explanation for the unusual flavors, the proprietor says, “I just got to the point that I felt I’d have to kill myself if I ever made another crème brûlée or warm chocolate cake again.” Haven’t we all.

It Wouldn’t Be a True Richmond Garden Blog…

…if we never got our computer stolen. Or something like that. It seems to be one of the realities of our neighborhood. Several of our neighbors were robbed a couple of years ago, another one last year, and I guess now it was our turn. While we were in Baja last month someone carried off the copper trellis from our front yard, and now this past week the same person or someone else has taken our computer. The joys of urban living.

It could have been worse I guess. The copper trellis was a leftover item that got installed temporarily in our garden, and we always knew it was something of a risk. I don’t even have any photos of it, actually, because I was never enthusiastic about how it was sited. Losing the computer is a much bigger drag, but we had it synched up with our office computer and backed up online, so we didn’t lose many files or photos. Three cheers for cloud computing.

We didn’t seem to have a theft problem while we were fostering pit bulls, so we’ll probably be getting another dog soon, and definitely before we get another computer. In the meantime, blogging will be less convenient, as I can only do it from our office computer now. If anyone knows of a scary-looking barker in need of a good home, let us know.

Bibi, Prudence, and Point Isabel



We’ve fostered a couple of dogs this year, first Galleta/Bibi and now Prudence. (Galleta didn’t recognize her name if you pronounced it with the ‘Y’ sound — apparently the shelter volunteers aren’t Spanish speakers — and she didn’t respond all that well if you said it with a hard ‘L;’ so we changed it to Bibi. Not sure where ‘Bibi’ came from, but it stuck.) Both have been female pitbulls, as most of the dogs in shelters around here seem to be pitties.

Fostering, we found, really does help the dogs. Bibi/Galleta had been in the shelter for six months without anyone expressing interest in adopting her, but she found a permanent home only a few weeks after we took her. Getting out of the kennel de-stressed her and made her noticeably more sociable, and then the photos of her lounging in our garden made for good marketing, much better than a mugshot from the kennel. After all, it’s not just a dog they’re adopting, it’s a lifestyle, right? She nailed the interview and was gone, off to live with a family. We discovered then that the hardest part about fostering is when you give up the dog at the end. Sad times for a while; I think you miss the dog more than the dog misses you.



Prudence is our second foster. Everyone seems to think her name is Brutus, but, no, it’s Prudence like the song; I guess one of the shelter volunteers is a Beatles fan. Very sweet dog, knocks things over with manic tail-wagging, doesn’t trample the garden like we thought she would. Garden photos have again done the trick, bringing in three different people who wanted to adopt her, but the adoption place is acting fussy and has turned them all down. I’m not sure why. There are tons of dogs out there in need of a home, and the people who wanted Prudence all seemed plenty nice and responsible to me. But the shelter people inspect your house and interview you, and if you don’t give the right answers, they turn you down, zero tolerance. Eventually, someone will get approved to adopt her, but if we have her for much longer it will be hard when we give her up. There’s another prospect who wants to meet her; we’ll see what happens.

Point Isabel Dog Park

Point Isabel Dog Park

While fostering these dogs, we discovered that Richmond has the biggest and, according to some sources, best dog park in the country, Point Isabel Dog Park. Good work, Richmond. The dog park is pretty impressive: 23 acres right on the water with views of Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tam and the city. There are places for your dog to swim, hoses to wash the bay mud off, a grooming shop if the hose isn’t good enough, a cafe to get coffee while you watch your dog run around, bags and trash cans everywhere for picking up after your dog, and everywhere you turn there are dogs, dogs, dogs for your dog to run with. Also, the designers did a nice job of using berms to create separate spaces so the park doesn’t just feel like a single expanse and the dogs aren’t all clustered together in a single insane pack. An organization, Point Isabel Dog Owners, has been a big player in the development and maintenance of the park.

PIDO says the park gets 800,000 dog visits a year and I can believe it. I’ve counted a hundred people there at one time, and Anita says she’s seen more than that, that on a Sunday afternoon it can look like the Embarcadero. It’s a destination for dog owners all over the Bay Area, like Disneyland for the dogs. Prudence was totally overwhelmed the first time she was there, like she couldn’t believe that such a perfect place existed in this world. Photos of her enjoying the park are below. (more…)

Front Yard Vegi Gardens Are Okay (in Richmond, CA)

dodge vegematic with winter squash

Rumors have been circulating that fruits and vegetables might be illegal to grow in the front yards and hellstrips of some Bay Area cities, but the city of Richmond investigated and found that there are no ordinances against them. The investigation came from the top, from our mayor, Gayle Mclaughlin.

‘“If it is indeed a Richmond law, I would like to ask the city attorney’s office to change/cancel this ordinance and bring it to council for a vote ASAP. I would be happy to sponsor such an ordinance change.” 

Assistant City Attorney Mary J. Renfro came up with the definitive answer, reached after consulting the city’s Health, Public Safety and Welfare and Zoning codes. 

While some legal provisions require yard maintenance and “prohibit nuisance conditions that might attract trespassers and vermin,” none of them suggests that it is impermissible to grow fruit or other edible plants in the front yard.

It’s good that the mayor checked on vegi gardens and established that they’re okay, because there has been a front yard vegi garden movement in my Richmond Annex neighborhood for the last couple of years. Six gardens within a block of each other grow vegetables (these are small blocks with 2-5 houses per block, so that’s a high percentage) and, a couple of blocks away from them, another one converted their lawn to vegetables three months ago. 


onions and juniper

The first of the gardens, the one that began the trend, is a front yard of veggies grown in raised beds of mortared stonework from the juniper/ivy era of California landscaping. It is far and away the tidiest of the gardens, and it produces an impressive quantity of food throughout the year. Even when large sections are only bare dirt and small seedlings or when the plants get raggedy at the end of their harvest period, the walls and the orderly planting style and to some extent the pom-pommed junipers always make it clear that this is a well-maintained garden.

carrots and juniper

Photos of more gardens are below.


Meep! Meep!

cotoneaster topiary cotoneaster roadrunner

The best topiary in our neighborhood. Goofy, brilliant, makes me smile.

— Note — Anita claims the roadrunner says Beep Beep, I claim Meep Meep. According to someone on Metafilter, the voice of the roadrunner, Chuck Jones, spelled it ‘Beep-Beep,” but pronounced it ‘Meep-Meep.”

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