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Carlson Grasses

Mid April 2012

Last year in April I posted a few photos of the median strip on Carlson Avenue near my house. The city had regraded the street and put in a median strip planted with native and non-native annual wildflowers. It looked great, but after a couple weeks of it blooming, there was a car wreck because a driver couldn’t see over the flowers. The city immediately mowed the wildflowers.

Late April 2012

A year and a half later, October 2013

After a few months the city put in the more permanent planting. This being Richmond, a significant number of plants were promptly stolen. It was kind of sad, a few new empty holes appeared every morning as if plundered by urban gophers. But eventually the thieves had enough plants for their gardens and everything was allowed to grow in. A year later, it’s looking great.

Bulbine

Muhlenbergia capillaris, Pink Muhly

I like most of the plants used: Rubus pentalobus “Green Carpet’ at the ends of the median so no one can complain about trouble seeing over the plants, Hesperaloe, Lavender, Chondropetalum, Leucadendron ‘Jester,’ and Bulbine, a plant I recently started using. Two grasses are the stars right now. The Pink Muhly looks kind of scruffy when you’re a pedestrian and absolutely terrific when you drive past at thirty five miles an hour, blurring into the most vivid pink mass anyone could wish for. My favorite, though, is the Sesleria autumnalis, Autumn Moor grass. Green and gold, and nicely complementing the pink muhly. Maybe not quite as flashy as the native wildflowers of last spring, but just about the next best thing.

Sesleria autumnalis, Autumn Moor Grass

— Update 8/17 — Unfortunately, the planting deteriorated after two seasons. Pretty demoralizing. The city did a nice job of the installation, but didn’t maintain it properly. Now, after 4 years it’s just weeds and a few half-dead plants.

Richmond Bay Trail Sketches

Last year I mentioned that I walk our dog, Carla, at the Richmond Bay Trail. For about two years now, I’ve gone there almost every week, often three or four times in a week. Lately, I’ve sometimes taken along a watercolor block to do a quick sketch while Carla waits with a surprising amount of patience. I do the ink on site and add the watercolor at home. The main idea is just to find a composition and finish it quickly before Carla gets restless, but the real effect has been to deepen my appreciation of the San Francisco Bay. Such a great natural wonder to live near.

Four Years Young

This blog reached its fourth birthday a couple of days ago. Posting has been slower this year, but still pretty steady, averaging a little less than a post per week. There have been about the usual number of posts about stone, but fewer posts about gardens this year; a lot of our time was spent designing rather than installing or maintaining, and I just generally seemed to be a bit less plant and garden focused this year. Also, I made a concerted effort to upgrade my drawing skills this year, so I often went out with a sketchbook instead of a camera, drawing landscapes instead of photographing the plants in them. Next year I’m hoping to focus a bit more back on gardens, including making an effort to get photos of some of the ones we’ve designed. We’ll see what happens. My blogging attention wanders a bit, but more or less stays on track with plants, natives, stone, gardens, and Bay Area/California landscapes. This week’s rains have germinated a ton of native wildflowers in our own garden, already has me thinking about what the coming spring is going to be like.

The Bay Trail

Lately, I’ve been walking our dog Carla on the Bay Trail near the Richmond Marina. There’s a section converted from an old rail line that I really like. The views are great, and the changing tides and light conditions make it a little different each time I go. I tend to stay moving and focus on exercising Carla, but I’ve done one sketch and taken a few photos. It’s one of the nicer places in Richmond and I’m likely to post about it again sometime.

Meeker Slough Creek

Meeker Slough and Albany Hill

Meeker Slough

SF

I’m pretty happy to reach four years of blogging. Thanks to everyone who reads or comments.

Carlson Wildflowers

For the past few weeks, Anita and I have been enjoying a wildflower planting in the new medians on Carlson Ave near our house. For years Carlson was an oddly humped road that had such a steep cross-slope near the sidewalk that the car door would hit the curb before it opened all the way and bicycling felt treacherous. To fix that, the city had to lower the street more than two feet to bring it down below the sidewalk, and in the process they also had to lower all of the utilities. The entire project took more than two years, involved all kinds of blocking of cross-streets and traffic, and was hugely inconvenient. But all is now forgiven, as far as I’m concerned, because the city added a median to the street and filled it with twelve blocks worth of wildflowers, many of them native. I’m happy to have my roads blocked if it means I get to drive and bicycle past wildflowers.

So far, I’ve seen California Poppies, Bachelor Buttons, Tidy Tips, Baby Blue Eyes, Alyssum, Lupine, and a few Snapdragons blooming, and there is a lot of Clarkia waiting for next month.

Hmmm…. Be careful what you praise on the internet. The same day that I put this post up, the city weedwacked all of the wildflowers. I’m guessing the planting grew too tall and was blocking visibility, but the city might also be ready to plant trees now. Farewell (to Spring), Clarkia, we never saw you bloom.

— Coda — Apparently an elderly driver got into an accident because of the reduced visibility caused by the wildflowers. Unfortunate for him, and for the wildflowers.

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

Phlox

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

Toyon

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

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.

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