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Farewell My Garden, Fare the Well

“It ain’t the leavin’ that’s a-grievin’ me
But my true love who’s bound to stay behind” Bob Dylan

We’ve moved. Our garden is no longer ours. One of the underlying facts of the garden has always been that we were renters, and now our landlord has given us the boot so his daughter can live there. Which is okay. As this year’s Nobel laureate says, don’t think twice it’s alright.

We moved out a couple of months ago. The new place where we’re living is quite different from the old one, and I’ll have some blog posts about it at some point. I also might do a retrospective on the ten years at our former garden, but I’m not quite ready yet. Moving, after ten years in one place, has been a lot of work and I’m still catching up on everything. In the meantime, these are a few photos from the garden as I was doing my final walk-thru. It looks a little sad and barren frankly — a potting area with no pots in it, a veggie garden with no veggies, perennial beds with the perennials lifted out — but maybe the new tenant will fill it with plants and it will bloom again. I had a lot of fun with it, with luck I’ll have as much fun with my next one.

Campo San Roque


I barely took photos in Bahia Asuncion, but I did take some photos at a fishing camp north of town, Campo San Roque. Fascinating landscape, even more extreme than Bahia Asuncion. There are less than a dozen houses, most of them empty, with no running water or plumbing, the plants are low leafless scrub, and the beach stretches for a couple of miles without a structure or person on it.



Tucked against the rocks is a great snorkeling site with gorgeous chartreuse-colored sea grass, lobster, and lots of colorful fish, plus the first guitarfish and octopus I’ve ever seen. It heightens the effect to be in such a barren place and then drop below the water into a lush aquarium.



Oddly enough, the town has a charmingly minimalist new church.


It reminded me of Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light. No doubt some elements of the San Roque church such as the lack of glass in the windows and the simplicity of the building come from pragmatism rather than a devotion to modernist purity, and Ando is obviously getting much more powerful effects from his design moves, but it was still an effective little building in a memorable little place.


More Roof Containers


Along with the Tournesol containers I posted/complained about two months ago, I went back two months later and made some much smaller containers. The idea was to have ice plant growing low among the river stones that cover some sections of the roof. I took shallow flats and surrounded them with a skin of waste stone from the free bin at the stoneyard, using old tiles for the bottom and bluestone strips around the sides. At the moment the stone is just dry laid with the river stones holding the stone in place, but I might use mortar later if the ice plant does well and these become a permanent thing.



Below are three photos of the Tournesol containers after a couple of months of growth. (more…)

Saddlebag Ditch

I haven’t blogged all that much about the drought. It hasn’t really affected me as much as I might have expected. Certainly I see a lot of dried out lawns around the Bay Area and I’ve stopped watering my garden for the most part. I’ve done more lawn conversions this year and for the most part lately I’ve been holding off on new plantings until (hopefully) the rains come back. But many impacts of the drought have been off-camera so to speak. So I felt a little shocked when we went up to Saddlebag Lake on the east side to see it had turned into Saddlebag Ditch. There aren’t many things uglier than a reservoir with no water.

Tournesol Containers?


One of my recent projects includes some containers for a roof garden. I don’t generally do a lot of containers, and it can be a struggle to find the right ones. These are from Tournesol. They make a number of products and I see their advertising in various magazines, but I wonder if this was a small project for them that didn’t have their full attention because they were a frustrating company to work with. There were long waits for estimates and other information, the turnaround time was a couple of months, and then the containers showed up without the specified drainage holes on the bottom, which was irritating because they had made us specify and draft out the holes for each container. For the price we paid, we shouldn’t have needed to drill our own holes. I’m curious if other people have had similar experiences. I like the containers and how they fit into the space without distracting from the views, but it was a lot of effort to get them and I doubt I’d use Tournesol again.



I grew up in the suburbs, so it’s always kind of amazing to me to be up on a rooftop like this. A different type of Bay Area garden space than I usually get to work in.




‘For the first time since 1850, San Francisco will log .00 of rain for the month… The previous record low rainfall was 0.06 inches set just last year. In January 2013, 0.49 inches of rain fell on San Francisco… The past three Januaries in San Francisco are among the five driest on record. This has brought the average for the past ten years down to 3.03 inches, dramatically lower than the 30-year normal of 4.55 inches.’

‘All I know is that I don’t know.’ Operation Ivy

How will a January without rain affect my gardens? How would I know? I haven’t ever seen a winter like this. As a rule of thumb, the plants don’t need a lot of water this time of year. The evapotranspiration rate doubles in February and then doubles again in March, so January isn’t a real critical month in terms of rainfall for the garden. Factors like day length, dew, winter dormancy, and low plant metabolism keep the plant water needs low, even when the weather forgets that it’s the rainy season.

But I don’t really know the effect of six weeks without water in the heart of our rainy season. Some of our clients turned their irrigation on, some left it off. A couple of gardens are weather-satellite controlled, another has a low-budget rain sensor; who knows how often those systems ran. My parents turned their irrigation back on to full summertime levels (I guess they didn’t believe me about the evapotranspiration), and the elderly tenant of a friend never turned the irrigation off at all, not even during the heavy rains in December. And I’ve realized, looking at some of these gardens, I can’t really tell the difference. I don’t see signs of drought stress in the unwatered gardens and I don’t see signs of over-watering in the over-irrigated ones. If I can’t see a difference, it’s probably best to save the water, but who knows, maybe the effects will start to show later in the year. I just want to see it rain.

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