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Campo San Roque

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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More Roof Containers

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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.

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

Saddlebag Ditch

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Rain!

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‘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.

Garden Update

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There is a garden somewhere inside this blog, though I haven’t posted about it much this year. It’s been a transition year for the garden. I’ve been changing around some of the plantings and I’ve upgraded some of the materials with leftover stone from the garden show and some of my installation projects. As a result, the garden has been more of a construction zone than I would like; little piles of leftover stone are probably its distinguishing characteristic. I only work on it a few hours here and there, so every project takes longer than I’d like, but I’m starting to make progress on it all.

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The front path is one project that is almost completed. When we moved to this house, the front walkway was paved only with broken concrete set in dirt, so the stone is a big upgrade. Besides looking better, it’s easier to see at night and makes a much smoother and tidier walking surface, even when it needs to be swept. There are five kinds of stone in it — a large piece of bluestone at the top of the stairs, a large piece of sandstone, a slate-y wall stone, three slices of limestone from a paver that broke during the garden show, and quite a bit of basalt from the scrap pile at the stoneyard. The three hexagonal pieces are the best spot, slices from a basalt column that weren’t good enough to be sold as pricey stepping stones. I like the scuff marks from the saw.

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A few of the small pieces of wallstone are place holders and will probably be swapped out at some point when larger pieces of stone come home with me. One thing I’ve learned is that, when it comes to my garden, stone happens; if I’m patient about a stone that I don’t like, an alternative will eventually come home with me to take its place.

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I haven’t quite brought the path all the way to the garden gate. I’m undecided what to do in that last section. Part of me wants to do a mosaic, part of me wants to lay something less ambitious and be done. We’ll see, I’ll probably lay something temporary and if I want to change it at a future date I can.

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I added a bit of edging to one of the inner garden beds. Again I’m undecided whether to continue the line along the entire bed. The flagstone path was leftover from a job I did for another designer seven years ago. It has served well enough, but I can look at it and see that it was stone I rejected from a professional installation. Upgrading the outer path made me want to redo this inner path, the kind of thinking that causes the garden to always resemble a construction site.

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Another recent project is the replacement of the raised bed for the graywater from our washing machine. I built it with scrap wood and filled it with Canna and Fuchsia. It looked fine as long as you couldn’t see my terrible carpentry, but the wood eventually started to rot out, the fuchsia got crowded out by a nearby spicebush, and we got tired of the Canna. I redid the bed with basalt pieces that I used in the garden show. I love that the capstone is a single nine-foot-long piece. The new plants are all natives — Juncus patens, Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica), Scarlet Monkey Flower (Mimulus cardinalis), and an Adiantium that I’m hoping will do well in the face of the raised bed.

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Water comes from the washer and drains out from holes drilled in the pipe at intervals. The back wall of bed, out of sight tucked under the porch, is rubble that is dry-stacked with a water-proof liner on the inside of the bed to keep the water from seeping out before the roots and the soil bacteria have a chance at it.

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Above is what it looked like six years ago. We’ll see how the new planting does. The plants are divisions or transplants from other parts of the garden, but things should fill in quickly, hiding the pipe and probably some of the stone; I think the scarlet monkeys will like the graywater, but they are an experiment. At the moment I like that the stone isn’t covered by plants, and I like the contrast between the polished piece of basalt and all of the saw-finished pieces. I might end up polishing them all to match; there’s something compelling about a graywater bed made with shiny, polished stone. We’ll see. Like any new project or planting, it has me looking forward to what it will look like in spring.

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