‘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
As a rule of thumb, 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’m just glad it’s raining.
One native plant I haven’t always appreciated is Erigeron glaucus. It’s a nice enough plant — tough, low-water, good habitat value, long bloom period, showy during peak bloom — but the odd yellow in its center clashes with the purer yellows I like — Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, daffodils — and I’ve also never been totally happy with how it combines with a lot of the purplish bloomers that I tend to use. I have a dozen of them in my garden, but I only have them because I bought them on impulse for a project and then decided they clashed with the other plants. I brought them home and eventually planted them because I didn’t have anywhere else to put them; they look okay but I’ve never been particularly excited about them.
I really like how they work in this planting, however. The cultivar is ‘Wayne Roderick’, which has more of a lavender tinge to the petals than the pinkish ‘Cape Sebastian’ in my garden. More than that, though, I like them because the planting around them is primarily grasses — Sesleria ‘Greenlee’s Hybrid’, Festuca idahoensis ‘Tomales Bay’, and Lomandra ‘Breeze’ — and a patch of Delosperma, so there aren’t a lot of other colors for the yellow to clash with. And even though there aren’t many other things to bloom in that part of the planting, they bloom heavily enough and continuously enough to carry the flower burden; it’s December and they haven’t been cut back once this year, but they still have flowers. The focus of the photo above is the Sesleria in front of them, but the flowers in the background do a lot to add interest and give it a meadowy look, and all those old stems waiting to be deadheaded speak to what they looked like earlier this year. Obviously I’ll be able to get a better photo in the spring, but this is pretty good for mid-December without any maintenance, and it’s nice to find myself coming around to a native plant I hadn’t previously embraced.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beautiful footage of marble quarrying in Italy, a trailer for the film, Il Capo, by Yuri Ancarani. The filmaker spent a year visiting the quarries of Carrara Italy and decided to focus on the delicate choreography between the foreman, the machinery, and the monolithic blocks of stone. I would love to see the full length movie in person on a big screen.
Video about a great project, Wildflowering L.A., by Fritz Haeg. 50 sites throughout the Los Angeles area were seeded with native wildflowers. The sites were also given signage inspired by forest service and park service aesthetics to announce the project and communicate to people that the ‘wild’ look of the wildflowers was deliberate. It would be nice to see something similar done in the Bay Area.
There’s a timelapse of one of the sites here.
… and back to posting about Andy Goldsworthy projects. He has a new wall at the Presidio in the Officer’s Club. He built a rammed earth wall with a half sphere of eucalyptus branches buried inside, then chipped away the wall to reveal the sphere. From a distance it has a nice graphic look, like a bas relief, and up close you can appreciate the method of construction. I haven’t seen this done before, but it’s simple and effective and seems replicable. It sometimes seems like a cliche to be a stoneworker and love Andy Goldsworthy’s work, but I need to just embrace the fact that he’s really good and does things exactly to my taste.
There a short video and photos of him posing by the wall here.