DryStoneGarden

Plants, Stone, California Landscapes

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The Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden

Another highlight of my Oaxaca trip was a visit to the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden, inside the 16th century complex of the Santo Domingo Cathedral and monastery in the middle of the historic district. It’s a tremendous garden with a unique setting. All of the plants are from Oaxaca and have an ethnobotanic significance for Oaxacans, but it was also laid out with a strong sense of design. All of the paths and many of the plants are laid out with straight lines and ninety degree angles, which is based on traditional Oaxacan design ethos but also made it feel very contemporary. One of the things that most imoressed me about Oaxaca — not just in this garden but running through virtually everything I saw — was how modern the traditional Oaxacan elements feel. My photos are below. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pueblos Mancomunados

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I spent a week hiking in the Pueblos Mancomunados a couple hours by bus into the highlands above Oaxaca City. The Pueblos are a group of 8 towns communally organized with tourist cabins and a place to eat in each town. They’re about ten to twenty kilometers away from each other so it’s easy to hike from town to town with just a daypack. It’s pretty country, a nice easy walking tour, and the highlight was a section of pre-hispanic trail between Lachatao and Latuvi. My photos and watercolors from the hike are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Oaxaca Watercolors

While I was in Oaxaca I tried to do a watercolor every day. I didn’t quite manage that, but I was quite prolific by my standards. Kind of fun, I’m hoping to continue maybe once a week throughout the year. This isn’t every single watercolor I did — I did a few others that I’ll mix into my upcoming posts — but it gives a decent overview of my trip while I work on my more targeted posts. The first one is from the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden in the center of town inside the walls of the historic cathedral complex. It’s a fantastic garden; I’ll do a post about it soon. The others show the main cathedral and a booth selling clothing near a side entrance. I painted a lot of agaves and palms while I was down there. Gotta like agaves and palms if you’re going to watercolor in Oaxaca.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Tule Tree

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Happy new year. I’ve been on a trip to Oaxaca, skipping out on a lot of the rain and mudslides we’ve been having. I’ll probably have some posts related to that at some point — among other things a sinkhole opened in one of my gardens where EBMUD punctured a storm drain — but for now I’ll be posting about Oaxaca. Its stonework, ruins, art, and plants are the stuff DryStoneGarden dreams are made of.

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One of the first things I did was visit the Tule Tree, a Montezuma Cypress with the world’s widest tree trunk, 46 feet across at its widest point, 147 feet total in diameter. I recommend clicking on the photo to get the full size view. The people in the left corner give a sense of scale.

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The tree is beside a church in the center of a town. One legend says it was planted 1400 years ago by a priest of the Aztec wind god, another legend says it was a walking stick planted by a king or god. More recently, someone planted hollyhocks, roses, and a lawn around it, creating a distinct ‘world’s biggest ball of twine’ vibe. The topiary collection includes a dinosaur, a teddy bear, and kissing ducks.

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But in spite of that, a 1400 year old tree has a presence powerful enough to overcome any indignity presented by its surroundings. The trunk is truly superlative.

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And even more than the trunk, the canopy is magnificent, like an entire forest in a single tree. The branches droop down nearly to the ground, giving a wonderful sense of enclosure, and the trunks rise up like the clustered columns of a gothic cathedral.

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I’ve been in groves that felt like a cathedral, but I’d never had that feeling from a single tree.

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The (Not Entirely) Native Green Wall Revisited Again

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I stopped by the Drew School green wall again recently. Planted with California natives by the world’s foremost green waller Patrick Blanc, it’s the most interesting green wall in the Bay Area and I’ve been checking in on it periodically. Helpfully, it’s a few blocks from one of my ongoing projects.

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I was impressed the first time I saw it in 2011 and again when I visited in May 2015. This time not as much; there’s a lot of bare felt and dead foliage. November is not its month to shine, so maybe I’m being a little unfair, but photos of green walls seem to always show them either looking brand new and gorgeous or completely dead and failure-soaked. This one is somewhere in between those two extremes, but probably more towards the dead side of the spectrum at the moment. I didn’t see anything wrong with the overall system, just that it could use maintenance and replanting; I’m sure it will be better looking in the spring. At this point, I still think it compares reasonably with a conventional garden — more ambitious, more expensive, requiring more maintenance, and more thrilling when it hits its peak. Even with the bare patches and dead foliage, it’s still an exciting thing to see on the side of a building.

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One disappointment, though, is the use of non-natives where many of the California plants failed to establish themselves long term. The wall now sports some New Zealand Tree Ferns and a lot of European Geranium. Penstemon heteropyllus and Mimulus bloomed prettily at first but were short-lived. Heuchera, a plant which often grows on cliffs, thrived in the first few years but is now almost gone. Oxalis and Asarum have faded away, and the long runners of Beach Strawberry, which draped over several sections of the wall when I first saw it, must not have managed to attach roots to the felt and have now withered away. None of that is entirely atypical for a native planting in such an urban area. This was Patrick Blanc’s first time using California natives, and he always acknowledged that it was somewhat experimental. I wonder what he would say about it. It’s no longer the tapestry he first planted but it has begun to approximate a recognizable native habitat, the type of fern-covered slope I showed in a post about the Bouverie Preserve. With deciduous ferns lower down and scruffy shrubs higher up, that particular habitat is gorgeous and green in spring, less delightful in its off-season, and then gorgeous and green again.

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Update — May 2017 — Even in the heart of spring it looked pretty dismal.

Pendent Boulders

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Lately my commute has been taking me past a collection of giant metal sculptures. It’s pretty dramatic. The first ones that catch your eye are figurative works, oversized humans kneeling or beseeching the sky behind chain link fencing and barbed wire, surrounded by cracked concrete and weeds and graffiti, but my favorites are these abstract ones with granite boulders hung from a metal framework. The suspended boulders have a certain energy. I’d like to scale the fence and climb on them, maybe swing around on the one on the chains, but no doubt that’s why there’s barbed wire. The yard is part of a large studio warehouse space that recently sold; the new owners reportedly intend to keep it going. The studio’s facebook page links to a new organization, formed after the Oakland warehouse fire, devoted to sustaining Oakland’s creative spaces. I hop this one sustains. It’s a highlight of the commute.

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