Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for January, 2009

Lafayette Hillside Memorial

Lafayette Hillside Memorial

Lafayette Hillside Memorial

One of the gardens created during the last eight years. I drive past it just often enough to forget about it and then have it hits me again with how many crosses there are (4229 as of 1/18/09).

Wikipedia has details about the memorial.

ryan 1/19/2009

Cabernet Stone Terracing

cabernet stone corner

Cabernet Stone Corner

It seems like whenever clients call us about terracing a slope on their property, the slope is actually too steep to terrace with dry stone. The slope usually turns out to be steeper than 1:1, one foot of vertical for every foot of horizontal (a quick way I estimate is to stand on the slope and measure or eyeball the distance straight out from my shoulder, my shoulder is five feet high, so if the distance to the slope is five feet then the ratio would be 1:1, ten feet would be 1:2, fifteen feet would be 1:3, and so on; if the distance to my shoulder is less than five feet the slope is too steep), and that math just doesn’t lend itself well to dry stone retaining walls, which rely on their thickness and weight to hold back the weigh of the slopes they retain. For instance, a two foot high wall needs to be a foot thick at the top, so if your wall rises two feet on a 1:1 slope, it only creates two horizontal feet and one of those feet will be taken up by the wall; your net gain is only one foot of flat planting space. It’s rarely worth the money or effort, so we usually end up building a wall at the base of the slope and then planting the rest of it with plants that thrive on slopes.

This little planting in San Francisco is the first time we’ve actually terraced a slope, though, in reality, it barely qualifies as terracing; it’s more like one wall split into two shorter walls. We could have built it as a single two and half foot high wall. But because the whole planting is at eye level on top of a thick concrete retaining wall, we didn’t want to be adding another giant wall to further loom over people. So we split the wall into two separate walls and then further softened the impact of the stone by setting the lower wall back from the concrete to create space for plants.

For the plants, we chose ones that are soft textured, drought-tolerant and mostly native to coastal California. A few of them are considered rock garden plants, a somewhat subjective term, but typically rock garden plants like sandy or gravelly soil, tolerate or enjoy reflected heat from stone, have a smaller size, and are best appreciated up close and at eye level, all elements of this planting. And then a few of the plants like the Myrica and the Phormium are standard landscaping plants for San Francisco. A photo of the whole little planting and the plantlist is below. (more…)

Making Hellstrips

Harrison Street Greenway 2007 Harrison Street Greenway, plantsf.org

We went to a planting party in the Mission this weekend. I hadn’t noticed before, but many parts of San Francisco don’t have hellstrips, the strips of dirt between the sidewalk and the street. Whole neighborhoods are wall to wall concrete with only an occasional little cutout for a street tree. It’s not good; all that concrete causes various problems, especially with stormwater management. Stormwater has nowhere to infiltrate during a storm, so it ends up in the city sewer system where it sometimes overloads the system and causes sewage to dump into the streets and the bay. Yuck. Much better to have a hellstrip, which allows the water to infiltrate instead of running straight into the sewers.

Plantsf.org is a non-profit in the city that encourages and helps people to remove concrete and create planted areas on their streets. Their website has demonstration photos and information about the process; there’s a permit to apply for and grant money is sometimes available to help pay for materials. If I live in SF and had a sidewalk seven feet wide or wider, I would go to their website immediately.

Thirty different homes were getting plantings at the project we helped with, enough to to make a big difference in the neighborhood. A lot of volunteers showed up, the weather was great, and I got a free ice-cream cone.

ryan 1/14

Deciduous or Dead

acer palmatum

acer palmatum

Throughout the winter we get people asking us if their tree or shrub is still alive. Plants sometimes fool us people in the Bay Area when they drop their leaves, and the frosts of winter often cause tender evergreens to suddenly look dead, and then in the spring there is sometimes one plant in a garden that doesn’t leaf out when all the others do, making everyone wonder if it is still alive. It can be hard to tell. Last fall, I planted a Spiraea “Anthony Waterer” that my dad has prematurely declared dead twice already.

We have an easy method for diagnosis: Scratch the bark with a fingernail or blade. The branch should have a bit of green under the bark if the wood is still living, but it will be hard and gray if the wood is dead. Dead wood won’t come back to life, but if there is green wood, we just cut out the dead and wait.

There’s a saying in back-country first aid: No one is dead until they are warm and dead. The human body has the ability to go dormant in extreme cold, and not even doctors can tell the difference between death and extreme stasis; frozen people have occasionally revived after days without a detectable pulse. Plants have even greater dormancy and regenerative powers than humans, so we generally apply that same rule to plants, with June as the approximate plant equivalent of warm. No leafless plant is dead, until it is June, leafless, and dead.

ryan 1/11

New Goldsworthy in the Presidio

The stoneworker’s artist-of-choice, Andy Goldsworthy, has a new installation in the Presidio. It’s pretty cool, a one-hundred foot tall spire made out of forty lashed-together Monterey Cypress logs, culled from aging, declining trees that needed to be cut down. After cutting them down, they lashed them together into the spire and planted new trees around it in the spots where they had cut down the old ones. The spire will eventually rot and have to come down, but by then the new trees will have grown up around it. 

From now until May 3, there’s also a small exhibition with some of the drawings for the project, some photos of the installation process, and a few small art pieces including this junior spire inside a closet of the exhibition building. 

The NY Times has an article with a nice photo of the spire. This video has some footage of Goldsworthy’s first log spire, the no-longer-existing Grizedale spire.

T minus 38, Arizona Peach Flagstone Patio

Arizona peach flagstone patio

Arizona peach flagstone patio

Building patios is hard on the body. Too much bending, awkward lifting, and the wide spread of the stone amplifies the weight of the stone; building walls is much easier on your back. I feel like I could build walls until I’m sixty, but there must be a limited number of patios in my back. So a couple of months back I made a decision to build only 40 more flagstone patios in my life. That number is exactly as subjective as it sounds. (more…)

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