Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for May, 2011

A Tommy Church Garden

A couple of weeks ago I got to see a Tommy Church garden in Burlingame. Tommy Church is often called the father of modern landscape architecture, and he’s the one most responsible for the inside/outside California-living concept, the idea of ‘garden rooms,’ and the now-cliched kidney-shaped pool. He did a huge number of residential gardens, but not a lot of them are still intact. I only knew his work from drawings and from photos; the Donnell Garden is his most famous. His designs tend to have a lot of lawn, hardscape, and juniper, and to be more like what people now call landscaping rather than a garden, but they were very influential at the time.

This Tommy Church design, however, is an actual garden. It’s also quite close to his original design, perhaps because it’s more formal than most of his other work and there’s something about formal designs that make you afraid to change them; I think you sense that everything has already been thought out and decided and that your role is just to keep it from ever changing. I don’t know the story of the garden or when it was put in or any of those details, but most of the plants and materials clearly date from Tommy Church’s era. It’s pretty much the complete opposite of the gardens that Anita and I design, but I found it surprisingly interesting and engaging as I wandered through it. There are some nice spaces and moments within the formal structure. More photos are below. (more…)

The Tenderloin Garden

I have some photos from one of the gardens on this past weekend’s Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour. It’s the home garden of the Organic Mechanics, the guys who created the giant succulent Borg cube at last year’s flower and garden show. I like seeing designers’ home gardens. They’re usually funky and interesting, and this on’s no exception. Lots of salvaged urban materials, lots of eclectic plant choices, and a fair bit of benign neglect, all hidden away behind an apartment building in the Tenderloin on the kind of block that has transvestite hookers on the corners at night. Part of the experience of this garden is to first walk six blocks without seeing a single plant. You don’t forget that you’re in a city when you enter the garden, but you get a very different city experience.

I love the big brick wall on the neighboring building, with a 5 cent cigar ad painted over a 2 cent cigar ad. I don’t give brick enough credit as a material. This wall is phenomenal.

The other detail I really like is a short path made from repurposed materials. Their website has a photo of an entire patio made from the same stuff.

There’s a write-up at SF Gate telling some more about the garden and the designers. A fun garden to have seen.

The Closing State Parks

It has gotten a fair bit of press, but I wanted to do my own post about the closing of 70 California state parks in September. This has been talked about for a couple of years now, so I suppose I’ve been expecting something like this. Still, I can’t begin to express how bummed I am. Anita and I visit the parks regularly and they’re a big part of why we like living in the Bay Area. At this very moment, she is camping with a friend at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, one of the parks that will close.

According to news reports, parks were chosen based on their visitation and how much revenue they create. When I read that, I knew that one of my favorite parks would be closing for sure, Castle Rock State Park in the hills southwest of Saratoga. It’s probably one of the lowest fee generators in the system. The park has a paid parking lot, but there is free parking on the street fifty feet away from the parking lot, and everyone, myself included I’ll admit, always parks on the street. It’s popular, though, even if it doesn’t generate revenue. It has great hiking amongst oaks and laurels and redwood trees, and it’s the most significant rock climbing area in the Bay Area, the place where a number of influential climbers including Chris Sharma, probably the world’s top climber, learned to climb. The rock is a sandstone with weird twisted shapes and huecos rising on boulders and spires scattered throughout the forest; guidebooks usually use the word ‘fairy-tale’ at some point in the description. I was planning to go down and take some photos, but I remembered I already have these, from a couple of years ago, in the meantime. After I took the photo below, I realized that a little blond-haired future climber had crept into the frame. He’s pretty much exactly how I looked at that age.

Henry Coe, another favorite and one where I have paid a good amount in fees over the years, is also closing. The California State Parks Foundation has an interactive map showing all 70 of the parks scheduled to close. There’s also a petition to sign, information about efforts to keep the parks open, and a gallery of beautiful photos from the parks.

— Addendum — I found a blog for a photographer who has set himself the goal of visiting and photographing all 70 closing parks.

May Bloom Day, a Day Late

Ach, I’m a day late for bloom day. I haven’t been paying much attention to our garden or posting much about it lately. I’ve found myself focusing my attention more on other gardens, the ones I work in and a number of ones that I’ve visited this spring. One reason is that Anita and I have been thinking about moving. I think I’ve mentioned before that our house is only 480 square feet (many living rooms are larger than that), and it gets very small in the winter. Anita has an office but I do the design part of our design/build from home. Summer we’re able to spread out into the garden so space isn’t such an issue, but we genuinely need more space and we don’t want another cramped winter. Instead of moving, though, we’ve made a tentative deal with our landlord to build a small garden shed/studio space. I’m not sure if that would lose us our small house movement credit. Anyways, there’s an old existing shed in the garden already, and the plan is to upgrade it to a proper little structure, which I’m sure I’ll have some posts about in the future. For a while there, while we were thinking of moving, Anita and I were physically and psychologically getting ready to leave the garden, but now that we’re staying I can feel myself re-engaging. May is a great month for gardens, a lot of our plants are blooming.

Coreopsis, Triteleia, and Penstemon

Allium unifolium

The Allium unifolium has increased steadily each year. It has reseeded politely in a couple of places, with several of the volunteers blooming this year. I thinks it’s an under-appreciated, under-planted native.

Sacred Flower of the Incas

The Sacred Flower is in a container and would move with us, but tit’ll be happy to stay. Our foggy coastal sun makes it happy.

Canna and Western Spicebush

We had a mishap with our gray water planting a few weeks ago, accidentally switching the hot and cold water hoses on our washing machine, dumping hot water into the planter box. The Canna didn’t care, if anything the hot water made it happier, but the Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstadt’ burned to a crisp. We think it will recover, but it lost all of its foliage and at least some of the wood. A gray water risk I wasn’t aware of. The Spicebush is located a little further from where the gray water comes out of the pipe, so it doesn’t seem to have noticed. It has definitely taken over the space.

I thought I might take a few more bloom photos this afternoon, but it has started raining quite hard. The list of other plants in bloom is below. Thanks to Carol at MayDreamsGardens for hosting Bloom Day. Over 150 blogs have posted links to their bloom day posts; I recommend clicking over to check it all out. The list of everything blooming in our yard is below. (more…)

The Bay Friendly Garden Tour

One of the gardens that we help maintain is on the Bay Friendly Garden Tour tomorrow. I’m a big fan of the tour and the whole concept of ‘Bay Friendly’. It’s such a clear way to focus on the ecological implications of gardening, and the tour has the feel of real gardens made by actual gardeners. This garden was originally installed by a designer (Roger Raiche, who’s known around the Bay Area from working at the UC Botanical Garden and for introducing a lot of well-known native plant varieties, Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red,’ California Wild Grape, being the first one that comes to mind but there are many many more) and we’ve been helping with the maintenance for several years, but it’s very much the owner’s own personal garden. Over the years, she has moved and added and subtracted a lot of the plants, and she’s the one who keeps it in a showcase state.

This section of the garden was designed by her along with a Buddhist monk who helped in the garden before our tenure. Virtually every plant in this area is a transplant from some other part of the garden, almost no new plants were bought for the space. Quite a few classic garden plants — roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, a peony — ended up in this area, I think after struggling or being overcrowded somewhere else. The fence was built with bamboo that the monk harvested from my garden. They instilled the space with a nice peaceful ambience, and it’s my favorite place to sit in the garden. Every garden should have a Buddhist monk work in it for a time.

I’ve posted photos from this garden a couple of times before, here and here. There is a post about the garden on the Bay Friendly blog and the garden got several paragraphs in a write-up of the tour at SF Gate. And Floradora has a number of nice photos from this garden and several others on the tour.

Some more photos are below. (more…)

Altun Ha Mayan Ruins

Altun Ha

Hmmm, I meant to post this sooner. Our Belize vacation already feels like it was a long time ago. As I mentioned just after we got back, we spent most of our Belize vacation on a small island, hanging out, sometimes snorkeling but mostly just sitting in a hammock. At the end of our trip we did one true sightseeing thing, we went to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha.

Anita and I have both been to Mayan ruins before, but not for about ten years. Altun Ha is a good one. The entire site is about 25 square miles, mostly focused around two main plazas that are cleared and excavated, with pyramids as tall as the trees. The name means Stone Water or Rockstone Pond, named for the limestone wells. It was settled around 250 BC, with the first buildings going up around 100 AD. The population got up to 10,000 people at it height; it was abandoned around the 10th century. Now there’s just forest around it and it would be hard to imagine a lot of people ever living there if it weren’t for the big stone pyramids.

The Other, Adjacent Plaza

Mayan ruins are great, and I of course was interested in the stonework. Each building was built over about a one hundred year period, sometimes directly on top of previous buildings. During the Mayan times the stone would have also been covered with stucco and painted.

More detail photos than anyone really needs to see are below. (more…)

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