Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for January, 2012

USDA Zone Change

The USDA just put out a new zone hardiness map. It’s the first new map since 1990 and they made quite a few changes. Large chunks of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Berkeley, and our garden here in Richmond, have been changed from zone 9b to 10a, and the 9a areas inland are now 9b. I don’t know how big a deal this is — I mostly use the Sunset zones (which will also be changing in the next edition) — but it is the reference number that orients me to the rest of the gardening world and I even had it written on my blog’s About page.

Middle Harbor Training Wall Memorial

This little jetty sticking out into the mudflat (click on all of these to see them bigger) is a memorial to one half of the Bay Area’s largest and most ambitious drystone construction, the Oakland Harbor Training Walls. It’s in Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, which is a rather incongruous park. The park is out in the middle of the port surrounded by industrial activity, there’s a ton of lawn which no one ever uses and in fact the geese have turned rather unusable, and there are a bunch of big landscape elements that reference the history of the port: the shade structure in the photo below, a concrete path that marks the footprint of a giant 19,000 square foot building that they took down, and the rock jetty that commemorates the port’s north training wall.

The harbor’s north and south training walls were two long jetties designed to ‘train’ the tide. Unlike a typical riprap jetty made of haphazardly dumped piles of rock designed to absorb wave or tidal energy, each rock in the training wall was fitted by stoneworkers to give the wall a smooth face that would accelerate the water instead of slowing it down. Back in the 1800’s, Oakland’s harbor was shallow and it tended to fill with silt; ships could only enter it during high tide. The idea of the training walls was to channel the tide’s energy so that when the tide went out it would also suck all the silt out with it, reducing the need for dredging. The walls were started in 1874 and took twenty years to build, with some impressive stats: 310,000 tons of stone, 500,000 square feet of wall, 20 feet wide at the base, 8 feet wide at the top, 6 feet above the low water point. The north wall was 9500 feet long, the south wall 12,000. Apparently the walls worked; the signage says the port’s activity went up 2000% after they were built.

The south wall is still there, but the port the north wall out in 2001 when they widened the channel so bigger container ships could use it; as part of the approval process, they used some of the north wall’s rock to build this memorial. I didn’t do all that good with my photos of it (there’s a better one at Oakland Geology) and I might try again some time when the tide is in or I might try to find a good view of the south wall. Honestly, though, I think the appeal is more intellectual than aesthetic.

It looks a little better with some sun flare drama. You can see the contrast between the training wall’s fitted stone (above) and the riprap’s rough faces (below).

Overall, though I said it was incongruous, the park is also pretty cool. The ships and cranes and machinery right next to the park are all impressive. There’s also a habitat planting with some natives struggling against weeds and a path out to a great view of the Bay Bridge and the city. The water area of the middle harbor is being converted into a mudflat, slowly getting filled with the silt from dredging of the channel. It’s a good place to see water birds.

And the park is a great place to see the sunset. Information and a map of the park is here, a historic photo with the training walls visible on the left side is here.

Bloom Day — Construction Zone

This is probably the paltriest bloom day I’ve had in a long time. A few months ago, when we started working on our new garden shed, I cut a lot of the plants back hard to get them out of the way while we’re working. I expected them to come back with the winter rains, but that was depending on it actually raining this winter. We’ll see if that eventually happens, but until then a lot of the plants are still dormant. Overall, though, the weather has been great for our project. Later today the window goes in; tomorrow we do the sheetrock. Then we’re mostly just waiting on the door. After that I’m going to stucco the exterior to match the house and do a stone floor. By early February it should look finished, though there’ll likely still be more finish work to do.

Between the construction and the time of year, the calendulas are the only plant that really makes a show of color in the garden. They’ve been kicked, stepped on, hit with two by fours, buried under stacks of bamboo, and they just spring right back up and keep blooming. The original seeds were blessed by Amma the Hugging Saint, apparently a powerful blessing.

Anita started looking after the veggie garden after the construction started. Not much happening in January.

The Chasmanthe is blooming well in our hell strip. I should appreciate them more than I do.

The Iochroma has some flowers up at the top of the plant. It seems able to bloom at any time of the year in our garden.

With all the sun we’ve been having lately, I thought there might be a lot of out of season blooms, but the Salvia ‘Green Carpet’ is the only one I would call truly out of season. There are a few token flowers on the Galvezia, the Sidalcea, and the Huechera maxima, but that’s happened in past years, too.

This little manzanita cluster has a berry, old flowers, and new flowers. I feel like this isn’t a good year for the manzanitas, with the lack of rain, but I don’t really know yet. This guy, A. ‘John Dourley,’ is doing pretty well considering he’s been covered in sawdust several times.

We have a few other things in bloom but nothing else of note. Mostly the garden is hunkered down, waiting for the construction to finish and the rains to come. Thanks to Carol for hosting Bloom Day. Check out MayDreamsGardens for lots of gardens showing off their flowers.

Richard Serra’s Sequence

For my first bit of ‘culture’ in the new year, I checked out the Richard Serra installation at the Stanford museum. I can’t say enough how much I liked it. Richard Serra can be a bit hit or miss in my limited experience, but this one is great, a moebius-like double figure-eight of curved walls made out of Cor-ten steel; the steel walls form two open circular spaces surrounded by a narrow walkway. At first I thought Sequence was an odd name, but watching people walk through it, I realized that there is indeed an actual sequence to the piece, that everyone does the same thing in the same order. Everyone looks at the walls in the first open circle, then they walk through the outer figure-eight which has a disorienting feel as the walls sinuously narrow and widen, then in the second open space everyone stares up at the sky, and then when they walk back again through the outer figure-eight they tend to keep looking upwards at the sky. As you follow the sequence, you can feel it change from an object to a space around you.

There’s a slideshow with some great photos at Stanford University News and a time-lapse of the installation at Daily Serving. It’s going to be at the Stanford museum for five years before eventually moving permanently to the SFMOMA to a new wing that is under construction, but this time of year, with the sun lower in the sky so you can look up and not be blinded, is a good time to see it.

Keep Drawing

MicMac Lane from Eric Funk on Vimeo.

— Keep Drawing has been taken down from Vimeo, so I replaced it with this hand drawn animation, Mic Mac Lane by Eric Funk . Same basic comment as with Keep Drawing, that there is a lot of great drawings within the video. —

I’ve seen this video, Keep Drawing, a few times and, beyond just how cool it is to watch, I’m always impressed at the sheer number of drawings in it. It takes me diligence just to complete a single drawing, let alone an animation full of them. But I’m hoping to be good about drawing this year. I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but, if I did, keep drawing would probably be one of them.

Or my resolution could just be to complete my unfinished sketches. It usually only takes a little more drawing and a few minutes to scan them into the computer. I did these at Joshua Tree in the Hall of Horrors area. The one above is probably abandoned rather than finished; the one below I just darkened some lines and called it done.


2011 Miscellany

Monardella macrantha in mid-May

Happy New Year everyone. As part of year end housekeeping I was going through all the photos I took this year, including a whole lot that never made it up onto this blog. Looking back at them all, a few things are noticeable. The first is that I took a lot of photos of gardens in the spring and not very many afterwards. I did a pretty good job of recording our landscape work but after about mid-summer, our own garden went into construction mode and everything tended to look messy. Right now it feels like most of our plants have been stepped on or transplanted or had a 2×4 dropped on them. The photo below is from a few weeks ago. The shed now has a roof, but we’re still shopping around for the door and the relative chaos around it is still representative. In a couple of weeks things should start to get put back together.

To be completed soon


I went all year without mention of our red-eared slider, Blondie, who lives in an aquarium tank with about twenty fish. We don’t often take him out into the garden, but he’s actually had a big impact, generating some of the best fertilizer our plants have ever received. Every week Anita takes a bucket of tank water and gives it to our container plants. I don’t have any before-and-after photos of the plants that get the water but it has made them exuberantly green and happy.

Allium unifolium at Salt Point

I took a number of weekend and day trips to the north bay throughout the year. Salt Point was new to me and as a result probably my favorite, but even Ring Mountain (the site of Turtle Rock and Split Rock) just across the bay in Marin was great. I never get tired of these spots in the Bay Area where there’s a big rock or two, some grasslands, and views of the bay or the ocean.

Split Rock at Ring Mountain in Marin

Corte Madera seen from Ring Mountain

Turtle Rock overlooking Sausalito

Rendezvous Caye

We managed one trip out of the country, to Belize. We hopped around to a few little islands and then went to the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha. I want to go back.

Tobacco Caye

The Mist Trail below Vernal Fall

I made six long-weekend trips to Yosemite in the spring and summer. I didn’t think I took photos, but I guess some things lured my camera out, including the Mist Trail while the waterfalls were surging. Even with all the crowds, I would put it up against any hiking trail in the world. Vernal Fall had some double rainbows at one point, but I was too wise to even try to capture the full intensity of that.

Nevada Fall

Rock Ducks at Mirror Lake

One thing I photographed in Yosemite was the collection of rock ducks at Mirror Lake. Some people like it, some don’t. The site used to have a hotel there a hundred years ago, Mirror Lake is partially dammed, and Yosemite Valley is too overrun with people and cars for me to be overly concerned about leave no trace, but I also didn’t find the rock stacking particularly appealing either. I’m more appreciative of the stone steps leading up to the collection and the retaining wall at the edge of the lake.

The steps leading up to the Ducks

Mirror Lake Edging

Half Dome

And of course Half Dome, seen from the foot of the stairs, is on a whole other level.

Joshua Tree

A week in Joshua Tree ended our recreation for the year. Since then we’ve stayed closer to home, focusing on the garden shed and the holidays and getting ready for next year. I had a lot of good things to look back on last year and I hope everyone else feels the same about their year.

Happy New Year

You are currently browsing the DryStoneGarden blog archives for January, 2012.