Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for August, 2012

Belgian Block and Wall Grottos

This summer I worked for the first time in several years with some Belgian Block, installing it in a parking strip in Berekeley. Belgian Block (called setts in some places, there are two photos of guys making them in the quarry photos I posted a little while back) famously came over to San Francisco as ballast in ships. The stones — usually about 5″ x 7″, a size that was supposedly easy to fit between the timbers of the ships — would be off-loaded whenever there was a heavy cargo heading back east and then used as paving for the growing city. You can still buy versions at the stoneyards sometimes, but I mostly come across it when it’s getting taken out of one site and reused at another. It’s better than cobblestone, but still not really the best surface to walk on; not so great for a patio or entrance walkway, just about right for a parking strip.

I know, I know, the verboten Mexican Feather Grass. I warned my clients it would reseed in all of the neighbors’ gardens, but they pointed out that all of the neighbors were already growing it. I’ll plant a hundred Deer Grass in penance.

This batch of Belgian Block was once part of the Embarcadero. When the city upgraded the paving, they allowed people to come collect it, and my client was one of those who did. He originally set them in mortar for a driveway, then a few years ago he demoed and stored them in pile in the backyard. Now they’ve found a new home in the parking strip, a phase which will presumably last a while, but who knows what they might be used for after that. I usually like to think of my stonework as permanent, but this batch’s peripatetic history makes me like the idea of the stones moving on to a new project at some future date.

Along with the Belgian Block, the garden has two large, funky walls that were built by a previous owner. The walls are several feet thick and seven or eight feet tall, with ivy growing from the top and jade plants from the sides. The stonework is pretty crude — a mix of stone and recycled concrete held together with rough, smeary masonry — and the backside of one wall even has chunks of metal in it, including what looks like a rusted out car radiator. But there’s also a certain grace to it. The walls have several cavelike grottos that feel a little creepy but sort of beautiful at the same time.

There are a total of four grottos, but the larger ones were too dark to really photograph. I bet they look pretty cool at night with the candles lit inside them.

The backside of the main wall is recycled concrete. All of the best rock is on the inside of the wall, none of it on the parts facing to the street. An incredibly insular structure.

One end of the main wall has several flower pots embedded in the mortar. The other end has a post in the middle, I guess for a gate that no longer exists.

The second wall is in the background of my last photo, with three different kinds of rock, including a single flagstone set as a shiner. The neighbors have pretty much hidden their side of the wall, the side with the metal chunks in it, behind bamboo. The tree trunk on the left is from a beautiful Purple European Beech and there are a couple of nice Japanese Maples. All together, it makes for a very interesting, very funky, very Berkeley kind of garden.

Lego Masonry

I came across this street art project recently at Street Art Utopia. Jan Vormann of Dispatchwork repairs old walls with Legos. It’s usually temporary, but the mayor of one town liked it so much, he had the work mortared in place. Which I’m all in favor of. The connection between Legos and masonry makes perfect sense to me.

And very slightly related: Lego’s have a series on modern architecture.

Lemon Zesting Rodents?

In one of the gardens where I’m working this summer, all of the citrus have had the peels eaten away by some kind of animal. I’ve never seen this before; it looks really strange. The garden is near Berkeley’s so-called ‘Gourmet Ghetto’ in a relatively urban neighborhood that probably has some rats lurking about. Do rats do this? Do they like lemon zest? It doesn’t look like something squirrels or birds would do, and I can’t think of anything else that would do this.

— Update 8/30 — I asked at one of the nurseries and someone there said, yep, it was rats. Kind of gross.

Stern Grove Watercolors

I got back to watercolor for a couple of sketches at Stern Grove during the recent Ozomatli show. We were up on the slope behind some trees, so they might not be the most accurate I’ve ever done. I recently went to a talk by Edward Westbrook who owns Quarryhouse, the company that did the stonework. I added a few details from his talk to the end of the Stern Grove post I did a couple of years ago.

Lukens Lake Wildflowers

I’ve mostly been hiking with a sketchbook lately, but I did take my camera on one hike, to Lukens Lake in Yosemite. It was a drizzly overcast day and I really just picked Lukens Lake because it’s only a mile from the road and I’d never hiked to it before, but it turned out to be a great destination (surprise, surprise, a great spot in Yosemite NP, right?), with some of the best wildflowers patches I’ve ever seen. I counted two dozen different species blooming in about a one hundred yard radius.

The mix is similar what I saw at Agnew Meadows a couple of years ago. Both spots are upper montane forest at similar elevations (8,100 feet for Agnew Meadows, 8,200 feet for Lukens Lake) and they might be less than a hundred miles apart as the crow flies, though Lukens Lake is on the west slope of the Sierras, Agnew Meadows on the east. Agnew Meadows has the bigger Lily, L. kelleyanum, compared to Small Tiger Lily, L. parvum, at Lukens, but otherwise many of the plants were the same.

Small Tiger Lily is, like the name says, one of the smaller lilies out there, but there’s still something about these flowers that always stops me in my tracks. They’re not much bigger or showier than Western Columbine, but they make the whole space feel like a garden.

Though Columbines are also pretty great.

Corn Lily was the dominant plant visually. I’m really starting to appreciate them, for the flowers but also the way the other wildflowers are set off against their leaves.

Lots of purple from Lupine but also Monk’s Hood (above) and Larkspur mixed in with the Indian Paintbrush (below).

And quite a few other flowers, including tons of this Aster, which I’ve never identified despite the fact that it’s so widespread. Kind of like LBB and LGB (Little Gray Bird, Little Brown Bird) and the horticultural equivalent DYC (Damned Yellow Composite) which I learned from Town Mouse, I just think of these as SKA — Some Kind of Aster. I also saw a pink flower that I don’t know; it might have been a version of Owl’s Clover. Other flowers included Meadow Rue, Monkey Flower, Viola, Angelica, Senecio, Mariposa Lily just outside of the meadows, and more. A great place to see wildflowers in July.

Tuolumne Sketches

Tuolumne Meadows

We’ve entered the summer months when I try to get up into the mountains as often as possible. I take the point and shoot camera with me some of the time, but these days I take a sketchbook at least as often.

Yosemite Creek Trail

These drawings are from a couple of weeks ago when I was up at Tuolumne Meadows. I was going to do watercolor to continue with my efforts from this spring, but in the end I just did pen and ink and then colored them at home.

Kitty Dome

Puppy Dome Swimming Hole

Cathedral Peak

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