Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Poppy Population

When I moved into my house a few years ago, even though I pulled out a lot of plants, some sick, some water hogs, there were plants I didn't pull out: poppies. The neighborhood has a scattering of bread seed poppies (Papavar somniferum) of all colors and petal shapes, hybridizing with each other as the bumble bees visit them from yard to yard. They've naturalized around here, and I'm not complaining—they're lovely, the native and honey bees love them, and I like baking with their seeds. Additionally, the local version of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), which is a little lower growing that the standard California poppy and sports mango-orange flowers with a lighter rim around the edges rather than the solid orange, grows all over our park and neighborhood, firmly established in my yard.

In the past couple seasons, I've added more poppies. I planted two more native poppies, Wind poppy (Stylomecon heterophylla) and Tufted poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa), as well as a red flowered California poppy variety. And, because they look so fragile but they're actually so tough, I planted out a few Moroccan poppies (Papavar atlanticum) last year which have re-seeded wonderfully in my yard this year.

And that—the fact that they reseed themselves so well—is part of the joy of poppies. I don't know where they're going to pop up. I have no idea which color and petal variation the bread seed poppy will be until it opens. The poppies in my yard are a bit of colorful chaos, sometimes happily clashing with everything around them. They're the best.

I took each of these pictures today. While the Wind poppy already bloomed and the Moroccan poppy is just about to start, all of the poppies below are blooming right now.

Breadseed poppy about to unfurl this morning.

The same poppy a couple hours later.

A different color and petal form in another breadseed poppy.

A red variation of the California poppy.

Tufted poppy: the flowers are about the size of a quarter and there are loads of them.

California poppy among yarrow plants.

The local variety of California poppy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

An Urban Grange

This Sunday, in sputtering-cold rain, under wind-tossed eucalyptus, twelve people met around a concrete picnic table in a park. The table held plant starts and cuttings, seed potatoes, extra vegetables, Meyer lemons, a bottle of kombucha, homemade bread, and a jar of strawberry jam. The people gathered around the table varied in age, ethnicity, gender, and percentage of life lived in San Francisco. They differed in walks of life, professions, and points of view. But, they all had something in common: a love for gardening and a desire to learn from, share with, and support others with the same passion. They all want to grow better.

Photo courtesy my husband, Scott Garred.

Photo courtesy my husband, Scott Garred. Yes, that's me with the big ol' grin and green rain jacket.

I organized this event inspired by the group RIPE Altadena, in which I participated when I lived in southern California. So much varied produce was shared through the group that many weeks grocery shopping was unnecessary. We "shopped" in our neighborhood. And, I learned so much from RIPE: how to graft, how to grow new-to-me-plants, strategies for saving water.

I wanted to create something like that up here in my corner of the city, where the climate is so different and the community so much more diverse. Here, if people have land in which to garden, it is severely sloped or rented or borrowed or the size of a quilt square or pieced together in pots on a balcony. Or any combination of these. However, despite these challenges, the southeastern corner of San Francisco is decidedly the best corner of the city for growing. We have sunshine during the summer and sometimes days that even border on hot, rare for the city. When I proposed the plan for monthly meet ups on our neighborhood digital bulletin board, the response was positive and enthusiastic. Even those who couldn't come to the first messaged saying they put it on their calendars for May already. The need existed.

After telling a friend at work what I had started, he grinned. "Like a grange," he said. Yes, an urban grange.

Photo courtesy my husband, Scott Garred. Rainbow courtesy luck.

What fun we had. We laughed and asked questions, learning and shivering against the cold, setting down our garden community roots. As the meeting began to wrap up, the eucalyptus branches danced wildly overhead, and a rainbow to the east shimmered.

I needed this. We needed this.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Writing on the Deck (is Exactly the Right Thing Right Now)

I discovered today, as I was ending my work day, that someone I knew and admired in my old town of Altadena died last night. She hadn't been public about her cancer, but I also hadn't been nearby enough to know what was going on. And then, this afternoon, I heard. I told my friend and coworker, then went to my office and cried for a while.

She and I weren't close; when we first met, I wasn't sure that she even liked me because I was giggly to her deadpan, diplomatic to her "French slip." But, after time I learned—that was just her way. I could tell you a lot about her because she told a lot about herself as she was an incredible story-teller, but I'll tell you one main claim, and in my writing-teacher way, back it up with facts.

She did whatever the fuck she wanted.

She quit the regular workday early and sold enough of what she had acquired to live; she bought a house that made her spine sing; she worked as a race horse exercise rider; she learned to fly a plane; she rode her own horse deep into the mountains where her horse once (or thrice) threw her and she bled alone on the rocks; she loved more than a few men; she made animals her family; she built a garden, tore up the garden, and rebuilt the garden; she walked a lot because she wanted to, not because she needed to (or maybe her body and mind needed to—about that I don't know); she wrote what she wanted when she wanted and sometimes did it for money; she jumped on a trampoline once with me at a party, holding on to my hand, laughing with me, laughing, laughing, laughing until I peed a little from laughing and jumping so hard and we laughed and jumped some more.

She was not generous with her praise, but she gave me two compliments I'll always remember. Those are mine, not to share.

Now I'm crying some more.

But, now it's time for me to take her lessons and use them. I'm doing two things.

First, I'm sitting in the evening sun and wind on the deck of the house that made my own spine sing the first time I met it, drinking a G&T with a splash of St. Germain (because elderflower always reminds me of the canyons in which she and I both spent so much time walking), and trying to remember everything I know about her.

Second, and she'd wholeheartedly approve of this, because she loved her garden and her garden was one of the many ways she and I were connected, I am finally doing something I've wanted to do since I've moved here. I'm building my gardening community. In Altadena, both my friend and I participated enthusiastically in a monthly produce bounty-swap from our generous Southern California gardens. The community that resulted became deeply interwoven into my daily life. Through it, I taught a lot, learned even more, and built a network of neighbors who became both friends and community grocery store. I've missed that collection of people terribly since moving a few years ago.

For the past few months, I've noticed members on my neighborhood digital bulletin board asking gardening questions and wondering what to do with their excess lemons. Tonight, I did what I had been meaning to for a while. There's no time to put off that which is good. On the network, I created a monthly garden meet up in the neighborhood park, where we can share our questions and answers, our excess produce, our successes and failures, and most importantly, our stories, because swapping stories is what glues a community.

Oh woman. I'm going to miss those stories.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Our First Bed

For the past few months, I've been collecting cobblestones from whomever had them to give away. The lion's share I gathered from a couple down the hill who had stowed away their own pile for a garden project they decided never to complete. I received a few more from another neighborhood connection, and additional car load from a generous person in an adjoining neighborhood. These cobblestones used to be San Francisco streets. Most of the stones are basalt, but there are few very regularly shaped granite stones, too, which may have served as curbs rather than pavers. When the houses in my neighborhood were built in the '30s through the 50's, the old stone streets were torn up. This neighborhood used to be full of family nurseries that sourced the flowers for the downtown markets. But in the decades of infill and resulting asphalt streets, the new residents often found uses for the old stones. Almost every house on the west side of my block, including my own, all built in the early 1950s, has retaining walls built from cobblestone and mortar. These stone walls have held up soil for decades, and most, including those in my property, are still in good shape.

They're beautiful: dark gray shining near black when wet with rain, the joints and mortar home to velvety moss, and they are heavy with history. So, when I set out to built a long raised vegetable bed in my yard, a bed in which I hoped to grow the historic and open pollinated varieties that I favor, those plants that tell stories, I knew the bed needed to have the dignity of San Francisco cobblestone.

Scott told me, "I love to move soil." He was as excited about the cobblestones as I was. I married him last month.

Just after we got home from our honeymoon, Scott and I dug out a trench that cut into a gentle sloping portion of the yard. My step kids helped with the digging. We lined the trench with galvanized 3/4" hex "gopher wire." Along the bottom of the bed we laid branches and trunks of shrubbery we've cleared out in the yard, creating a sunken hugelkultur bed. I tossed fertilizer over the wood to kickstart its decay. In the next couple weeks, we puzzled together the stones to create walls that were as even and attractive as possible (no mortar, in case we want to move or change things), returned the original soil to the bed, and added 30 cubic feet of purchased organic garden soil, enriching with worm bin contents and compost. Scott understood how to make the walls beautiful; I knew how to layer the soil.




To protect the bed from marauding birds and Indiana-the-dog's curiosity, we installed hoops we made out of PVC. We cut 1" PVC in short lengths and sunk it into the soil along the bed's edges. Then, we bent 10' lengths of 3/4" PVC into hoops, inserting each end into a 1" anchor. We snapped a single length of 3/4" PVC along the center-top of the hoops, providing some more strength. Over all of it, we draped the lightest of ag-fabrics, just enough to provide protection, and using PVC snaps, attached it to the top of the frame. Along the sides and bottom of the frames, we are using small spring clamps so we can easily open the sides and access the interior. We sheet mulched around the edges of the bed. We built something beautiful.






We are still on the lookout for more cobblestones. We've been edging the main garden pathway with them, and what we've completed looks right. It looks like it belongs here. We are short enough stones to finish the project right now, but we have plenty of time.

The stones are here. We just need to keep digging.


More about San Francisco cobblestones:

Cobblestones Unearthed on Vermont Street

A History of Paving Blocks Along San Francisco's South Beach Waterfront