Sunday, September 30, 2018

Star of the Party

Yesterday, lots and lots of people walked through our backyard. It made both me and Scott particularly happy when a group would cluster on the patio on top of the property, relaxing on the benches and chairs, taking in the view. It's what we like to do, too. It is centering to observe downtown, the Bay Bridge and the freeways, way down below, the traffic silenced by distance. It's like watching the city's blood pump, further proof of its vibrant life. 

Visitors asked about the peppermint geranium, about the runner beans, about the pepino dulce, about the apples and pears, and about where we found all of our cobblestone. However, none of those took as much attention a small, sturdy annual. Early two springs ago, I planted two starts of Blue Pimpernel (Lysimachia monelli, formerly Anagallis monelli). They grew well for me, and even reseeded within the same growing season. At the end of the season last year, I tossed seeds from the old plants in places where I wanted more of that deep blue, and it came up everywhere I wanted. In one part of my yard, right along the front stone retaining wall, there's a thicket of flowers.

I don't water these plants. Sometimes I cut them back when they get too leggy. They show off with very little help from me. The bumblebees love them, and they look so good with California poppies earlier in the season. They've made my yard their home.

Yesterday, visitors stopped, surprised by the blue, at the front stone wall. They took pictures. They asked me what it was and how much water it needed. They happily accepted the seeds I collected from the older branches for them. 

These little plants have given so much pleasure with so little effort, and now they're on the way to new homes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Two Ps and Lots of Pods

This Saturday, the Portola Garden Tour is happening. Though I've had lots of people in my gardens through the years, they'be been friends, produce swappers, and interns; this is the first time my garden will be a stop on a garden tour. I'm a little nervous.

Since I know people will ask questions, I wanted to take the time to write down what we have done to get to this moment, and where we're planning on going from here.

What We Have Done (Preparation)
  • In order to prepare the house to sell in the spring of 2016, the previous owner covered the entire back that wasn't dense with shrubbery in thick plastic and poured mulch over it, plopping occasional succulents haphazardly across the slope. My first order of business was to remove all the plastic and scoot the mulch back over the soil. Plastic over my soil? Nope.
  • I next pulled out banks of rosemary (no one needs that much rosemary), leaving one plant that arches gracefully over a retaining wall. I pulled out sticky Pride of Madeira bushes, fungus ridden roses, misplaced succulent plants (placing them in better spots), and ivy that threatened from all the edges. 
  • Once I removed sad, sick, or overwhelming plants, I discovered that I had a pretty good framework to build upon. I removed some rotten planters and built up edges and low retaining walls, echoing the existant cobblestone walls. 
  • In the space the rosemary left behind, I began building a meadow on one side and planted a couple citrus (Meyer lemon and Bears lime) on the other.
  • After Scott and I met and fell in love, he became an active and enthusiastic participant in the development of the garden. He and the kids helped me remove the overgrown shrubs: purple hops—almost tree-sized—and flannelbush. The flannelbush made me sad. I had yearned to grow that plant in a garden for years, but once I had it, I learned it really didn't work in an urban setting. I couldn't plant anything around it without making it rot away, I couldn't prune it without destroying its architecture, and its soft wood couldn't stand up to San Francisco's strong winds. And, once we took it out, the views opened up to all of downtown and the Bay Bridge. We also took out a mostly dead lemon bush.
  • Scott and I built our vegetable bed and the first bean and pea trellises. My method for building these towers (also great for tomatoes), is to bend a 4' by 7' concrete reinforcing wire panel into a cylinder—lengthwise for beans and peas, shortwise for tomatoes—wire it together, and wire it to a couple stakes driven into the ground.
  • We hired a contractor to rebuild the portion of our retaining wall that was failing on the north west side of the property.
  • I planted and began espeliering two apples (Hudson's Golden Gem and Goldrush) and two pears (Comice and Warren).
  • Scott and I built a small bed dedicated to garlic in its growing season and a cover crop in garlic's off season.

What We Will Do Next (Planning)

  • Our first project that we can't wait to start is rebuilding the garden's pathway. We plan to tear out each wooden beam and replace it with mortared cobblestone. We'll dig out the landscape cloth (because landscape cloth is always a bad idea in the long run), slightly grade each long step of the path, set flagstone in, individually and permeably mortared, and in-fill with gravel. This will be much easier to maintain than the disintegrating decomposed granite path. It will also tie in to aesthetic elements we already have in place in the space; in short, it will look more unified.
  • Next, we need to pull up the bricks on the top patio, regrade the surface, re-build the patio's perimeter, then reinstall the brick patio.
  • In the early spring, when the Carex pansa begans to grow gangbusters again, I'll dig up runners and begin a meadow on the opposing side of the existant meadow. Each side of the path will then begin with a carex meadow underplanted with bulbs and studded with perennials and reseeding annuals. The carex to the south of the central path will grow around and under the citrus trees eventually.
  • We will build two more bean/pea/squash trellis towers and install them between our three existing towers.
  • I need to sketch out a plan for potted plants on the lower patio to help it look more cohesive, then we will put that in action. 
  • We will break down and use up a lot of the refuse wood from taking out the shrubs; then, I will be able to continue installing my fuschia, begonia, and Ericaceae (native huckleberries, Agapetes serpens, Madeiran blueberry) mania up at the top. Maybe, if I can keep them alive, I'll plant some native lilies up there, too.
  • We will continue to build up the succulent bed to make it look more sculptural and oceanic.

My Favorite Thing Happening Right Now In My Garden (a Lot of Pods)
I can't get over this Ayacote Negro runner bean tower. It has unstoppable flowers, brings in droves of hummingbirds, and offers a bounty of juicy green beans and future dry beans.

This is the top of the trellis, looking over the fence into the yards of my neighbors and down the hill towards downtown. If you look hard enough, you can see the SalesForce tower poking its tall head above the fog below it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Job

My job keeps growing.

For 18 years, I was a high school English teacher, and for a good part of those years, a department coordinator. But, though I think I was a tolerable leader of the English department at my previous place of employment, I was in no way that leader that I have become today. For, the chaos and change in my move and subsequent divorce a few years ago taught me much.

When I first started at my current work four years ago, I recieved the job title of Interim Director of the Library. Then the word Interim went away. Then I added chairperson of a couple committees to my job title. And now, in addition to my library responsibilities, I'm teaching again, co-developing a program for struggling students.

So, what does my job look like? Here's a sketch of a day:

I open the library at 7:30am. In the early morning, there are already kids outside the library, waiting to get in to finish homework and use the space to study. As the start of the school day nears, more and more students arrive, and the atmosphere shifts from one of study to one of socializing for a few minutes before the first bell. During this time, while maintaining order in the place, I also check out books (yes, a few!), calculators for the day to those who forgot theirs at home, noise-cancelling headphones to those who need silence to study, whiteboard pens to those who need to work with a study group in the collaborative spaces, and any and every art supply for projects. Students likely will ask me to read and comment on papers that are due later that day. Students will ask me for research help, help with the printers, help figuring out when a teacher has office hours, and whether they should go to Sonoma State or Cal Poly Pomona (or Santa Clara or LMU or Brown or Bowdoin or any other permutation). I fix a stapler or a hole puncher or a printer. Then school starts and another library faculty member comes on for an hour or so while I go to my office and try to catch up.

In my office, I pay invoices, evaluate usage of our various subscription databases, research new books that fill gaps in our collection and order them, plan work for student workers, schedule library staff for irregular calendars or when one has to be out for an extended conference, retreat, or illness, take some time to think about what the library faculty is doing and give props where props are frequently due and guidance where it's needed, build informational literacy lessons for me and library faculty to deliver in classrooms, assess success of our library offerings, answer so many emails, work on materials and support for the program/class that I co-lead, send overdue notices, write library newsletters, send out information about a faculty discussion group I co-lead, work on vision and strategy for continuing to move the library forward, read some professional texts. And more.

Later in the day I'll be on the desk for two more big chunks of time and work with students. Frequently, I'll run upstairs to a history or science or language or religion classroom (ironically, never English) as soon as I'm off the desk again in order to lead a class on a research-based lesson. Then I'll run to the class I co-teach and sometimes get teary over the beauty of the students' learning and challenges. Then back to the library desk or office.

After school, I usually have a meeting. Once a month, the meeting is with other department heads and our boss; other times it will be with the Writing Across the Curriculum committee I chair, or with students in the Outdoors or Book Clubs that I moderate, or with a colleague with whom I'm collaborating on a project, or with the team of faculty and students with whom I'll be on retreat the following week.

That's what I get paid for. At 3:30, I leave work to go home and begin the work that is essential to me for which there is no payment: shopping for groceries and cooking, step-moming (or bonus-moming, depending on your perspective), walking the dog and feeding and cleaning up after two critters, networking the neighborhood via the garden group I started or other means to help build and maintain a healthy local community, working in my garden or at the pottery studio, cleaning.

Years ago, I thought I was busy. My busy-ness is different now. I no longer grade papers—the relief of that is larger than I can state. It's like removing a boulder from my brain or a skyscraper off my toes. I can think and move so much more freely. But, the variety that is part of my every day is so much wider, and the community I serve daily, both in my work and in my home, larger. These roles take creativity and care in different ways than I've experienced before.

As a result of this, I haven't written much. My lack of writing makes me feel constipated with words and ideas. I have so much I need to get out and I'm not sure when or how it will all be released. It will be though. I must be patient with myself.

Because, if I've learned anything in the last few years, a big part of my job is to love myself.