Gavin, say it ain't so! Link.

When I wrote a column earlier this week suggesting that many San Franciscans were ready to let the mayor move on, my e-mail box filled up with men who disagreed. So did The Chronicle's voice-mail system. Most of the men who called to react to this week's scandal were upset with the mayor, while most of the women weren't.

Emphasis added.


Hey, everyone

Commentor Anile inaugurated her own blog.


Go visit. Go right now. You'll want to see what she's got up today!

Oh yeah!


In which I experience rejection

and don't feel all that bad about it.

That electric red spray-painted "No" practically radiates rejection. Nada. Nyet. Nein. Fuggetaboutit. Or as the French would say, "Pardonnez-moi monsieur, mais non."


I'm pretty sure this means the utility company (Pacific Gas and Electric) has rejected our application for a street tree planting. (The application actually goes to Friends of the Urban Forest, but PG&E has approval powers.)

The only square I have available in the sidewalk in front of my house is too close to the gas line and the electrical utility pole for a tree. I thought that might be the case, but I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. Perhaps you can see for yourself why this was never going to work.


Why am I not sad? I was starting to have second thoughts about the whole thing.

First of all, I wasn't thrilled with the tree choices. I had six evergreens and three (or four) deciduous trees to chose from. (Why isn't there a noun for deciduous?)

Evergreens: Arbutus 'Marina', Tristania laurina, Eriobotrya deflexa, Callistemon viminalis, Melaleuca linariifolia, Magnolia grandiflora.

Deciduous trees: Crataegus phaenopyrum, Pyrus calleryana 'Aristocrat' or 'Chanticleer', Liquidambar straciflua.

Tristania laurina is nice, but rather dull.

Eriobotryae grow everywhere in this neighborhood. I'm tired of them, and I think it's too windy in front of our house for this tree.

I don't like Callistemon or Melaleuca that much. At least the Callistemon would stay small, but every successful Melaleuca around here is too successful. They all look like they're about to burst out of the sidewalk. And the crowns are really heavy. Once that tree got going, I'd have to pay for an arborist once a year.

I love Southern Magnolia but, again, I'm not sure about the wind. There aren't enough Magnolias in my neighborhood on which I can base a sound decision. In fact, I can't think of a single one.

Arbutus 'Marina' is a fine tree, but ultimately I wanted something deciduous that wouldn't shade the front of my house in wintertime. But if I was going with an evergreen, that would be my pick.

The Crataegus intrigues me. I like those small red flowers. But the one around the corner gets sooty mold (or something that looks like sooty mold) during part of the year, and I don't think I want that in front of my house.

I've never heard anyone say anything nice about pear trees. And the calleryana is the Bartlett pear, right? Is there a more widely despised tree?

Liquidambar stryaciflua is okay, but it gets too big. They say 30-45' on the mailer, but I think 60' is more like it.

What was I hoping to get? Aesculus x carnea. 30' tall, nice red flowers in earliest spring, deciduous. What could be better than that?

I was also having second thoughts about the commitment. You really commit to your tree once it goes in. If it doesn't work out for some reason, you're on the hook to make it work out. I'm a little reluctant to invite the City of San Francisco into my life even more than it already is.

But it would have been a good deal if everything had worked out. We'd have gotten the permit, the tree, and the sidewalk cement lifted and removed all for $100. Plus, trees raise property values.

What do you think this means?




Cuteness overdose!

String 'em up.

Plant thieves.

The Woodside Library Garden

I'd heard there was a nice garden of California native plants growing behind the public library in Woodside.


There is!


This is Arctostaphylos pajaroensis (Pajaro Manzanita). I have this in my garden and I've pinned all my hopes to it; this is the key specimen planting in my small garden.


Manzanitas flower in winter and this one flowers pink and white. The red bark on the contorted trunk exfoliates in long strips, and the foliage changes color all year long. This plant has a small native range in Monterey County (a place I love) which has a climate very similar to San Francisco's.


I have a lot of this blue Festuca idahoensis too.


Here's Muhlenbergia rigens again. Deer Grass. We just saw it at Stanford.


I don't have this, but I would like to. I can spend a long time gazing at the picture on page 210 of this book which shows blue elderberry growing with salvia and what could be deer grass. (It's like porn to me. I get lusty.)


A long shot.


I have no trouble at all enjoying the seasonality of dead plants. This is Epilobium canum. It would have just finished flowering a couple months ago. When the rest of the garden is shutting down at the end of summer, this one kicks in with small, fluttery reddish flowers that welcome the fall. Then it leaves this golden dead stuff to contrast with evergreen ceanothus and manzanita.


It spreads unbelievably. Last year, it steamrolled the other plants growing in the same bed and I had to remove it before I could enjoy the flowers. Things will be different this year.

Horses next door.


And dragons inside the library.




Andy Goldsworthy at Stanford

Among my little excursions in Palo Alto yesterday, my friend Emma took me to see the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture at Stanford. I don't have time to blog the whole day right now (later, later), but here are some shots of the sculpture.


It starts here. See the rocky line in the ground?


Look up!


Stanford was built with these standstone rocks, unused since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Some hadn't been used since the 1906 earthquake.


You can see the whole thing is below grade. The pointy tips of the sculpture are at grade.


It's beautiful and groovy and I just wanted to garden it up so bad! But go minimal.


A single palm tree amid some papyrus. A clutch of frittilaries. An opuntia next to a rose bush. Native wildflowers like poppy and layia. Are these not garden rooms? Of course they are.


Another time I'm going to blog the landscaping at Stanford. They've done a lot of incredible, really subtle work that deserves to be more widely appreciated. ("It's no wonder they're always asking for money," said my friend Emma, a Stanford alum.)

Look at the fabulous Muhlenbergia rigens lining the parking lot!


Okay, maybe that's not the most convincing picture. Trust me. It's stunning.


My pruning class, the third meeting.

Warning: I feel cranky and tired right now. I probably should not be blogging. If I say something hateful... I was going to say, "You'll have to forgive me", but of course you don't have to forgive me at all. Most of you don't even know me. Whatever. You might want to come back later and skip this post altogether.

I didn't have to drive all the way to Santa Clara this morning. Which was so nice. I only have one more week of this Saturday class, and then I have a month off before my summer vegetable class begins. I like sleeping in on Saturdays. I miss it.

Anyhow, we worked in Menlo Park today in a really awful garden. Not even a garden. A yard. If last week's theme was fruit trees, this week's theme was renovation. Specifically, how to renovate badly pruned plants.

Perhaps more specifically, and unspoken, how to renovate plants pruned badly by mow & blow crews of Mexican day laborers without any horticulture training whatsoever hired because the clueless homeowners are cheap and just don't care.

Ladies and gentlemen, don't string trim phormium. You'd think that's a no-brainer, but you'd be wrong. I should taken a picture of it. Oh well.

This poor Magnolia x soulangiana will take years to recover. But recover it shall. Teach explained Magnolia are very forgiving of bad prunes.


It thrilled me to watch him de-box this pittosporum.


It made me want a pittosporum of my very own. Not really. I never want a pittosporum. But doesn't it look nice like this? He talked about doing this to escallonia, abelia, and buxus as well.

What is teacher wearing? He said West Marine makes the best rain gear. No need to try anything else. You'll just be wasting money.

We walked down the street and he showed us sad things. Like this. (Tho' the dog shit on the drip line makes it fabulous, doesn't it?)


I feel angry when I see things like this. I was going to say, "In a perfect world, someone would get punished for this." But, really, in a perfect world, this would never happen in the first place. Like I said, I'm cranky and kind of tired. Am I making you cranky too?

Let's just get out of here.

But, wait, one more thing:


See those two tree trunks back there? Those are two separate trees. One is bigleaf maple, the other is coast redwood. They're growing 12 inches apart. Enough said. Let's go.


After class, I visited a friend and we went to the Gamble Garden, and then we visited the Woodside Library which has a native plant garden in the back. I'm going to blog them in separate posts so my foul mood here doesn't seep over into those posts too. But first, I'm going to take a little nap or something.


Last week's class here.



I'm reading an old issue of Pacific Horticulture. Fall 1996, to be exact.

I'm obsessed with Pacific Horticulture. There are several boxes of back issues stacked in the main classroom where I take most of my horticulture classes. You know I totally raid them. I think maybe 30% of my horticulture education has come just from reading Pacific Horticulture.

Anyway, I'm reading an article about Morgan (Bill) Evans, garden designer of Disneyland. Here are some excerpts:
Eager to explore the world beyond southern California, Bill became a cadet in the merchant marine in 1928 and began an around-the-world trip on the SS President Harrison. This and subsequent journeys afforded him the opportunity to begin lifelong contacts, collect exotic seeds for his father, and visit arboreta in Singapore, Hong Kong, the West Indies, Trinidad, Tahiti, the South Pacific, Australia, Europe, South Africa, the Suez Canal--twenty-five botanic gardens in all. He returned to southern California to study at Pasadena City College and then transferred to Stanford to major in geology. Bill left college to help his father turn the family garden into a nursery business. What he thought would be an interim detour from a quite different career turned into what he calls a "benevolent entrapment that continues to this day."

A benevolent entrapment! I can identify with that!
"[Bill's dad] Hugh Evans was the first to grow hibiscus to any extent in California, and his garden contained 150 varieties, many of which attained tree-like proportions. Outstanding garden introductions emanated from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Growing sturdily in their new home were Aster fruticosus from South Africa, the Chamalaucium ciliatum from New Zealand, the Abelia schaumannii from China, the Hiberrtia volubilis from Australia... Other plants tested and introduced to the California garden under Bill's discriminating eye include Schefflera pueckleri (Tupidanthus calyptratus), Chamelaucium uncinatum, Tibouchina urvilleana, thirty-five species of araliads, thirty species of bamboo, twenty-four bougainvilleas and Philodendron 'Evansii', a cross between P. speciosum and P. bipinnatifidum carrying the family name."

Bill got a teaspoonful of Ficus microcarpa seeds from the the director of the Foster Botanic Garden in Honolulu; he was the first to sell that tree in the mainland United States. Heh, heh--whoops! That tree's a big invader now.

The article goes on to talk about how Bill's brother Jack started designing gardens for the Hollywood stars and how this led to a meeting with Walt Disney...
"It was 1954 when Bill and [brother] Jack were called down to the Disney studios in Burbank to meet with Walt about a park he wanted to build. Walt quickly came to the point: "How about you fellows landscaping Disneyland for me?" The schedule was to be rigorous, with the opening set for July of 1955--just one year to transform 80 acres of Anaheim orange groves into a Magic Kingdom.... The master plan was finalized in January 1955. As Ruth Sellhorn, landscape architect for the Main Street, Town Square, and Tomorrowland portions of the project said, "When one considers that no steel framing was started until December 1954, it is unbelievable that this 160-acre project could have been developed in this time."

Disneyland construction quickly exhausted all of the regional nurseries of plant stock and Bill soon searched estates, old gardens, and even city parks to meet the demand for mature specimen trees. Luckily, Los Angeles was building the Santa Monica, Pomona and Santa Ana freeways through tree-lined neighborhoods. Bill describes how they went along the projected roadway and tagged trees slated to be removed. They paid twenty to twenty-five dollars for each tree to the contractor to avoid damaging the trees, then went in as fast as they could to box the trees--some weighing up to ten tons--and give them a home in the new park. Many of these trees ended up in the Jungle Cruise, Town Square, and the Hub, while in Frontierland on opening day there was nothing but five-gallon trees."

Moving big trees:
One of the most striking trees in the Jungle Cruise started out in the Polynesian Terrace restaurant. Bill describes how it was moved: "We had this big Erythrina caffra as a focal point for the patio area. Great flowering tree. But Walt wanted a fake tree there so he could have music and lights. We wanted to save this tree. We couldn't box it; it was too far away from where a crane could reach it. We decided to take a chance and move it bare root. We drilled two inch and a half holes in the trunk, one in a north-south direction, and the other east-west, and put steel pins through the tree. We took a fire hose and washed all the soil off the root system. I took a chainsaw and pruned back the roots to a more manageable twelve feet across. Then it was picked up by the pins and put next to the boat landing. We filled the holes with epoxy and hardwood dowels. It flowered about two months later, happier for the move.

[Note: I'm not sure the tree flowered because it was happy! It could have flowered because it thought it was going to die! "Thought"? Sensed?]
Bill follwed that success by moving maples, oaks, and pines in a similar fashion. Two thousand trees were moved for Walt Disney World in 1971. The largest of these was the Liberty Oak, a fine example of Quercus virginiana with a sixty-five foot spread and a root ball thirdy inches deep and twenty-two feet across. It was carried by the two-pin system five miles from its original location to Liberty Square where it grows today.



A website devoted to the Plants of Disneyland.

Bill Evans' biography.


Pruning class

I enrolled in a pruning class at a community college several miles south of San Francisco. Today is the second of four class meetings. (A rundown of last week's class in Part IV of this post.) We're assembling in a backyard fruit orchard in Santa Clara to prune fruit trees. I have to be there at 9 a.m.

I shot a little video of me driving south down 101, but accidentally deleted it before uploading to YouTube. Whoops!

Santa Clara. I was born near here and lived here for 18 years, but I haven't got a clue what distinguishes Santa Clara from the cities and towns that surround it. Everything runs together, here in the heart of residential Silicon Valley. And for the most part it's not especially pretty.

I was a little kid before there was a Silicon Valley. I remember orchards and fields and roadside produce stands. The soil under the asphalt and expressways and factories is among the most fertile and rich you could ever hope to find. But Bill Hewlett and David Packard started something in their Palo Alto garage the old orchards could not withstand, and the rest is history.

Today Santa Clara feels dreary and dated in that uniquely suburban way.

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Rocks and agapanthus figure prominently in the local mise-en-scene.

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(FYI: these ugly, low-slung, knock-ups sell in the $800,000 to $900,000 range.)

We're here to prune fruit trees in the backyard of this house.


My teacher owns it. He used to live here, but now he rents it out.

Note Buddha head under Sequoia sempervirens. So California.


You expect your hort teacher to show up in a truck, but our's drives a beamer!


Okay, we're not here to compare cars; we're here to prune trees. Let's get down to business. Fruit trees. Lots of them. Apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, pomegranate.

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This woman thought I was "Gross!" for tasting seeds from a fallen, partly rotten pomegranate. As a rule, I despise people like her and avoid them at all costs. (The seeds were delicious.)


However I do deserve some disdain because I picked an orange without permission and ate it. How unbelievably rude of me. Driving home afterwards, I could not believe I did that! I must have been rendered temporarily insane by the sight of a bountiful orange tree. We can't grow them in San Francisco. We can hardly grow any fruit in San Francisco. Lemons (Meyer, and better, Eureka) and pineapple guava work best. Anyway, I deserve a spanking for picking an orange.

What is there to say about pruning fruit trees? Rule of Thirds. Don't remove more than one-third of a tree's crown in any year. Cut back to lateral branches that are at least one-third the diameter of the wood below the lateral. He couldn't remember if there's a third rule of thirds and I wouldn't know if there is or not.

Teacher shows us how it's done. Isn't he cute?


We pruned the trees to keep them small and healthy, cutting out dead and damaged wood and always leaving the collar so the tree can close the wound.

Before: IMG_6845

After: IMG_6847

These pots are groovy as hell.




I'm always taken aback by the sight of an exposed compost pile.


Rats? Raccoons?


I used to add charcoal to my compost pile too. But I thought it was a no-no.

He has a beautiful garden with a unique style that I can't capture on camera with 30 horticulture students milling around. I'll just say the garden is simple and understated and feels very nice to be in.

After a few hours, I felt satisfied. This was fun, and I'm looking forward to next week. As I understand it, we'll be pruning ornamentals in Palo Alto.

I rarely drive this far south of San Francisco. Since I'm in the neighborhood, I call my dad to see if he wants to have lunch. He still lives in the house where I grew up. He's at a Macintosh workshop when I call, but he'll be home in an hour. What's more, he's delighted to hear I'm pruning fruit trees because he needs some help with his fruit trees--apricot, apple, pear. When I was a kid, we also had loquat, miniature orange, and two kinds of plum.

I have only vague ideas about where I am when I start out in Santa Clara, but having grown up in this area, I find my way intuitively without getting on the freeway. It takes me 30 minutes to reach my childhood home.

Here it is: the house where I grew up.


A neighbor told us the house went up in one day in 1970. My dad bought it in 1973 and he's lived there ever since. He's not home and I don't have a key. I hop the fence into the backyard.

My dad's got a thing for trains. These narrow-gauge train tracks circle the house, cross trestles, pass through tunnels and exert their trainy charm on all who are susceptible to it.




Dad's got his work cut out for him getting this place in shape for his summertime train club get-togethers. A bunch of old geezers come over to drink beer and watch the trains roll. The next weekend, they do it at another guy's house.

The garden's gone to pot. The pond is empty and oxalis is the key planting.

The people dad bought the house from did a lot of interesting landscaping during the few years they lived here.


Lots of paths, raised beds, big trees, interesting lines and textures. Most of it is lost, but no doubt my immersion in this backyard affected me deeply. This was a happy place during my childhood.

This sedum under the leaves is at least 34 years old.


As is this bamboo and that birdhouse.


And whatever that dark green shrub is. I've never liked it.


I can see why he needs help with the apricot tree. What a mess!


He's still not home, so I go for a walk.

Our house was always special. The rest of the neighborhood looks like this.


For miles.

That cortaderia's been here forever. I remember playing in it as a little kid.


Despite the recent cold weather, everyone's citrus looks fine.



This house has been this color since I started walking to school in 1974.


It looked cute in 1974. Now it's just shabby.

Tucked in between the banality, interesting signs of horticultural life.



A lonely Nolina.


Hedges are the main thing.




And long fences.


This picture speaks one million cruel words about the suburban landscaping mind:


Look what's growing next to the bricks...Feijoa sellowiana. The pineapple guava that grows so well in San Francisco.


My dad calls to tell me he's home. On the way back to his place, I walk through my old elementary school.


The kickball diamond--a site of much humiliation.


This is cool.



I have a John Cage moment.

My dad's new best friend, Mr. Bojangles. Dad's girlfriend found him and brought him here. He's a sweetheart.

(Note: This is my "here kitty, kitty" voice; not my normal speaking voice.)

Inside, I'm reminded of why I don't visit very often. A bachelor with manic-depressive tendencies and an artist's temperament equals chaos.

And fabulous taste in furniture.




Wait, what's that? Apparently my dad carved Dorothy Gale's house out of wood "a long time ago". But since I have never seen this before today I am skeptical about the "a long time ago" part.

It's kind of scary that we both know Dorothy's last name is Gale.

He's a wood-carver my dad.

He carved the Nautilis from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It has lights and a motor and everything.


It was his favorite movie from childhood.


The Adam and Eve bookcase always makes me smile.


Please don't ask me why he painted the wood paneling blue. Some questions cannot be answered.

He had a stained glass phase in the 1970s.


But mostly he's a photographer. These are the hills just two miles out of town.



We drink coffee and talk. He videotapes me pruning his fruit trees. He actually directs me pruning his fruit trees. "Let me focus in on that branch and then you come in and talk about it." Ugh. I try to get through it as best I can, and I'm on my way.

I take Highway 280 home.

Along the way I stop at a couple rest stops.

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California's Missions are carved into the base of the Father Junipero Serra statue. I spot two of my favorites.

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I wish I could take you to San Juan Capistrano. But I visit Orange County even less often than I visit Santa Clara County.