Moving to San Francisco some 10 years ago changed my life. More to the point, it opened-up my life. I blossomed here.
My dad was a gardener by vocation, and avocation. Green was in my genes but I’d never tried gardening as a kid. . . I just didn’t know it yet. I loved to draw, though. . .
Moving to San Francisco, I discovered truly great food. Great ingredients. Now, I wanted to find out more about the source of my food. I wanted to make it myself. I became selective about the food I chose. I started going to farmers markets.
I also moved into an apartment with unused space in the lot behind. I took it over, with the blessing of the neighbors. I had the idea I’d start an ornamental garden. I taught myself to garden by digging in the dirt every day. I grew to understand the plants by watching them, season to season, year by year.
Understanding plants and developing an appreciation for food have become essential parts of my life. It’s only natural that I would want to explore the area in which they overlap and, that’s farming. Enter my dear friend T-.
We’re on a similar trajectory, T- and I. Having never had much experience either, he’s developed his passion for farming only within the past few years, and how quickly and easily he’s succumbed to it. A fellow San Francisco resident, he’s found a way to rent a plot in distant Petaluma, which he tends as often as he can get away, getting his plant-starts established in his kitchen growing station. He’s graciously invited me to help him in his grand endeavor, and now I have a new home away from home.
Stay tuned for more posts from the farm. This is the start of something. . .
Here’s a video I find inspiring. It neatly sums up the lure of the farm, and suggests why it is that so many people nowadays are going back to their roots, by learning how to grow their own food.
25 January 2011
My latest garden project involves removing several of last years wine bottle rows and digging deep into the hillside to flatten out the garden floor. The wine bottles will be replaced in a new configuration, to make more of a ‘feature’ of them. Additionally, I’ve carried lots of found, discarded granite countertop pieces to the back of the garden where they’ve become little retaining walls for new flower beds. The dirt I’m digging up at the front is going back there to fill up those beds. I’m hoping the result will be a more dramatic contrast in height in the garden, and that the materials will be highlighted in a more impactful way.
We’re in love with rocks here at MUS•e•YUM so when the guys offered to take me to Broadmoor we were positively over the moon. If hardscape turns you on like it does for us, get yourself to the South San Francisco mecca. Bins of gorgeous rock stretch as far as the eye can see! On this visit I came away with feather stone (lava), two quartz rocks and a gorgeous bowl shaped specimen, surely destined for the succulent garden out back.
In other news, we stopped at Peets along the way and saw this fabulous cat. The cat of course looked rather cross- can you imagine??
Broadmoor Landscape Supply
1350 El Camino Real
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Hours: Mon-Fri 7 am – 5 pm
Great art inspires. . .
Last year my great friend Deena took me to a favorite spot of hers, a grove in the Presidio National Park where the forest opens to a beautiful panorama of San Francisco, right in front of you. It’s a spiritual spot, and a meditative one. It was easy to see why she brought me here. When it was decided that a monument to should be installed here, only one artist could do a place like this justice, celebrating but not changing it: Andy Goldsworthy.
So, in 2008, he built SPIRE. The amazing thing about this monumental sculpture, made of timber lashed together 90 feet high, is how effortlessly it has become part of the scene. It blends right in. This is a hallmark of Goldsworthy’s work, he incorporates natural materials from the site in which he’s working and from them he creates beautiful, fanciful and ephemeral art. Here, he took trees that would be felled (for the safety of the environment) and then used only that timber to make the sculpture. Part of the art is not only the finished state, but also the manner in which it is, in turn, reclaimed again by Nature. And will the sculpture last a minute? Two? Months? Years? That part is left to Nature, too.
Goldsworthy strives, “to make connections between what we call nature and what we call man-made.”
There is another Goldsworthy I want to tell you about, much more subtle than Spire. It’s the crack in the foundation of the de Young museum, Faultline, 2005. For this commission he created a zigzag crack in the hardscape outside the museum. The crack is a ‘path’ from the roadside to the entrance of the museum, but also serves as a subtle reminder of the seismic activity latent in the ground underneath, a characteristic of this place in the world. Unless your eyes are directed to it you might not see it but when it’s pointed out, the impact hits you immediately. Check out this great article about that piece, here.
I’ve since become a fan of his. I was so inspired after having seen Spire I created a mini-version in my backyard garden. For mine I reclaimed dead bamboo shoots from my friend’s garden, and the Hancock Spire was born!
Not willing to stop here, I wanted to try another one. I had my opportunity when my neighbor knocked down their retaining wall and threw away the cobblestones. Thus, I gained ‘site-native’ materials for another project, and I built a zigzag ‘Faultline’ of my own by setting the stones directly into the ground, and emanating from my Spire!
My exploration of the public art in Hayes Valley, Ecstasy in Patricia’s Green, (link to post here) reminds me of the monumental and inspiring Spire. While the scale of both projects certainly inspires awe, simply by virtue of their height which forces the eye skyward, they also are partnered in my mind because of the artistic process behind them. While they differ in the sourcing of the materials, Ecstasy made from man-made objects while Spire is made from felled trees, both make from found materials sing. These monuments speak to how repurposing an everday object, even a discarded one, can imbue the art with an added significance and intrinsic beauty.
ah, oscularia deltoides, a prolific groundcover that grows fast in the garden- It produces simple but pretty lavender blooms in the springtime.
With nearly 10 hours of gardening in the back yard, my muscles are tired but happy from moving rocks, pots and plants much of the weekend. My reward was seeing the view Sunday, late afternoon; while I was down in the garden with friends Dick and Matte Gray, shafts of light illuminated the newly-planted plants, turning them a shimmering gold. It was so beautiful!
The weekend included visits from not only Matte Gray, whom I want to thank for the beautiful aloe, but also visits from the Bamboo Whisperer, Bob & Andy. I had TONS of help from, and quality time with, my superstar upstairs neighbor, Dick. Thanks Dick! and thanks to all for coming to check out the garden, and for the wonderful contributions! The garden reflects the love everyone has brought to it!
The weekend also included a great meals at B&A’s house on Saturday and on Sunday, at Heart Restaurant for their “Spaghetti Sundays” – house-made pasta & meatballs, a wonderfully fresh salad & garlic bread, all incredibly well prepared– this restaurant certainly deserves all the praise it gets from the foodie community.
This was a mighty fine weekend, indeed!
Having dug the path and then, building up mounds of dirt to create a little height and shape, the addition of the moss and palms has brought the space to life. I’ve dubbed this corner of the garden, ‘Palm Grove’.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been collecting wine bottles for the last several months and I’ve been using them to create a border for my planting beds. Plunging the bottles into the ground neck-down, I have created a lovely organic pattern of variegated greens and browns, translucent and shimmering when they catch the rays of the sun. However,what I didn’t expect was that they could support life. Much to my surprise I’ve found plants growing inside the bottles! I have over a hundred little terrariums now. . .
morning light on flowering hellebore, march 2010
While doing a little research on this plant, the hellebore, I was delighted to find out it has a long history dating all the way back to the Classical Greece and steeped in mythology! Owing to its hearty nature, able to not only withstand frost but even flower in winter, the plant was distributed widely by centurions and settlers alike throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, because of this ability to flower in winter the plant was believed to be a being of magic, possessing mystical powers and the ability to ward off evil energy, spirits, witches and dark magic spells. It was often planted near the door to one’s house, as a means of spiritual protection for the home.
I recently found some ‘before’ pictures of the backyard, taken before I started my garden project. I had no idea what I was doing when I started gardening. But, I looked at the space and saw what it could be, and started digging. Here’s a slideshow that shows the development of my first-ever flowerbed.
>> UPDATE, here’s a pic of the latest progress in my garden, as of June 2010
>> UPDATE, here’s a pic of the latest progress in my garden, as of 10 July 2010…brick hardscape installed
how much has changed, the ivy (visible in the photo) has been cleared away, and the new flower beds are taking shape around the path built in its place. Digging is underway on a seating area just to the left of the area pictured here.
Through it all though, the Cala Lilies persist; they are such hearty plants. And they’re beauties. They are noble. Even through all the work I’ve been doing, developing the garden, these plants are ones I’ve left untouched. I love them. For me, the cala lily IS everything I love about Easter. On that Easter day in 2007, I needed a miracle. And on that day in 2007, the flower here finally opened, bathed in that gorgeous light…
Today I had a visit from the Bamboo Whisperer. . . a fellow I met at the gym who, as it turns out, has a fantastic garden. He lights up when he talks about the plants, what they want, and how to transform the earth to reveal what ‘plan’ lies beneath the surface. After discussing my garden with him I wanted to invite him over to walk the garden, to get his impression, and to share what I’ve created so far. Afterall, this is a man who has tamed the feared running variety of bamboo; he knows what he’s talking about!
Walking through the garden with him I saw it through completely new eyes. He spoke of creating places of rest in strategic points in the garden, for sitting and enjoying the plantings. Of course, this is the natural extension of how I use it. I work there for pleasure but he reminded me of the equally important need to create areas for repose. He also spoke about leading the eye by creating areas of interest at the end of lines-of-sight. And he spoke of creating little ‘rooms’ by using natural boundaries like bushes and bamboo.
In many ways we were on the same page. After I created the path that follows the crest of the hill in a semi-circular fashion, I’d already started to think about what could be done with the area created inside the bend. First, i’d thought about a series of downhill terraces with dry plantings. Then I thought of taking this to an extreme, digging into the hill to flatten the space, enough to put a table and chairs, or a small bench there. I was thrilled when, unprompted by me, he envisioned the same. Still he saw the space much bigger, which would involve my moving the path outward. I’m not sure I’ll do that. . . yet. I’ll dig the space first but. . . I know that once I do that, the space will dictate what comes next. Stay tuned to see how this part of the garden changes~
A visit to my garden and you’ll see it’s the object of love, born of mismatched objects small and large that have found a home together in the dirt. I never wanted to impose a unified design upon the garden, assembled all in one go. I wanted something more organic, for it to unfold over time. I wanted it to tell ME how it should look. It’s a living thing, after all.
Change in the garden is always dictated by the element of chance, and how it appears today is a direct result of the unpredictability of what I find when I walk down the street, and a quick decision about whether or not it belongs at home. A pile of discarded cobblestones becomes a garden pathway. Put another way, there wouldn’t be a garden pathway if it weren’t for the cobblestones someone gave up. A set of old spoons inspired a wind-chime. And, some empty wine bottles became a snaking border, echoing and inspired by the (now huge) jasmine plant, which has stretched in an equally snakelike way over the fence and now has a glassy green counterpart on the ground.
There have been many gardens since I started digging four years ago, and there will be many more. I love the idea of letting go, waiting for cues, surrendering to chance. The outward face of the garden will grow and evolve and it’s a metaphor for life, really. Because the garden is a living, sentient thing change is healthy and good. That’s how I know it’s alive. Letting go is, at the same time, embracing the unknowable with trust that the unseen, intrinsic spirit of a living thing always remains constant.