Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Faux Fireworks December 31, 2008

Filed under: flora — greenwalks @ 6:50 pm
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I’m not big on pyromania myself (fraidy cat), so I will offer you a different sort of fireworks, and send you my good wishes and hopes for a Happy New Year.


(Image courtesy of féileacán – that’s Irish for butterfly – via Flickr Creative Commons. To view more photos by this artist, click here.)


Mission High Gardens Update December 30, 2008

Not long after I posted a bit about a wonderful street garden I’d seen on our recent trip to San Francisco, I was fortunate to hear from the mastermind behind it all, Gideon Kramer of the neighborhood organization SafeCleanGreen Mission Dolores. Since I had made a few incorrect assumptions about the garden, he was kind enough to sit down and write a piece describing the genesis of the gardens and his reasons for putting in so much hard work to transform a formerly neglected space into something truly delightful. So, without further ado, here it is (first-ever guest blogger)!


“Mission High School, a landmark school built in 1915 by renowned architect John Reid, has over 600 linear feet of planter bed frontage around the south and east perimeter of the school on 18th St. and Dolores St.), ranging in depth from 30 inches to about 10 feet.

Until 2001, the beds were utterly neglected, nothing but trash, weeds, glass shards, encrusted debris, an occasional IV needle, compacted soil, and a few hardy but beleaguered plants that survived despite it all.


Having lived in the Mission Dolores neighborhood for many years, and having a strong interest in gardening and community beautification, I was surprised that no one at Mission High felt motivated to do something about the blighted appearance. “Did none of the faculty or administrators see the connection between this perpetual eyesore outside the school and the quality of the education inside; what kind of message was this sending to the students and the neighbors?” I so often wondered to myself.

Repeated efforts to convince the then-principal to do something fell on deaf ears. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Within a few weeks, all the planter beds had been rehabilitated, soil turned over and amended, and a slow program of new planting and regular care began. Only two existing plants–Acanthus and African Daisies–that had clung to life came back quickly once cared for. There had been no way to properly water the plants since all the hose bibs had been disabled or damaged over the years, and there were no hose reels or hoses. Worst of all, there was simply no one willing to take responsibility, (“when everyone is responsible, NO ONE is responsible” ). SafeCleanGreen Mission Dolores, the neighborhood assocation ( I co-founded in 2003, helped to fund the necessary infrastructural improvements. Also, a new administration at Mission High, under the leadership of a new principal, Kevin Truitt, broke with the past and gave enthusiastic moral and funding support to this renewed effort. I and SafeCleanGreen now take responsibility. Not only are the gardens maintained, but litter and graffiti abatement is done on a daily basis as well. The idea is to send a message to  students, faculty and the community at large that beautiful gardens and a clean and healthy streetscape are vital school and community assets that have a great deal to offer.


As we installed young, new plants, we experienced a rash of thefts. Hard to believe that there are people who would simply rip out plants from the ground, but such was the case. In response, I designed and installed bilingual signs spaced out every 75 feet (see photo above, at top left) urging respect for the gardens. I’m glad to say that  between these and the Litter-Me-Not signs installed years earlier, littering, thefts and vandalism have gone down dramatically.

The work at Mission High has not gone unnoticed. A teacher at adjacent and equally beautiful Everett Middle School–a passionate advocate for environmental awareness and campus beautification–was so enthusiastic about the transformation at Mission High that she lobbied for a similar program at her school.


Long story short, we are now starting a program known as the “Everett Middle School Gardening Collaborative” that has already begun to make a difference. And a third school in our immediate area, Sanchez Elementary School, already has its own volunteer advocate. So we’re very hopeful that we are gaining a “tipping point” for a movement in the Mission Dolores neighborhood that will be unstoppable.

More on this in the future. If interested in learning more, please contact Gideon Kramer at or call 415-407-1206.”


When I asked Gideon if he was a professional gardener, he said “…not really. I’ve just been gardening most of my life and do it mostly ‘seat of the pants’. I  could use a lot more technical knowledge , but ‘intuitive gardening’ works. Rich soil, appropriate watering, regular maintenance, and an eye for where things thrive (or if they don’t, move them to a better location), experiment, etc. works for me.”

Well, if I could take only a tenth of his technical knowledge and a 20th of his energy, I’d still have a better home garden than what’s out there now! Thanks so much to you, Gideon, for caring about the kids, the neighborhood, and the gardens!  You are doing such great work – I hope you have many hands to help you in your efforts to keep going on your list of street beautification projects. Maybe next time I’m in SF, I’ll come pitch in for a while!


Novel Way to Clear Brush December 29, 2008

Filed under: digressions,fauna,weeds — greenwalks @ 5:37 pm
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A musician friend just bought a rather neglected property on a small lake in Seattle. She’s a really energetic person and will no doubt have a great time diving into the project of renovating the house and grounds. In fact, she’s already started on the overgrown yard, with a little help from some friends…


Goats! She got them (temporarily) from a local business, The Goat Lady, who hires them out for a quiet, natural way to clear brambles and other tenacious overgrowth. With the copious amounts of blackberries at my friend’s place, five goats couldn’t get through it all in one day. They took a break for the holidays/snow but will be back to finish the job soon.

This is such a cool way to take care of a tough gardening job! You arrange to have the goats delivered, check on them a couple of times per day to make sure they’re not tangled up in their tethers, give them once a day water and feed, and that’s that! Super cheap too, $25 per goat per week if you have 5 or more, $30 per goat if you have 4 or fewer. Dump fees alone for that volume of brush would probably top that, not to mention labor, pollution from gas-powered tools, or even backhoe rental for a job of that magnitude. To learn more about the goats, click here.

Apparently this is not the only business of this sort in Washington State. Here’s a link to a Seattle city page about using another company’s goats to clear brush at a power plant not far from our house.
In the city of Seattle, it is now legal to keep up to three pygmy goats, as long as they are de-horned. Goats in the city! For a news article about this, click here.

Finally, if you have a few minutes to spare and click on this link, you can watch the goats in action at my friend’s place. She put some funny background music in to complement their munchings. Which goat is your favorite? I like the black and white one with the stripey face myself.


Dear Snow December 26, 2008

Filed under: weather,winter — greenwalks @ 12:48 pm
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Dear Snow –

I am writing to you today, December 26, 2008, to respectfully request that you depart from Seattle.

I’ll admit, you have been pretty, and with the duration of your stay, a novelty. But you have caused so much difficulty, due to our city’s unpreparedness for this type of winter siege, that I think it’s really time for you to go.

Was it not enough that you caused the bus system to become incapacitated and the roads to be covered with ice, therefore preventing people from getting to work or to see family (we missed Christmas with my folks due to you)? How about all the animals that are having trouble finding food, not to mention the homeless people who are freezing out there and waiting for normal winter temperatures to return?

I know, it’s winter. But winter in Seattle usually involves just a light dusting of snow now and again, a few dips below freezing, and otherwise just gray skies and rain. If I loved you, oh snow, I would have become a skiier, or moved to Buffalo. But I don’t. So…

Please, please, please won’t you go away? This is my fifth straight day of stir-crazy house-boundedness! I am so sick of you! Not to mention worried about my poor frozen plants.

I’m begging you, snow, just go. And don’t leave a bunch of flooding in your wake, okay? Because that would just be more than too much.

Thank you very much for your consideration, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your winter up in the mountains where you belong,




Happy Merry December 24, 2008

Filed under: digressions,garden art — greenwalks @ 11:51 pm
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Hope everyone is safe, warm and cozy wherever you may be. We have endured one of the craziest weather weeks in Seattle history, it wouldn’t be much to bother many of you non-temperate-climate folks but for us it’s been epic. I have many post ideas and even some pics but no time to share them at the moment. I look forward to catching up on what all of you have been up to, but it might not be until school starts again after New Year’s.

For now, I wish you all a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, or whatever else you might celebrate in the winter to keep the darkness at bay.


(The snow-lady was built by the other two members of the family – she’s about 4 ft. tall and her eyes are mismatched pine/fir cones from my daughter’s “collection,” nose is an icicle from the front porch, mouth is a broken-off curve of baby’s breath stem.)


Double take December 23, 2008

Filed under: edibles,trees — greenwalks @ 9:42 pm
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Are you ever just driving or walking along when you see something so surprising it stops you in your tracks and you practically get whiplash from turning to look at it? That happened to me the other day.

Snow had fallen on the ground, not a lot, not nearly as much as would eventually arrive, but a bit. I was heading back from the school run (they started two hours late, due to icy roads) when I had to stop the car, roll down the window despite the freezing temp, and take a pic.

Seattle persimmons in winter

What the heck are those orange things up in the tree? I thought persimmons didn’t grow in Seattle?!?! Well, I didn’t know palm trees did either, but I was wrong there too.

If you’re like me, you may find persimmons puzzling. Which one gets soft and can be used for baking (or frozen and turned into delicious “sorbet”, as I heard recently), and which is the one that stays firm and can be sliced and eaten raw? I don’t think I’ll ever get them straight, but for the record, Fuyus are the flat-bottomed ones that kind of look like round tomatoes – when slightly soft, peel, slice, and add them to salads. Hachiyas are the oblong ones, and they are super bitter unless completely, mushily ripe.

My horticulture book says Hachiya persimmon trees can survive zones 7-10, but this looks like it might be a Fuyu and I can’t find the zone info on that – I just hope it makes it through our tough week-long spate of freezing temps and mucho snow. I certainly enjoyed stopping to admire its odd look, with those blazing Mars-like orbs marooned high atop the naked branches of the venerable tree.

December persimmons


Unusual Winter Food for Crows December 16, 2008

Filed under: edibles,fauna,neighborhood gardens — greenwalks @ 9:16 pm
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Crazy times here at the end of the year, haven’t been able to do much more than lament my lack of time for writing blog posts, reading others’ or leaving comments. I look forward to getting back to all of that, probably not until  January though!

Things have been so hectic that I can’t even seem to remember to take my camera with me when I leave the house. I’m usually driving these days, sadly, no “greenwalks” for me at the moment.

In the parking strip a few blocks from our house, someone had put out their (uncarved) pumpkins a few weeks ago in the bare dirt and leaves. Hm, I thought, odd choice but whatever. Then someone else (I suspect teenagers but maybe that’s unfair) smashed every single one of them, leaving them in place but completely shattered. Before the rot could set in, we got a really crazy cold snap (for here) and they have been perfectly preserved in their new forms. The result is oddly artistic, and I have been watching them every day as I drive by to see what will happen next.

Well, during the afternoon school run the other day, we were driving by and saw a funny sight – 6 or more crows happily nibbling away on the pumpkin shards! Maybe it tasted like pumpkin ice cream to them (one of my favorite flavors at the legendary Mitchell’s Ice Cream in San Francisco, it’s only available in the fall and early winter and I missed going there on our last visit). I lamented my lack of a camera, and my daughter asked “why, is it for your blog?” Oh dear, I guess she’s heard that word a few too many times around here! So I said yes, I wished I’d been able to take a picture of it and she said “Well, I could draw a picture and then you could put that in your blog instead.” How could I resist an offer like that?

In her rendition, there is only one pumpkin, and the crows are flying over it, not eating it, but that’s artistic license (and 5 year olds) for you. 🙂

Crows & pumpkin drawing