Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Garden Improv

So you had a plan.  Then the gophers showed up.  Or the mercury hit 70 in February.

Sticking to a rigid plan with gardening can be dangerous.  Historical data is informative but should never drown out what we see and hear in a garden.  Looking for cues from plants is the best way to proceed with gardening tasks.

Make it rain. Or turn on your irrigation system for half a day to simulate a rainstorm.  Antsy to start your frost tender plants now?  What will you do if there's a cold snap in April?

Gardening is one of the few professions where experts often try to eliminate change [see hedges in Webster].  Course-correcting nature requires constant adjustments because nature constantly changes. 

Improvising will produce its share of comedic moments.  Hopefully some unexpected and beautiful ones as well.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Powering Through 2020

Plants rely on the sun.  People rely on PG&E.  People should be smarter.

Thankfully there are groups like Silicon Valley Clean Energy & Powerhouse that are building a healthier more resilient energy ecosystem.  Gridshift Hackathon was part of that effort.  Teams presented apps that display billing data intuitively and take the guesswork out of saving energy/money.

In layman’s terms, pricing signals are as antiquated as PGE’s grid infrastructure.  Intelligent use of computing power and smart devices would reduce spikes in demand.  Storing power in the growing fleet of electric vehicles could capture renewable [solar] energy as it is created. Note: a battery in a Tesla Model 3 could power a dryer [the most power thirsty residential appliance] for 20 cycles.

Supporting Sonoma Valley Clean Power and paying more attention to how you use power is the best way to create a safe and smart energy system.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Dreaming of Tropical Trees

Croton: real or a dream?
When the bright holiday lights fade and spring still seems years away, visions of palm fronds swaying in the warm tropical breeze enter our minds.

Jacaranda is an example of a tropical tree at the edge of its natural range here in Northern California.  Perhaps best suited as a multi-trunk tree, the fern like foliage softens the overall effect of a wide canopy.  The most striking characteristic of the tree is the purple blue flower that appears in summer.  True blue is a very rare color in the landscape and Jacaranda comes very close.

Crotons are over-the-top displays of color that squeal at the slightest temperature drop.  In their native habitat of Asia, they form oversized bushes that could be confused as trees if they stood alone.  The magenta and yellow leaves are the land equivalent of tropical fish.  The best we can do in the SF Bay Area is grow them indoors.

Your garden will forgive you if the weeds start to pop up while you're dreaming of a tropical escape.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Salesforce Park & The High Line: a study in redevelopment

The High Line Railway in New York City was a true diamond in the rough.  Its redevelopment galvanized a larger movement in cities to reclaim underutilized infrastructure and reimagine them as public space.  This ‘High Line Network’ includes projects throughout the US.  Unfortunately, Salesforce Park is not on the list. 

At its core, the Salesforce Park is a reimagining of the top of an old transit center.  Designers saw an opportunity to transform a turnstile for buses into a lush green oasis in the heart of SF.  With lofty ambitions comes high expectations.  Examining how people interact with the space will ultimately tell the story of the park.

Nothing is more important to using a park, then getting to it.  Salesforce Park has two main elevators at either end, two main escalators, and a gondola.  No stairs.  Stairs level the playing field for everyone.  People can pause on stairs, meet on stairs, go at their own pace.  The High Line has wide stairways that accommodate the thousands of people that visit it every year.  At Salesforce Park, machines throttle the flow of people.  One rarely hears “let’s get in the elevator” and “let’s go to the park” in the same sentence.  Machines are great for security and keeping out the homeless but bad for access.

Access is hot topic for green spaces and redevelopment in general.  Ideally, all walks of life are encouraged to use parks and enjoy nature equally.  To that end, The Friends of The High Line operates the NYC park.  The name just sounds happy and fluffy, like a wagging Newfoundland. Sure, Friends of The High Line has received its share of criticism about park programming.  That’s New York and that’s healthy.  Biederman Redevelopment Ventures operates Salesforce Park.  They transformed New York's Bryant Park into a safe vibrant place.  They’re organizing a whole host of free activities in the park. Let’s see how they do.
Ned Kahn's dormant water feature

In the name of art, a 1,000 ft water sculpture lines one edge of Salesforce Park.  The designers built a 5’ deep bed for drought tolerant plants alongside the fountain.  They shield the plants from view [and excess water] with 5’ tall plexiglass panels.  Moms encourage their kids to stay out of the fountain zone so they don’t get wet.  That’s 10,000 square feet of space where space is at a premium.

There is more to the park than the fountain.  Lots of no mow, low water grass with signs to stay off.  Lots of domes – a la the California Academy of Sciences – where people are off limits.  The planting is similar to museum exhibits; groupings of plants with master signs and big railings to keep viewers back.

Salesforce Park feels like a museum that opened a long time ago.  Like a place that has the Hope Diamond on display, with security cameras, people queuing up to get in, and VIP receptions.  Except New York has the real crown jewel of raised parks.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A 2019 Highlight

Our Spring collaboration with Karl The Store in Sausalito was a big undertaking for Wildwood.

The opportunity to design indoor and outdoor spaces with a midcentury modern flair was a huge draw.  Moving from the wide open vistas in Sonoma to a small store footprint was an exercise in curating a plant palette.  We brought the Wildwood philosophy to Sausalito – showcasing rare and unusual plants that love California.

People responded. We heard “this reminds me of LA” and “you should open in France” more than once! Everyone loved the bonsai collection.   Look for us on the Champs-Elysees next year;)

We left with so many insights.  The warmer climate expanded possibilities for plant combinations.  Table top displays are great conversation starters with beginning gardeners.  Pedestrians appreciate the detail in sidewalk curb appeal versus our ‘loud’ display for drivers at highway speeds on Route 12. 

Keep pushing your gardening boundaries in 2020!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Gardening With Evergreen Content

A long time ago [relative to the speed of tech], marketing professionals coined the phrase ‘evergreen content’.  They say the inspiration for the phrase comes from evergreen plants “which retain their leaves over the seasons”.  Content refers to the language and story in the marketing material.

Ironically, writing about evergreens might not be evergreen content.  Evergreens are most popular in the winter when everything else looks dead.  Of course, in the context of a formal garden, they would be evergreen content because evergreen hedges anchor the design throughout the year.

In a garden design with nuance, evergreens can be a complimentary backdrop, or foil, to splashy spring and summer color.  A row of bright burgundy Fringe Flowers are a great contrast to yellow daylilies or orange dahlias.  Glossy green Sasanqua Camellias compliment Coral Bark Maples and other lime green foliage.

Are your evergreens relevant all year?

Monday, November 11, 2019

Gardening Teamwork

What do you get when a lawyer, world traveler, plantsman, and surf photographer walk into a garden?  A fountain.  No joke.  Here's how it unfolds.

During our 4th Annual Garden Party, a husband [lawyer] and wife [world traveler] stated their goal of planning a garden next to their new barn. They liked using plants from Wildwood within the limitations of zero shade and heavy deer traffic.  Before they started planting, they wanted to build a  fountain.  Did we have any ideas?

I suggested two local statuary stores. In my mind, the word fountain conjures up images of tall, formal, tiered, classic water features.  They frowned, mumbled and the wife asked about something a little more in tune with a California aesthetic.  I asked for an example and the husband pointed out a stone water feature we have at Wildwood.  Visual examples are an important part of establishing a concept.

The Wildwood water feature gets its name from the 300lb centerpiece.  I harvested this rock from the fields around the nursery and drilled a 5/8" hole in the center.  Jon [the surf photographer] stretched out a pond liner and we lowered the rock onto blocks.  Jon used more blocks to create a triangular wall, filled it with water, and plugged in a pump that spills water over the sides of the centerpiece.  The level of the rock is such that half the rock is wet and half is dry.  The Yin Yang Fountain.  Trust a surf photographer to know water.

This story motivated the lawyer to get on his tractor and harvest rocks from his hillside.  I visited the property for a rock consultation.  Of course, they wanted a bigger fountain than the Ying Yang Fountain.  They wanted to drill vertically through 36" rocks to create a taller spillover effect.  That would be easy for Rio Tinto to do at one of their mines but not in a backyard.  The lawyer suggested sandwiching a pipe between two matching rocks to create an illusion.

However, rocks don't match. If you find two twin rocks, buy a lottery ticket.  The final centerpiece is the result of lots of cutting and underwater blocking.  There are actually five rocks that make up a six foot wide and four foot tall centerpiece.  Water plants complete the disguise.

The wife decided an irregular shaped exterior wall would look better than a formal square or oval.  Containing water is tricky because it looks for weak spots.  Framing and fortifying an organic edge requires the flexibility of cinder blocks and bender board to hold concrete.  The surf photographer created a half oval, concave teardrop shaped wall that is pure genius.

The world traveler found a reddish brown thin flagstone that matches the rock from their property.   The flagstone cap is the only flat linear surface on the entire fountain.  It simultaneously frames the centerpiece and the dry stack rock wall while paralleling the water level.

The fountain could stand on its own with no embellishment.  Plants are the feather in the cap for the whole project.  A tall thin papyrus, wide leafed Tropicanna Canna, and low grasses break up some of the 'weight' of all the stone.  They play nicely with the plants that are outside the fountain.

Teamwork is like gardening.  It's not what plants one decides to grow.  It is the combination of plants that creates a garden. A lawyer, world traveler, surf photographer, and plantsman make a pretty cool combination.