August 26, 2007

Collecting seeds at the Peralta Community Garden

Monkeyflower capsule The Peralta Community Gardens is one of three gardens in the Westbrae neighborhood. Berkeley Daily Planet reporter, Marilyn Claessens, dubbed the area "an ecological neighborhood" in a 2000 article on the coastal prairie habitat planted along the Ohlone Greenway by CHIA (California Habitat Indigenous Activists). On the last Saturday in May of this year I volunteered at a CHIA work party. I will write about the May work day as well as the history of the CHIA habitat project at a future date. I met an incredible group of people and keep in touch via a CHIA email list. Yesterday, I worked with the group again, this time in the garden and not along the Ohlone Greenway. I helped to collect seeds from the showy milkweed (Asclepidaceae speciosa), the soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), and monkeyflower (genus Diplacus, I think). The soap plant seed was the easiest to collect; large, hard seeds held in a dehiscent* fruit that easily fell into our envelopes. On the other hand, the showy milkweed seeds are wind dispersed and there was a slight but constant breeze which blew the seeds directly out of the follicle* or blew the seeds from one's fingers. Despite this challenge, the showy milkweed seeds are incredibly soft, like down. The monkeyflower seed posed its own challenge. The seeds are very small and are held in a capsule that I found difficult to open. Some of the seed collectors had better luck (skill) extracting the seeds from the pod. After a few less than stellar attempts at removing the seeds, I resorted to collecting whole capsules. left, Showy milkweed fruit Showy milkweed seed left, Monkeyflower seeds Soap plant I took a few showy milkweed and soap plant seeds home (with permission). The milkweed is a "butterfly favorite" (Endicott, Northern California Gardening). The showy milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly (read more about this plant-butterfly association). Other "butterfly favorites" include lavender, mint, and rosemary, all of which I grow in my garden. The Peralta Community Garden is planted with many native perennials, but annual food crops are also grown. The tomatoes, squash, and zucchini are ripe and many. I also noticed a Three Sisters Planting of corn, beans, and squash. The Three Sisters is a form of companion planting. It seems a good metaphor for community-based gardens: each plant provides a necessary element for the success of all the plants. The corn provides support for the beans while the beans provide soil-based nitrogen and the squash shade the soil, keeping the roots cool, trapping soil moisture, and suppressing weeds. Darrols, The Food Gardener blogger in southern New Mexico, has studied the three North American Three Sisters Planting styles. I cannot create a Three Sisters Planting in my garden (not enough space), but if I could I would try the Zuni Waffle Garden, designed for water conservation in arid, southwestern landscapes (the most similar in terms of moisture, at least, to the East Bay). * Dehiscent: "a fruit that opens naturally to release the enclosed seed or seeds" (Harrington, How to Identify Plants). * Follicle: "a dry, one-celled, one-carpellate fruit splitting down one side only, as in the milkweed" (Ibid.).

August 25, 2007

A summer of garden tours

I have garden tour envy. This summer several cities hosted annual tours (Berkeley's Bringing Back the Natives garden tour was held in May). GardenWalk Buffalo was held on July 27 and 28. The tour was the subject of a SF Chronicle article. Writer and gardener, Amy Stewart, also wrote about garden tours in Chicago (Sheffield Garden Walk) and Seattle (Georgetown Garden Walk), both held in July. The Detroit Agricultural Network also hosted an urban food garden tour on August 1. The gardens were the topic of a recent Detroit Free Press article. The Dirt, the ASLA blog, has written about urban gardening in Detroit comparing the DFP article to Rebecca Solnit's "Detroit Arcadia" piece in July's Harper's Magazine. Gardeners using some of Detroit's 20,000 vacant lots are earning money by selling their locally grown produce, but according to The Dirt, Solnit's assessment of the city's micro farmers has been criticized for its optimism. What do you think? Note: Harper's online articles are only available with a subscription but the Berkeley Public Library carries the magazine.

August 20, 2007

News gleaner: planning for water, the arts, and retail

One corner of my kitchen table is stacked with a week's worth of newspapers and magazines. I read most of them this weekend. Below is a list of articles (and related *local ecologist* posts) about water and district planning in Berkeley. Water - Does Not Drain to Bay Lisa Owens Viani, Terrain (published by The Ecology Center) - Backwater Berkeley Lisa Owens Viani, Terrain Related posts: - Designing with water in mind - Egret: shorebird and stewards District planning - Change in the air for art district Carolyn Jones, SF Chronicle - First Person: Telegraph 2007: Making It Work Judith Scherr, Berkeley Daily Planet Related posts: - They closed?! Oh wow! - Filling the gap

August 17, 2007

Berkeley's green calendar*

With sunny skies and 70-degree weather predicted for the next 10 days or so, this Saturday is one of many clement days to celebrate Berkeley's parks and watershed. Beginning at 10 a.m. tomorrow, join Robert Hass, US Poet Laureate 1995-97, Poetry Flash, EcoCity Builders, Ecology Center/Berkeley Farmers' Market for the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival. A Strawberry Creek Walk will begin at Oxford and Center Streets. The festival portion of the celebration will begin at noon at the MLK, Jr. Civic Center Park. For more details, visit the Poetry Flash website. In preparation for the event, the meander of the culverted creek on Center Street has been outlined in blue tape. I plan to walk with Berkeley Path Wanderers member, Susan Schwartz, on her tour of Berkeley's natural parks (natural parks - in Berkeley and elsewhere - will be the subject of future posts). The tour will begin at 10 a.m. at Live Oak Park, Berkeley's first natural park. For more details about the tour, visit the Path Wanderers website. There is a brief history of the park on the City's website. The natural park walk is one of the Centennial of Berkeley Parks Celebration events. The city's oldest park, San Pablo Park, will be specially honored on August 25. More details can be found on the Berkeley Partners for Parks news blog. You can also read more about the park's history and design collated by the Friends of San Pablo and UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture students as well as park information provided by the City. On a related note, the Solano Stroll will celebrate "Going Green" on Saturday, September 9. If you are interested in local environmental events, check out the Ecology Center's Eco-Calendar. I did not find information about the Parks Centennial on the City of Berkeley website, but here is a map of city parks. *Edited since original posting.

August 16, 2007

Iron works at Claremont and Vicente

August 14, 2007

Designing with water in mind

"So Where's the Drought Rage?" (SF Chronicle headline, August 9, 2007) "Downpour, Flash Floods Precede State's Declaration of Drought Watch" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline, August 7, 2007) "Potential Water Shortage in the Hetch Hetchy Service Area" (Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency press statement, May, 4, 2007) My copy of the "Customer Pipeline" arrived in my EBMUD bill this afternoon. I enjoy reading the newsletter. The well-written, brief notices and the graphic design compels me to read each issue. The headline for the first notice - "It's a Very Dry Year" - inspired this post. As part of its water quality toolkit, Pittsburgh's Nine Mile Run Watershed Association offers rain barrels to area residents. Nine Mile Run is a 6.5-acre watershed linking the municipalities of Pittsburgh, Swissvale, Edgewood, and Wilkinsburgh. According to the NMRWA website, there are several benefits of rain barrel use: stores stormwater (rain or snow) for use during dry times, directs water to the soil for infiltration, and lessens stormwater flow into sewers and the run itself. The city once known as "The Smoky City" is now engaged in stream restoration and lot-level stormwater management! I assumed that the City of Berkeley would offer rain barrels. I searched the internet and the Ecology Center website - no results. However, the Ecology Center does list rain barrel vendors: Solar Living Center / Real Goods, Hopland, CA; American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association; Spectrum Organic Products, Inc., Petaluma, CA. I am surprised that rain catchment systems are not provided locally given our wet winters and dry summers as well as ongoing stream and bay restoration projects. Closer to Berkeley, San Francisco and Portland (Oregon) have designed streets with water in mind. In San Francisco, Plant*SF, a Park Partner of the San Francisco Parks Trust, implemented the Shotwell Street Greenway. Plant*SF uses the term "permeable landscaping" to describe the model used on Shotwell Street. Impervious material (paved sidewalk) is removed and replaced with permeable materials (rocks, decomposed granite, and tumbled terra-cotta) and vegetation (trees, perennial herbs, grasses, wildflowers, and succulents). The curb cuts on Shotwell have also been redesigned to capture and slow stormwater. Permeable landscaping projects have been installed at other locations in San Francisco. San Francisco has "green sewers" (Shotwell Street Greenway is also known as a green sewer) while Portland has "green streets." The SW 12th Avenue Green Street Project and NE Siskiyou Green Street, both designed by landscape architect Kevin Robert Perry and both awarded by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), are street-level stormwater management systems. While the SW 12th Ave. project is located in the sidewalk, the NE Siskiyou project is installed in the street. Water flowing downhill on Siskiyou is captured in curb extensions where water can infiltrate the soil. The SW 12th Ave. design works in a similar way (read details here (Siskiyou) and here). left: SW 12th Avenue, no installation right: with installation The ASLA awards jury noted that "the planting is the key...[in NE Siskiyou] all of the selected plant species are low-growing evergreen varieties with varying colors and textures which always provide year-round interest. The native grooved rush (Juncus patens) planted within the shallow areas of each stormwater curb extension is the workhorse for stormwater management. The upright growth structure of Juncus patens slows down water flow and captures pollutants while its deep penetrating roots work well for water absorption." Designing with water in mind requires an appropriate plant palette!

August 13, 2007

Art Deco Berkeley

Before I begin the body of this post, I must offer a disclaimer. I did not participate in this past weekend's Art Deco Tour led by the Art Deco Society. I am currently unemployed and practicing frugality (the tour fee was ten dollars). Fortunately, the Daily Planet listed of some of the tour sites.I created my own tour which is the subject of this post. I am not an architect so the post does not contain professional architectural analysis for any of the buildings. However, I do provide information about the buildings from Berkeley Landmarks: An Illustrated Guide to Berkeley, California's Architectural Heritage (2001) by Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny. The first building on my tour was the Center for Buddhist Education on Durant and Fulton. The Center occupies the former Howard Automobile Company. I like this building a lot. The colors and facade details are well executed. The building is the best feature of this intersection otherwise occupied by a gas station, parking lot, and a bland apartment building. The Howard Company began in Oakland in 1913 selling Buicks before moving into Frederick Reimer's designed building in 1930. Architectural details included a trussed roof and scroll-topped pylons. From the Buddhist Center I walked to the California Theatre on Kittredge. I have a Reel Video membership but enjoy watching movies on the big screen. I saw a movie at the Cal once. I have seen more films at the UA Theatre and Shattuck Cinemas, also Art Deco buildings. The Cal received landmark status in 1994, but it not listed in Berkeley Landmarks. My next stop was the UC Printing Plant on Oxford at Centre Street. The building face on Centre is dull with the exception of the block glass windows. The facade is more lively on Oxford but there is no reason to stop and look...up.The building is landmarked (it is also not listed in the landmarks book) but it will be demolished and replaced by UC Berkeley's new art museum. Before the building is demolished, an art project will be staged at the site. The art collective, Rebar, is a potential project partner. From the printing plant I walked to Half Price Books on Shattuck located in the former Kress Building. S.H. Kress hired Edward F. Sibbert in 1930 and Sibbert completed Berkeley's Kress dime store in 1932. Design details include terra-cotta ornamentation. Earlier this year I purchased a copy of A Thoreau Gazetteer (1970) by Robert F. Stowell and edited by William L. Howarth at Half Price Books. I am happy with my purchase; the book is filled with maps of Thoreau's travels in Mass., New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, and Canada. The next stop on my tour was the MLK, Jr. Civic Center which is housed in the former Farm Credit Building. It is remarkable that the Berkeley Farmers' Market is held adjacent to an old farm building and a civic center! The civic center building abuts Civic Center Park and Fountain. Cerny (2001) writes that the park is "an expression of the City Beautiful movement, which emphasized the creation of parks and public amenities as a way to beautify communities and inspire public-minded behavior." The design team was composed of Henry Gutterson, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and landscape architect John Gregg. Cerny describes the fountain as Moderne. The design of the fountain is presumed to be based on the Fountain of Western Waters at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. The Berkeley fountain now stands dry. I am not sure why the fountain is inactive (Cerny writes that the pumps don't work but an original pump is in storage), but EBMUD is still urging customer to conserve water. Across Allston Way is Berkeley High School which houses not "the only planned ensemble of Art Deco-style buildings in the city," but "significant examples of work funded by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies"(Cerney, 2001). Bay Area architects Henry H. Gutterson and William Corlett, Sr. designed the Shop Building, the Science Building, the Florence Schwimley Little Theater, and the Berkeley High School Commuity Theater. Design details include bas-relief and fluted pilasters and columns. Bas-relief (French origin: "A manner of sculpting in which figures stand out only a little from the background," Reche, 2005) Can you guess the final stop on my tour? It's where I borrowed Berkeley Landmarks. The Berkeley Public Library. I am a huge fan of libraries (and other places with lots of books, like book stores and archives). The public library is making a comeback according to an article in Sunday's SF Chronicle. C.W. Nevius notes that libraries "have become neighborhood hangouts" for children, teens, adults, among other demographics. Nevius is writing about San Francisco's libraries, but I have noticed a similar dynamic at BPL. And, the Central Library now offers WiFi, an indicator of cool-ness.

August 12, 2007

Stepping out

The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, a dedicated group of public walks advocates, plays a central role in improving the city's walkability. On August 5, the Path Wanderers celebrated the opening of Berkeley's newest path, Glendale Path at Glendale and Campus. En route to the Quarry Picnic Area in Tilden Park, I passed by the new path and noticed a sign - to the left of the existing path - marking the location for steps. Does anyone know if the Path Wanderers are planning new steps on Campus/Glendale? I also observed a man stepping up the path; he had walked up Glendale Avenue. It was a perfect afternoon for a walk.

August 9, 2007

Spilling the beans

Yesterday afternoon I set out to find another edible estate in my neighborhood. I received a tip about a food garden on Ward near Ellsworth from Jen at Walking Berkeley (thanks Jen!). The garden is planted with tomotoes, corn, squash, and sunflowers among other things. On my walk home, the trees in the sideyard at Carleton and Ellsworth caught my eye. I walk by this home quite often but never paid much attention to the side yard. My search for the Ward Street garden enabled me "to see" the food in this yard. Apple. Fig. Pomegranate? There's also fennel which is a food source for swallowtails. right: Caterpillars at a local butterfly expert's home While we are on the subject of gardens, I photographed a medicinal herbal garden in Philadelphia. It is maintained by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Each herb is labeled with its common and Latin names as well as its medicinal uses. The garden was founded as a source "to replenish [the] medicinal chests" of physicians. Note the bench. There are several benches in the garden, "pleasant spot[s] to learn, enjoy, or just relax."

August 7, 2007

Tomatoes in my garden

I worried about my new garden while I was away, but a neighbor did us a big favour by watering the plants. Most of the plants are dry garden appropriate but the tomato is semi-tropical and needs lots of water. The tomato was thriving before I left but now it has covered the lavender and is growing into the sage. Tomatoes as well as corn, cukes, melons, squash, and zucchini need a lot of room (Northern California Gardening, Katherine Grace Endicott). My garden is located in a narrow plot on the west side of my apartment. I dream of more space, but I am grateful for what I have. If I had a front yard, I would grow an edible estate. The Edible Estates Initiative was founded by Fritz Haeg in 2001. According to the project's manifesto, the initiative "is an ongoing series of projects to replace the American front lawn with edible garden landscapes responsive to culture, climate, context and people." The most recent, and third edible estate, is in Maplewood, NJ. The first edible estate is located in Salina, Kansas and the second was completed in Lakewood in Southern California. There is no Northern California edible estate project as yet, but this year, Sacramento activists made it easier to grow food in the city's front yards. In April, the City of Sacramento revised its front yard zoning code (see The Front Yard Landscape Ordinance) to allow the cultivation of fruits and vegetables in front yards. The prior code limited front yard vegetation to "primarily low growing groundcover or turf" notes the Organic Sacramento website. Prior to the revision, fines were issued for noncompliance. A Sacramento resident was fined $800 for violating the zoning code (search: "Sacramento front yard food" for relevant articles). I have noticed several "edible estates" in my Berkeley neighborhood. The one I see most often is the front yard garden on Fulton between Parker and Carleton. There are two edible front yards on Carleton, one between Shattuck and Fulton and the other at the intersection with Ellsworth. Fulton hosts two other edible yards. One at the intersection with Oregon and a new one between Carleton and Derby. The latter has a small bed of tomato plants. Speaking of tomatoes (again), I bought a few at the MLK and Derby farmers' market along with sweet basil and arugula, beets, beans, peaches, eggplant, and squash. If you don't want an edible front yard or a lawn, you could plant a flower garden. Fulton Avenue yards

August 5, 2007

More Philadelphia greene

Front yard gardens on 43rd Street near Larchwood Studying a street map of downtown Philadelphia (east of the Schuylkill River) I found more streets named for trees: Cherry, Filbert, and Juniper. (There is a Wood Street.) Using incorrect directions to the Mill Creek Watershed Garden I discovered Larchwood and Osage (as in Osage Orange) Streets. Fortunately I had better directions to the Penn New School at 43rd and Locust Streets. The school grounds were designed to attenuate stormwater runoff. Some of the best practices include a porous asphalt playground and rain gardens. A rockbed in the native plant garden is used to capture stormwater flowing down the schoolyard. Increasing tree cover is another technique to manage stormwater runoff. Rows of trees like those in the photo below have been planted at public schools southwest of downtown Philadelphia. New allee of white oaks Existing tree cover and well-tended front yard plantings also help to capture, filter, and direct rainfall to the soil. Also, these green spaces are great visual amenities in city neighborhoods. There is country in the city. I walked by four farmers' markets; I bought "ready to eat" peaches at two of them. One of the markets sold produce used in African and Caribbean cuisine. Also, I saw several home gardens planted with herbs and vegetables. Flowers and produce at the market at Rittenhouse Square On a whimsical note, I came across the Squirrel Hill Falls Ampitheater. It is definitely a hidden gem.

August 3, 2007

On the sTREEt names of Philadelphia

Allee of mostly ginkgos William Penn envisioned Philadelphia as a "greene countrie towne." His urban design included four squares, now parks, one in each of the city's quadrants. In the center of the city one also finds other green spaces: street trees, window boxes, and sidewalk planters. The green countrie towne concept is also found in the naming of streets. While walking to and from Rittenhouse Square (a future post) I noticed that several streets are named for trees. Cypress. Pine. Lombard (as in the Lombardy poplar). Locust. Walnut. Chestnut. Roberta Alotta has written a book titled Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer : The Stories Behind Philadelphia Street Names about the history of Philly's street names. This book is now on my wishlist. Lawrence Kentenbaum at potifos.com has written a brief description and bibliograpy of street naming in U.S. cities. Kentenbaum notes that the "idealization" of nature in the late 1800s is reflected in street names and street design. I wonder when Mariposa (Spanish for butterfly) Street in Berkeley was named?