October 24, 2007

Fire and landscape design

I've been listening to NPR and television broadcasts on the fires in San Diego County: 100,000 acres burned, 500,000 people evacuated, 1,000,000,000 in damages to houses, businesses, and infrastructure. Ron Roberts, San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman, told Jim Lehrer that the major contributors to the fires are weather related: fast winds, high temperature, and low humidity. Neither Roberts nor other people interviewed mentioned the role of trees in the fires. I find this incredibly interesting because vegetation is usually mentioned as a contributing factor in fires. In fact, a new term - firescape - has been developed to describe fire-related residential landscape design. Reuters/Mike Blake; Max Whittaker (right) In the East Bay, trees are a significant factor in fire safety plans for the hills. UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland have plans to remove eucalyptus from the hills. The university plan is being opposed by the Hills Conservation Network, a 10-member group that opposes "clear cutting and chipping" (East Bay Daily News). EBMUD has published Firescape: Landscaping to Reduce Fire Hazard for East Bay residents, particularly those living in the hills. Firescape designs for other parts of California have been published by Fire Wise Napa. The organization recommends a 100-foot radius of "defensible" or "survival" space. For residents of Los Angeles, Monday's LA Times published a residential fire safety diagram which emphasizes infrastructural improvements over vegetation management. UC Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach publishes up to date fire news on its website.

October 23, 2007

More on bookshops

In September and October I wrote about specialty book stores in Berkeley. The current issue of Via, the AAA magazine, has an article about "amazing and unusual" bookstores found in northern California and Nevada. Via recommends Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park; Carpe Diem Fine Books in Monterey; Dark Carnival in Berkeley (one of our recommendations); Gallery Bookshop and Bookwinkle's Children's Books in Mendocino; Garden Bookstore in Golden Gate Park; Mark Twain Bookstore in Virginia City, Nevada; and Friends of the Stockton Library Book Store (Berkeley Public Library has a stand alone book store in the Channing-Durant alleyway). Speaking of the library, I returned Zola's The Belly of Paris and borrowed The Unnnatural History of Cypress Parish (Elise Blackwell) and Edward Trencom's Nose (Giles Milton, author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg). I came across these two books while browsing the new fiction section of the Main branch in downtown Berkeley. You can browse our book shelves at The Printed Leaf. Finally, Walking Berkeley provides an interesting perspective on the convenience and architecture of Berkeley's public libraries.

October 20, 2007

Harvest walk: persimmon, pomelo, passionfruit, and pomegranate

Taken after noon during a windy spell As an enthusiastic member of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association (BPWA), I attend as many events as possible. I woke up two hours before the start of today's Harvest Walk because I intended to walk leisurely to the meeting point - the North Berkeley BART station. A typical morning includes reading the New York Times, but an article about croquet absorbed my attention until 9:30 a.m. Realizing I no longer had time for a walk - certainly not a leisurely one - I quickly left the house and hoped to take a bus as far as Shattuck and Delaware, then walk briskly to the BART station. I did not have any luck. A #51 drove by as I reached the Downtown BART station, so decided to take the BART for one stop to North Berkeley. I missed the 9:42 Fremont train and waited 20 minutes for the next one. (BART is a commuter train, not a rapid transit train.) In spite of the wait, I did not miss the start of the walk. I arrived at North Berkeley at 10:04, midway through the introduction. The objective of the walk was to showcase the long growing season in Berkeley. It is possible to harvest produce almost year-round in Berkeley. This was not the case in my Boston garden! The Harvest Walk was led by Jen English of Walking Berkeley and new BPWA board member. Jen is almost finished walking all the streets in Berkeley! The first stop on the walk was a front yard olive tree on Short Street. The street is aptly named; it is one block in length. Jen noted that some people plant fruitless olives to avoid the mess of dropping fruit. Jen did not know if this particular olive was fruitless. (For reflections on tree fruiting in cities, read my essay titled "Bringing city trees to fruition" on Human Flower Project and "Girl trees of Beijing" also on HFP.) Fuyu persimmon tree Fruit on Keoncrest We saw many persimmon trees on our walk including a Hachiya on Acton Street and a Fuyu(gaki) on Keoncrest Drive. Sandy, BPWA president, told the group that persimmon wood is used to manufacture golf clubs. The Hachiya variety has to soften before its palatable while the Fuyu can be eaten like an apple, though Sandy has found that "it gets better with time." At the same Keoncrest address, the ground was littered with ground cherries. I ate my first ground cherry earlier this year. I was given a fruit by a gardener at the Karl Linn Community Garden. From Keoncrest Drive, we walked along Keoncrest Path, the first BPWA path, to Sacramento and Rose. Pomelo Passionfruit; right, a lychee? Pomelo. This fruit tree can be found at the Crowden School at 1475 Rose Street. In my notes I wrote "pumelo" which is correct, as are pommelo and pummelo. Pomelo is also known as Chinese grapefruit, jabong, boongon, shaddock, jeruk Bali, and suha (Wikipedia). At the same school, we saw passion fruit and lychee (?) vines. We also saw an example of a superfruit, the pomegranate (in Jamaican patois, the fruit is called a "pongonat"), on Peralta Avenue very close to the Manor Way path. Crowden was not the only school on the walk. We visited the MLK Middle School Edible Schoolyard. We thoroughly explored the edible schoolyard, stopping to admire espaliered fruit trees, a large live oak, several varieties of chicken, a date tree, and kiwi vines. One of my favorite stops on the walk was the garden at Monterey and Hopkins. The sculptured flowers are beautiful and remind me of one of the gardens on the Hidden Gems tour. The latter garden also uses metalwork to represent plants. Although the walk officially ended at North Berkeley BART, the last stops were the three community gardens - Peralta, Northside, and Karl Linn - in Westbrae. We approached the gardens by way of the Ohlone Greenway. We saw CHIA members working on the coastal prairie project along the Peralta Garden stretch of the greenway. Jen showed us her plot at Peralta as well as the fruiting cactus and straw bale toolshed at Northside Garden. One of the walkers has a plot at Karl Linn and gave us a tour; this is the smallest of the Westbrae gardens. We saw Karl's lime (I think) tree. Karl Linn played a critical role in the design and development of the Westbrae gardens. He died in 2005, a year after I moved to Berkeley. In October 2006, as part of the UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture Colloquium, I invited David Dobereiner to give a lecture on Karl's design legacy. Karl's book (the manuscript was completed by his wife, Nicole Miller), Building Commons and Community, has been published by New Village Press and a book release party will be held on December 3 (I have been unable to find details online). Union Square Greenmarket, NYC One final note: I've been reading The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola and would like to share my favorite passage. The excerpt is about the color and sensual nature of vegetables: And by degrees, as the fires of dawn rose higher and higher at the far end of the Rue Rambuteau, the mass of vegetation grew brighter and brighter, emerging more and more distinctly from the bluey gloom that clung to the ground. Salad herbs, cabbage, lettuce, endive, and succory, with rich soil still clinging to their roots, exposed their swelling hearts; bundles of spinach, bundles of sorrel, clusters of artichokes, piles of peas and beans, mounds of romaine, tied round with straws, sounded every note in the whole gamut of greenery, from the sheeny lacquerlike green of the pods to the deep-toned green of the foliage; a continuous gamut with ascending and descending scales which died away in variegated tones of the heads of celery and bundles of leeks. But the highest and most sonorous notes still came from the patches of bright carrots and snowy turnips, strewn in prodigious quantities all along the markets and lighting them up with the medley of their two colors.

October 19, 2007

Former Sacramento garden block split between a garden and a mews

The Fremont Park neighborhood in Sacramento - home to Fremont Park and former Mandella Community Gardens - is one of the city's oldest districts. The park itself is one of the oldest open spaces in the city; according to Mark Francis (1987), it dates "back to the days of Sutter's Fort and the California gold rush." Francis compared the different meanings users and non-users attach to parks and community gardens using Fremont Park and its neighbor, Mandella Community Garden (now Fremont Community Garden) and concluded that "parks provide for many activities that cannot be engaged in a community garden and vice versa." Furthermore, Francis foregrounded the need for alternative open spaces with his finding that community "garden users typically are not park users." I have read Francis's study several times and wanted to see if his observations still held in 2007. During a recent trip to Sacramento, I toured Fremont Park and the former Mandella Community Garden. Francis observations held true, at least for the park. I noticed several children in the play area and several men engaged in solitary activities. I visited the park on a weekend so did not observe office workers on lunch break. I was unable to conduct any behavior mapping of the garden as it was under construction (below). The community garden not so much being constructed as being reconstructed. The original garden - Mandella - covered the enter block at 14th and Q Streets. The current garden - Fremont Community Garden - is one-third of its original size. The remainder has been relocated to a different neighborhood, the Southside Park neighborhood ten blocks southwest of Fremont Park. The 14th and Q Streets block was acquired by the State of California as part of an unrealized redevelopment plan. In the 1970s the Ecology Action Information Center was granted permission from the state to use the site as a community garden (Francis, 1987). Gardening continued on the site even though it was rezoned for housing in 1978 (Capitol Area Development Agency website). However, in 2001, the redevelopment agency initiated housing development which the gardeners and their supporters vehemently protested. The outcome of the contest was the development of two-thirds of the site as housing - the Fremont Mews - and one-third of the site to be redesigned as a community garden. Interestingly, the garden design project received a $200,000 EPA brownfields grant to remediate contaminated soil! The garden officially opened on June 9, with clean soil and a new design in a new setting, and possibly new gardeners. Two asides Francis did not mention the trees of Fremont Park; the park design resembles an arboretum. Fremont Mews Mews originated in Britain and were the stables and associated service streets in wealthy districts. According to Wikipedia, surviving mews residences currently sell for at least $2 million (1 million pounds). The Fremont Mews website does not list the unit prices, but you can see the floor plans. A local mews-inspired development is the Richmond Village at the Richmond Bart station. The Fremont Mews website provides unit floor plans, but not prices, though I doubt the apartments are selling for $2 million. If you are interested in seeing a local mews design, approximately one-third of the Richmond Village at the Richmond BART station is designed in this style (above).

October 17, 2007

Tree Walk Wednesday: Not making shade

There are many ways to arrange a tree: a bosque, an allee, a single row, or a specimen. There are also many ways to prune trees. I have noticed more pollarded trees in the East Bay than in other areas of the U.S. (I have heard that San Francisco is the most European American city.) The technique was developed in rural forests (woodlands) to ensure a quick, steady supply of firewood. The technique was adapted to city trees to create a narrow crown for the cramped street conditions of industrial cities. My tree botany sensibilities override my appreciation for the technique's aesthetics. I prefer trees whose crowns exhibit a more natural growth pattern. This preference is influenced in part by the ecosystem benefits of large-statured trees which tend to have large crowns. (Most pollards are large-statured tree species like the London plane tree or sycamore.) Studies have shown that large trees, and by implication trees with large crowns, provide more shade and thus more energy savings and have greater capacities to clean air and attenuate stormwater (Urban Forest Research, Center for Urban Forest Research newsletter, Fall 2003). Sproul Plaza (UC Berkeley Kite Aerial Photography photo gallery) Of the instances of pollards I have observed, two are on the UC Berkeley campus. Both are bosques (groves) of pollarded plane trees: one on upper Sproul Plaza and one on the Campanile Esplanade. Pollarding in these locations works well. The trees are planted fairly close together so that when the "skinny" lateral branches sprout in the spring the ground is shaded and the surrounding air cooler. Grand Avenue An allee of pollarded trees along a wide street does not produce the same effects. For example, due to the spacing between trees and the width of Grand Avenue itself, the pollards along the Lake Merritt section provide minimal cooling ofr the sidewalk, the street, and the surrounding air. In the photographs above, the trees are the same species (London plane tree), both are approximately 22 inches in diameter, but with vastly different crowns. The one on the left is a pollard and is located along the Lake Merritt stretch of Grand Avenue. The one on the right is between Harrison and Broadway. The latter has not been pollarded (which is not to say it has not been pruned) and exhibits a more natural growth habit. For more on this practice, read the 1998 Times article "The quirky appeal of pollarding."

October 15, 2007

The care of public shade trees :: blog ACTion day

local ecology and local ecologist are participants in Blog Action Day. This photograph was taken on Friday, October 12, the first full day of rain this season. I was struck by two things: (1) the volume of runoff along the sidewalk and street and (2) the inability of the soil in the tree well to absorb throughfall and stem flow water. In the Bay Area, the fall is the best time to plant trees and other vegetation. Our neighborhoods and cities need more trees, but we should also maintain our existing trees. One type of maintenance is improving soil permeability so that less of our rainfall becomes runoff. The decomposition of mulch helps to aerate the soil; lower layers of vegetation - planted simultaneously with a new tree to prevent root damage - also helps to maintain soil permeability. For established trees, the soil can be aerated by carefully creating two-inch wide, twelve-inch deep, (avoid cutting the large, woody roots) and filling the holes with pea gravel, sand, or a mix of compost and one of the former materials. Plant and maintain our public shade trees and urban forest!

October 14, 2007

Photo map of the redux Hidden Gems Tour 2007

This weekend I was lucky enough to ride on the abbreviated redux of the Hidden Gems Tour held in May. I started on the May tour but my a rear tire puncture forced me to leave the tour. Saturday's tour was again led by John Steere, president of Berkeley Partners for Parks (one of the sponsors of the May tour) and avid Berkeley historian! Along the way I took photographs and made notes; the photo map below is one product of my and (John's) observations. There are numerous mapping technologies available to neighborhood geographers. I used Pixagogo for the photo map (below), but am using Map My Ride to develop a route map. The latter will be appended to this post as soon as it is completed. Other photo mapping tools include Wayfaring (used to developed the Solar Panels in Berkeley map), Flickr, Picassa, and Platial. Map My Ride (Run; Walk)and Gmaps Pedometer are the only route-based mapping tools I have encountered.
Pixagogo Photo Maps

October 12, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize, Human Flower Project, and Green Cities, Brown Folks

In the last Tree Walk Wednesday post, I highlighted the upcoming California ReLeaf conference, but failed to include the November 14 Ella Baker Center discussion panel Green Cities, Brown Folks. The panel, as in previous years, will advocate for the role of people of color in the urban environmental movement. The event will be held at the Lake Merritt United Methodist Church, 1330 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, between 6 and 8 p.m., with a reception starting at 5:30 p.m. RSVP to Maka at maka@ellabakercenter.org or 510-428-3939 x247. Speaking of people of color and the environmental movement, Wangari Muta Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her project, the Green Belt Movement. This year's Peace Prize awardees are Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Al Gore is decidedly not a person of color, but his elevation of the effects of climate change in the popular imagination and in policy circles has positive implications for cities (increasingly populated by persons of color) and developing countries (predominantly populated by persons of color). Last, but not least, an essay I wrote about the reproduction of street trees has been accepted and posted on the Human Flower Project website! Support our work and that of Human Flower Project; read the essay and make comments.

October 10, 2007

Tree Walk Wednesday: California Releaf conference

The 2007 California Urban Forest Conference, The Professions, Cultures and Communities that Shape our Urban Forests, will be held on November 1 to 3, 2007 at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. Presentations will made about Palo Alto's urban forestry program, the California Climate Action Registry Greenhouse Gas Accounting Protocols for Urban Forestry and the City of San Francisco's "Better Streets Plan." The conference is sponsored by California Releaf, a state-wide nonprofit that provides technical, advocacy, and financial support for community and urban forestry programs.

October 7, 2007

Blog Action Day

local ecologist will participate in Blog Action Day by writing an environmentally-themed post on October 15. We here at local ecologist blog about neighborhood nature quite often so we are accustomed to writing about the environment. But what specific issue should we focus on? You can participate by emailing us your topical suggestions. If you'd like to officially participate in Blog Action Day, register your blog and choose all or any combination of three options (post on your blog; donate your earnings; promote Blog Day). Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day [via Garden Rant]

October 5, 2007

Photo of the Week: Panoramas

Oakland looking west from a downtown office. The area of Berkeley now known as Westbrae was once a coastal prairie. A portion of this neighborhood, along the Ohlone Greenway, is being restored as coastal prairie by the California Habitat Indigenous Activists or CHIA. (I recently wrote about seed collecting with CHIA.) Also along the Westbrae portion of the greenway is a moral depicting the landscape changes in the area. Click here for a larger version.

October 3, 2007

Tree Walk Wednesday: The liquid amber of sweetgums

The colour made me stop. I made a u-turn with my bicycle so I could photograph a row of Liquidambar styraciflua, or sweetgums (below). The red leaves were like liquid amber against the drab backdrop of the North Berkeley BART station and parking lot. The genus designation, Liquidambar, refers to the resin (or sap, or balsam) from the tree which resembles a liquid form of amber. The resin is also sweet, hence the popular name, sweetgum. According to the author of The Urban Tree Book, the "yellowish gum" produced by the tree is used to prepare syrups and ointments for "skin irritations and wounds." Plotnick also observes that with "plenty of sun, moisture, and ample root space" sweetgum saplings can grow between 12 and 30 feet in six years. These conditions, with the exception of sun, are generally associated with street tree planting areas, but Plotnick also notes that well-established sweetgums can tolerate "most soils, poor drainage, and the usual urban stresses and deprivations." It is important to water young trees - about 10 gallons per diameter inch per week - for the first two years of establishment (varies with species and setting). For more information about watering, read Canopy's young tree watering fact sheet or City of Boston tree watering tips. In addition to its tolerance of urban environments, the sweetgum's leaf and fruit are other notable features of the species. The leaf is star-shaped and reminds me of a starfish. The spiny fruit contains seed capsules of 1-2 seeds per capsule. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, the fruit and its seeds attract both fruit birds and mammals, but the USDA Plants website notes that the sweetgum has moderate food value for small mammals, minor food value for water birds, and low food value for terrestrial birds, based on Martin et al.'s American wildlife and plants: A guide to wildlife food habits. This bears further investigation. In the meantime, let's celebrate the breakdown of chlorophyll and the revelation of anthocyanins which make sweetgums so spectacular in this season.

October 2, 2007

Tree Alert

Four seemingly healthy street trees, about 6" diameter at breast height, have been severely cut; the crowns have been removed and branch stumps and trunks are all that remain. The trees are located in front of a yellow house on Stuart between Telegraph and Ellsworth. The trees bear no orange paint, the typically marker for tree removal made by tree professionals (as is the case for a purple-leaf plum across the street). I cannot identify the species; I am still a novice at Bay Area tree identification, so I would appreciate help from a reader. Photos of the leaf and fruit are included below.

October 1, 2007

Bookshop etceteras

The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden sale reminded me of the UCBBG bookstore, a bookseller I did not include in a post about specialty bookshops. The botanical garden sells books through its Garden Shops; subjects include tulips, toads, and cacti. Another specialty bookshop, one that sells science fiction and fantasy books, is The Other Change of Hobbit at 2116 Shattuck Avenue (above). University Press Books on Bancroft might be considered a specialty bookshop as it primarily sells books published by university presses. The Berkeley Art Museum Store sells art-related books, though the store is not a bookshop per se. For children's books, visit Mr. Mopps Children's Books on MLK, Jr. Way. The Jazz School for Music Study and Performance, located on Addison Street in the Arts District, sells jazz-related books "for the jazz student" in The Bassment. In the original post about specialty book sellers I also did not include Afikomen which is located on the same block as Dark Carnival. Afikomen, like the Berkeley Art Museum, is not a bookshop per se, but it does offer Judaica-related books. Easy Going Travel Shop and Bookstore is listed as a Northern California Independent Bookseller, but the corporate website only lists one book title, The Travel Book by Lonely Planet. Furthermore, a reviewer of the bookstore notes, "Even though it's nominally a book store, the selection of books isn't all that large."