Composter getting a little facelift

Step 1 started

Matt and I spent Saturday and Sunday working on the composter at PG. During our last workday the team moved it 90 degrees so it was easier to get to, but so much more needed to be done, because it sits on a slope and gravity is a law, not a suggestion…

We started out with the inevitable trip to the hardware store.That turned into multiple trips to multiple hardware stores because as the universal law states, “it is IMPOSSIBLE to get exactly what you need in one trip to the hardware store. IM. POSSIBLE.”

Whacking rebar

We started at Home Despot. We bought concrete piers to hold up the center columns of the composter’s front edge. That led to a lot of digging, and using the jack from my truck to lift the (heavy!) composter up to fit the piers in. And bricks – a lot of bricks.

With the composter now supported and level (yes we forgot our level. Then we remembered your iphone has a level app in it: score!) we moved on to measuring for lumber to create not one, but two gravel filled boxes in front of the composter to stand on while working there.

Steps half done!

Back to Home Despot. Buy pressure treated lumber, corner braces, screws, assorted knickknacks. Get lumber cut to size. Back to garden. Build one box, realize don’t have enough corner braces or rebar to hold it in place. Also, we need more lumber.

On to Lowes. They don’t cut pressure treated lumber, but we buy rebar. Correct corner braces are missing, but we get metal strapping.

Next day: Go to Discount Builders. Buy more lumber. Get it cut to size. Back to garden. More power tool and shoveling action. Realize forgot the corner braces. Lip pursing.

I hate gravity…

Back to garden. Install rebar copiously with 9# hammer and lots of swearing. Drill battery weak. Staple chicken wire to bottom of one box to hold in gravel. Don’t have enough chicken wire. Go home and drink.

End of day: stagger to ACE. Corner braces! Also hardware cloth! More spending.

Decide to install hardware cloth at next workday as we forgot to bring tin snips… and yes… we need MOAR REBAR!


In other news, Chris and Carrie did a fantastic job putting ALL the green waste from the top of that garden (that stuff we’d normally be composting!) into paper bags for Recology to take away. Look at all the bags!

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All Hail the Renovated Composter!

Leslie: no friend of weeds!

My word, today was a blast. I sent out an email to our mailing list that I’d be giving a demo on succulent cultivation and a free succulent to folks who came down, and we had 14 volunteers! Bribery is a thing!

By NO means do I imply these volunteers weren’t ready to work for their little succulent though – and wow, did they ever work.

Chris, John, Josh: pre-sweat

First order of business was finishing up the composter. I had sent out a pleading email to the core volunteer group asking them to help Matt and I literally push rocks up hill. Yep, I had done the calculations, and figured we needed a bit less than 2.5 yards of gravel to fill the composter steps that Matt and I built last week. The gravel was delivered at 9.30am to the Pennsylvania Ave side, and we needed to wheelbarrow it all up the hill.

Sarah: weeding machine!

Last time we did that was burned on my memory, and I recalled the exhaustion as fresh as if it was last week…

Happy day: Chris, John, Josh and Matt are strong lads and like a challenge. They were soon joined by Aditi’s Dad and the next two hours were spent stapling hardware cloth to the bottoms of the steps, pounding rebar into the little retaining wall, and filling up those steps with the seriously heavy gravel. Heck, they even planted a line of yuccas along the bottom edge to hold all the loose dirt in place. Mind = blown.


While this feat was occurring, a similarly transformative feat of weeding happened elsewhere.

Leslie, Aditi, Aditi’s Mum, Laura, Katsue, Dagmar, Gina and Sarah were weeding, and honestly it was not until everyone left that I realized the scope of their work.

Leslie carefully picked weeds out from the middle back bed and uncovered a lovely group of Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga in the diligent way only a real gardener would weed.


Katsue and Laura took on the steps area, and a similarly detail-oriented and careful restoration of the spot ensued.

Dagmar and Sarah went through the Aloe nobilis hedge along the cactus wall, and they also thoroughly weeded the other side of that pathway too, uncovering all the plants so they can now enjoy the sun and the emerging flowers will shine. 

Josh is not afraid of Agaves!

The whole bottom pathway looks wonderful right now, and you can even see downtown SF from there for the first time in decades as the Center Hardware and Brickley Productions buildings are gone. It’s quite strange!

As you probably know, a new building full of condos will be replacing what was there, so get down and enjoy the SF skyline now, while you can.

Aditi + Mum!

Gina, Aditi and Aditi’s Mum got stuck into the weeds along the sidewalk and the middle front bed. And I cut back the rambunctious cardoon and lopped back a load of Chasmanthe.

The net result of all this activity was that the collection of Recology-bound bags of weeds at the front of the garden doubled in size. 

Despite both Chris and I using the 311 app on them, they’re still sitting there…

Aditi’s Dad and John

A landfill trash truck stopped to pick them up but no – Chris told him to leave them: we want this stuff to be composted, since we have gone to the effort of making sure these bags are green only. 

Sorry neighbors – hopefully they’re picked up soon and go on to create excellent compost to feed the vines of Napa. Can’t really argue with good wine, can you?

Epic result

I did a quick demo on succulent cuttings and propagation, and folks left with new plants to enjoy. What a day!

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Golden Gate Park turns 150 next year

Well, our gardens have been around a bit over 10 years but glorious Golden Gate Park blows that out of the water: in April 2020 they’re celebrating 150 years.

Matt and I went to their 150th birthday planning meeting at the Koret Auditorium at SF Public Library last week, and they’re looking for groups to put on events from April onward next year, in the park, to celebrate the event.

If YOUR organizations puts on events there, or is thinking about it, make them extra festive and add the GGP150 logo and so on. Visit the website for the event, which just launched and is basic for now, to find out more.

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Genentech Brings It Again!

Astounding team!

Every year Genenetech has a volunteer week where they show up at various nonprofits and help out. For the last few years they have worked with us, and Friday was their big day. We’re always excited to have Genentech-ers at PG because they work darn hard!


I packed up my trailer with a couple dozen extra tools and three additional wheelbarrows from the SF DPW yard, coolers full of chilled beverages, and of course all our usual hand tools, gloves and so on (and on!) and headed to PG for noon.

As I was unloading, I saw a woman creating a lovely flower mandala for the solstice. We don’t encourage flower picking, but this was for a very unselfish reason, and we had a nice chat about it.

New gravel path

At 12.30 I was joined by volunteer coordinators Carrie, Josh, Mikey, Matt and Gina. Around that time, Bayview Greenwaste arrived to deliver 10 yards of wood mulch for the paths.

And then the Genentech volunteers started showing up! We had about 13 this time around, and we quickly split them into teams to do the work required.

Josh took one team who set about removing the last of the gravel from the street and clearing and renovating the pathway to the composters.  Josh also weeded the nearby beds, and the whole area looks fantastic now, and is MUCH more functional.

Weeds – gone!

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew set about weeding the paths in preparation for wood mulch. This was a pretty fast job – we’ve been keeping up the paths pretty well. However, we still filled 10 leaf bags with green waste for Recology to pick up – no mean feat. A fair bit was cut back Euphorbias and Romneyas from the bottom pathway, too.

Then the huge job of shifting 10 yards of mulch started… and it ALL had to be moved away from the street by 3.30pm, so I was a bit stressed! I’m always a bit stressed about leaving material in the street, obviously, but somehow we usually make it happen…

Mulch pile – gone!

Incredibly, we finished early – by 3pm all the mulch was GONE and the team was giddy with exhaustion and (I think) joy, at finishing early.

Thank you Team Genentech for helping us with one of our biggest tasks of the year, with unrelenting good humor and energy!

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Volunteer Days

Josh + Dendromecon

Some volunteer days are busy – 20 or 30 people will wear you out! But some volunteer days are very quiet, and last volunteer day was just that. Me, Matt and lovely Josh. Down at PRG. Weeding. Chatting. Enjoying the sun.

Next volunteer day is coming up this weekend: please come! We will be working down at PRG again, removing a large Lavatera at the corner. In it’s place I’m hoping to add some… guess what? Big Agaves! because why not. Anyone? Can anyone think of a reason not to have more Agaves? I cannot.


Lastly, a quick tip. Not sure which garden we’re working in on Volunteer Days? They’re only a block apart, and our email newsletter and website always says where we’re working (hint: look in the right column over there!) but if you went to the wrong garden, our new signs should help.

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Agave drag!

Me and Jamie

Big day! We had to get the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania cleaned out and a lot of spiky plants put in as a deterrent to more homeless encampments at our volunteer day today, and the team comprised me, Matt, Chris, Jamie and Aditi. H’m, smallish team for such a big job, but “OK: we will see how far we get” I thought.

Luckily, we had help from some additional people, as you’ll soon read…

Right away, Jamie, Aditi and I removed two huge Lavatera bushes from the corner, and several trash bags of garbage – the remains of a large encampment. I put n a 311 request for the trash, and Aditi put in a text to the SF AIDS Foundation for needle pickup.

Ready to drag!

Meanwhile, Matt and Chris set about trying to dig out a huge Agave franzosinii from up the street. After removing ht ebottom leaves and digging around the base a bunch, as well as removing a large pup for later use, they quickly determined that the Agave was not coming out due to the rock hard dirt.

After all that effort, they moved on to another Agave franzosinii and started preparing it to move too.


Having uprooted it at last, they managed to wrestle it onto a tarp. It was much to heavy (maybe 300#?) to drag down the street by hand though, so next they moved the truck in place to do the job, only to discover that the rope that lives in the back of the truck was missing.

I popped over to San Francisco Paint Source and asked if they could lend us a rope. Cody was happy to oblige! Back at the truck the Agave was lassoed and finally made it’s way down the street… slowly…

Check out our Facebook page for a video of the Agave being dragged down the street!


Meanwhile Michael from the SF AIDS Foundation came by to pick up the needles: Thanks Michael!

After the Agave made it down the street, the guys discovered they’d need to get it from the curb into the bed. Not so easy… it was too heavy to drag, the tarp underneath it was pretty shredded by now, and it was all starting to seem a bit much.

Back to the paint shop I went and Cody this time supplied a very sturdy dolly. Thanks Cody!


As I was wheeling the dolly down the street I saw that a random passer-by, Mike, had been dragged into the fray to help move the plant.

Completely unfazed by the request, he leapt into action and helped manhandle the plant into place, getting pretty dirty in the process and no doubt acquiring a few scrapes as well.  Thanks Mike!

Finally in place!

Between the 4 of us we got the Agave planted, as well as a large Austrocylindropuntia subulata, a Yucca aloifolia and some other Opuntia pads.

Phew… what a day! Well done team 🙂

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Planting more plants

Mikey and Andrew

Our last volunteer day looked like it was going to be a bit rough. Matt and I had been at an event the night before and felt, shall we say, slightly furry around the edges? Anyway, we pressed on.

Our plan was to work on PRG, and we loaded up and headed there. Happily we had some great volunteers to get us focused, the sun was shining beautifully, and we planted lots of plants, which is always fun!

Yannicka and Harley

Yannicka and her sweet doggo Harley joined for pathway weeding, and Mikey and his friend Andrew worked to remove a large Agave that had flowered, as well as helping my efforts to cut back fennel along the path.

I called the SF AIDs Needle Pickup Crew (in case you find needles, text them a photo and lcoation at (415) 810-1337) and Michael returned to remove needles for us: always with a big smile 🙂


Josh, Matt, Mikey and Andrew put in three Agave geminiflora, moved three Yucca elephantipes, and added two Yucca filifera to the north end of the street.

There’s more room for additional spiky plants in that area too and in fact I’m ordering some super-tough Yucca aloifolia for that spot which should make a real difference.

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VIPKid makes a difference

Go team VIP Kid!

On Friday we had a really wonderful VTO day with the outstanding team from VIPKid. Based in SOMA, they zipped over to help us prepare PG for winter.

I was joined by PG regulars John, Carrie, Matt and Josh as my volunteer coordinators, and we got a LOT done with so much help: go team!

Tasks we dove into included cutting back Salvia leucantha, Salvia canariensis, Leonotus leonurus, Chasmanthe and all sorts of plants that will spring back as soon as we get rain.

One volunteer even cut down a dead Pittosporum tree, which was fun to watch. We will need to remove the branches over time, but at least that dead tree is more or less gone. And no we can replace the tree with something much, much cooler… maybe a Cussonia?

Thanks to all the work done at PG this year, very few weeds are in evidence there, but we still managed to fill a dozen big paper bags with green waste, and a few big plastic bags of trash too. John led a team at PRG to pick trash as well, an area that seems to collect a lot of waste.

Loads of green waste for 311

At the end of the day I’m always shocked at the impact a group of volunteers can make on the gardens: we cannot maintain the gardens without the help of these groups, so if your company want to join us, or even better you want to come to a Saturday workday, remember we’re out there rain or shine on the first Saturday of every month from 10am-12pm.

Thank you VIPKid: you rocked it!

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Welcome to summer, SF!


Those who’ve lived here for a while know the weather in the Bay Area is always best in the fall – we call it our summer. And this weekend we had a beautifully summery day for our October volunteer workday at PG.

Matt, Chris, Josh and I were joined by Veronica, and the team set about more winter prep tasks.

Josh and Veronica planted an Aloe thraskii – a new species for us that was donated by Mat McGrath of Farallon Gardens. This should grow into a nice tree aloe, and with a lovely watering basing built by the team, I hope it thrives.


Matt set up the water again  the second time this year. We deeply watered quite a few plants and noticed the watering done last time had helped a lot.

Already, the Phlomis and Leonotis have sprouted new leaves, and I think we saved a few Cordylines from certain death.

Matt also cut back the Matilija Poppy and worked on bagging up a lot of the branches from last time. 


Chris got down (right down… on the ground) to business removing fennel from the back slope, and then bravely de-pupping a large, exceptionally spiny Agave “Green Giant” up at the triangle gardens. Dangerous work!

He and Josh replanted some there as an encampment deterrent, and more pups will go on the back slope. Knowing how fast they grow it’ll be a Green Giant forest before you know it!


I cleaned trash and Veronica helped me get the composters ready to use again. We’ll fill them over winter, when it’s wetter and the compost will break down quickly. We used some of the Chasmanthe leaves she’d removed to start the process.

All in all a very worthwhile Saturday!

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We've gone tree Aloe mad

Aloe sp.

At the last volunteer workday, Josh planted a tree Aloe in the brights bed. And last weekend, Matt and I planted more tree Aloes, bringing PG’s total up to five – almost. Kinda.

We have had one tree aloe for many years. Our Aloe ferox, was planted in 2009 and it’s now an impressive specimen in the cactus wall bed, although like all of them it’ll be another decade before it attains actual tree status. It flowers every year and puts on quite a show. You can read about it in the Plant Profile, here.

A. thraskii

The one Josh planted was a donation from Mat at Farallon Gardens. This big Aloe thraskii took a bit of a beating in transit sadly, but I expct it will go bananas soon. It will eventually hit 10′ tall, and they remain an unbranched columnar plant, instead of a wide branching tree – like Aloe ferox.

We used to have an Aloe “Goliath” at the garden, but had to move it twice as it wasn’t thriving – the last time, to a pot where it recovered very nicely at home.

A. “Goliath”

Now that we have a bit of water access, the time is right to replant it at PG and it’s in the left bed now.

This cross of the large South African tree aloe, Aloe barberae (aka A. bainesii), and Aloe vaombe from Madagascar usually grows really quickly to about 10′ tall, but they also tend to have spindly trunks and fall over. We will stake this one up safely.

John gave us a Craigslist rescue Aloe a while back too. Now that it’s grown lots of roots we put it in at the garden last weekend. The species is unknown though – it could be another ferox? But it certainly has a trunk so we shall see what it does. It’s in the middle back bed.

The last big guy hasn’t been planted yet. We have a 15 gallon Aloe barberae (aka A. bainesii) at home, and will plant it in the garden soon. This will be a massive tree in a couple decades, up to 30′ tall with loads of branches. It has salmon-pink flowers too – hope I get to see them one day!

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