Still volunteering, but not together

We decided not to have the workday last weekend, as social distancing is still in effect, However, I went to he garden to weed on Sunday and was delighted to see Jon there with his doggo.

To my surprise and delight, Jon and his friend whose name escapes me (sorry!) have REFINISHED THE BENCH. And also printed up and laminated some great signs and added some solar lights at the garden and refilled the bird feeders and… I don’t know what to say!

I was so thrilled by this. Jon you are a lovely man. Thank you.

I set about weeding happily at the steps, and in an hour they are really looking good. Yes, it’s just about impossible to find a plant that wants to act a a weed-suppressing ground cover there – I have tried so many things. But for right now that look good. I do need to find a way to tie back the unruly Phlomis purpurea that’s flowering away there and leaning into the path there. but I don’t feel too mad at them.

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Plant Profile: Acacia baileyana

Latin name: Acacia baileyana “Purpurea” (“ah-KAY-shah bay-lee-AH-nah pur-pur-EE-ah”)
Common name: Purple Fernleaf Acacia, Cootamundra Wattle
Originally from: southern New South Wales, Australia
Blooms: Covered in fragrant bright yellow pom-pom shaped flowers in late winter to early spring.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 20′ x 40′
Zones: xxx
Where to find in P. Garden: Several are planted at PRG

This is a great street tree: fast-growing and evergreen with weeping branches. silvery blue-gray, feathery leaves that look somewhat purple when they’re young, and give the whole tree a purplish look. That is, when it’s not dripping with bright yellow flowers! It’s low litter (doesn’t drop stuff all over the ground) and won’t get tall enough to damage overhead wires either.

Plant this tree in full sun to light filtered shade; once established it is frost tolerant and very drought tolerant too.

Like a lot of Acacias, it is relatively short lived for a tree but for 30 years or so makes a dramatic statement in the garden as a trained-up street or patio tree or left with lower branches as a large shrub or low branched tree.

This tree won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993. It has a very small range in the wild, only seen in areas around Cootamundra in southern New South Wales, Australia where it is commonly called the Cootamundra Wattle.

The species is named after Frederick Manson Bailey (1827-1915), Australian botanist and son of colonial botanist John Bailey (1800-1864). The species was first introduced into California by Dr. Franceschi (Fenzi) in 1903. Naturally occurring purple leaved plants in the wild have been noted to have varying degree of purple in the new growth and the cultivar name “Purpurea” was registered by the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority in 1994.

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Today, Tomas and his helper attacked the weeds at PRG again in a concerted effort to clear the pathway of fennel. Josh organized it all, and the results are amazing.

Last weekend, we had 10 volunteers working for 2 hours – that’s 20 person-hours of work. But, you have to understand that for us, volunteer weeding is meant to be fun, so it’s not like we crack the whip and work like machines. Well, some of us do 😉

However, Tomas and co are paid, and they started at 8am and worked til 3pm – 2 x 7 hours is 14 person-hours. But they DO work like machines. And they have some serious drive! So they plowed through the weeds and swept and leaf-blowed and raked and made everything gorgeous for us. Wow.

While I was at home sipping tea and eating Welsh cakes, the team weeded the BRCs, and destroyed fennel and other Really Bad Weeds like it was their job. Ahem.  See for yourself!


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Impromptu workday at PRG

Marcella and Mikey

I texted a few of our garden regulars to hold an impromptu workday today, as PRG has become such a weedy mess it’s actually alarming.

Much to my delight, a crew of masked workers (a total of 10 people) showed up and after we identified who they were from a distance (kidding!) we got down to business and weeded out an absolute mountain of weeds.


Josh, John, Chris, Aditi, Mikey and Marcella worked away for more than 2 hours, starting where Josh, Tomas and crew left off last week. Each person chose a nice distanced spot, and masks and gloves stayed on.

At one point a neighbor pulling up in their car asked if we wanted help. OH YES! Andrea and her partner Patrick got stuck in right away, and made a big dent in the weeds.

John, slacking as usual!

I took some before pictures, but forgot to get afters. However, lots of pics of our intrepid volunteers enjoying the warm and sunny spring weather.

I also picked up lots of trash, as did others – always a problem at PRG, but now including discarded masks and gloves. Good people of San Francisco, WTAF is wrong with you? I am not shocked though – I have cleaned up more used needles, dirty diapers, used condoms and canine and human feces than any unpaid volunteer should have to over the last 11 years…


One thing that really cheered me up was Andrew and Rufus dropping by with baked goods. Baked goods always cheer me up – and in this case they were delicious Welsh cakes with cardamom and cranberries.

Each Welsh cake is made by showing a lump of lard a photo of some flour and sugar, and as a result contains about 15,000 calories of pure culturally appropriate bliss for me, so I ate two.


Later on, when Andrew offered me the remainder to take home instead of demurely/wistfully declining, I snatched them out of his hands like a rabid monkey and hid them in my car. I think he was a bit shocked.

Next week, Tomas and co will be back to do more paid weeding at PRG – focusing on digging out fennel along the path, and Josh will be there to work with them. 

Small Aditi, huge weeds

Hopefully that gets rid of the majority of the weeds – it’s unfortunate to have to pay someone to do this as a volunteer run garden, but at the same time it’s good to be able to pay someone who needs the work.

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Plant Profile: Yucca rigida (Blue Yucca)

Just planted

Latin name: Yucca rigida (“YOU-kah ri-GEE-dah”)
Common name: Blue Yucca, Silver Leaf Yucca, Palmilla.
Originally from: the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, and Zacateca.
Blooms: A tall spike of creamy-white flowers emerges from the central crown in spring.
Light: Full sun.
Water: Winter rain is enough.
Height x width: 15′ x 5′
Zones: 7-10
Where to find in P. Garden: We have two at the top of at PG

This beautiful slow-growing tree-like yucca grows up to 15′ tall, with occasional branching. The attractive 3 foot long by 1 inch wide, stiff, slightly waxy, pale silver to whitish gray leaves have narrow yellow margins and are dense, giving a symmetrical and architectural appearance.

Flowers in bud

The old leaves point downwards, creating a skirt on the stem, and finally fall off leaving a soft fibrous covering on the trunk. When it flowers, this species is as stunning as many other Yuccas.  In spring, huge clusters of white flowers hang off a thick 2′ long spike that pops out from within the crowns.

Like other Yucca species, Y. rigida is pollinated by moths, and after being pollinated the flowers develop into short-cylindrical pods with pointed tips. After a couple of months, the capsules dry and split open to release the black seeds.  We don’t have those moths locally, so sadly we won’t be getting any seed pods.

This Yucca is like all the other hardcore drought tolerant members of it’s family, performing best in warm sunny areas with good drainage and occasional to infrequent summer irrigation. It prefers alkaline conditions and is hardy to around 0°F.

Foliage pairings

We planted three of these in early 2019, and one died – it had been somewhat buried in mulch at the base, and I think that rotted it.  However, the remaining two look outstanding and are growing and flowering. Perhaps we will replace the first one with another – with a small trunk!

This Yucca is similar to Yucca rostrata, and the two are often confused. Y. rigida has leaves that are much more stiff – rigid, in fact. Y. rostrata has shorter, slightly twisted and softer leaves.  I have heard a joke about how to tell the difference between Yucca aloifolia and Yucca elephantipes, and it kind of applies to the difference between Y. rigida and Y. rostrata. If you fall into a patch of Y. elephantipes (or Y. rostrata) you will emerge pretty scratched up. If you fall into a patch of Y. aloifolia (or Y. rigida) you won’t emerge…

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PRG receives emergency haircut

Josh (L) and me (R)

I hadn’t been down to PRG due to oh, global pandemic and things like that, but we went on Saturday because Josh alerted me to the fact that weeds were taking over. It was bad. It was like we’d never weeded there in our lives. Actually it was more like The Day of the Triffids.

Not the “greatest science fiction novel of all time” version from 1952, not the cheesearriffic 1962 movie, but the UK TV version from 1981 in which poorly dressed and somewhat hirsute persons are blinded by a meteor shower and awaken the next day to discover giant mutant plants are walking around killing and eating people.

Wasn’t there a path once?

Yes. Just like that. We weeded for two hours on Saturday and barely made a dent. Ugh… something had to be done.

Happily, we were able to hire magical Tomas and his friend, thanks to Josh, and today Josh spent the entire day with them weeding the Triffids out of the garden.

They must have removed a metric ton of weeds. I can’t begin to tell you how much joy this brings me, but I want to all to get down on your knees next time you see Josh. It is sure to go to his head, but there you are. Look at the pictures. I don’t know what to say.


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Weeds thwarted despite pandemic

Weed rampage

Last week Josh risked his LIFE to go to the garden and do some weeding. Either he’s an extremely devoted volunteer, or he needed a break from reality. Either way, he demolished a load of weeds!

Also, there was additional excitement to be had. His message to me read “Exciting car crash on the bridge. Stolen Lexus totaled on the guardrail. Driver ran away but the cops got him.”

I am sure the driver was speeding to the garden, keen to help us get rid of some weeds. But really folks – be like Josh. Take it easy, pull some weeds, don’t break any laws. It’s not worth it!

Also one wonders how much it costs to replace that guardrail over and over, and when Caltrans or DPW will come up with a better idea? Answer: Lots and never?

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How to maintain social distancing in the garden

Cistus (Rock Rose)

Well unless you live under a rock you know we have a bit of a situation going on. To keep everyone safe, we have to shelter in place, but we are allowed outside for exercise, pet care, and essential tasks, as long as we can maintain at least 6′ of distance between people.

Can we do any gardening? Yes! Bring your own tools and gloves and enjoy some quiet time weeding in the garden anytime. Just be sure to stay away from others, and remember our paths can be narrow – just go the other way and be polite.

Washing your hands after gardening is something we have ALWAYS recommended, and we always wash our gloves in the machine after using them as well.

Will we still have volunteer workdays? No – we really can’t have a group of people gathering – even outdoors and wearing gloves. Drop by the garden in your own time, pick some trash, pull some weeds, walk your dog, pick up poops. The garden will still be there after this has all passed. Matt and I will do our best to try and keep up with the weeds as we can too, and we’d love your help with that.

Can I have a cookie? Yes, yes you can. But wash your hands first.

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The power of Recology!

Chis vs Green Giant!

Today it rained for the first time in over a month, in case you didn’t notice,  and it rained all through the volunteer workday. And not a little bit – it really rained! Despite that, my intrepid band of volunteers kept working away and I am deeply impressed by that. Really.

I had a plan to clean up by the front kiosk area, by the archway, and Matt and Josh set to work there. It soon became apparent though that the huge Agave stump left there after the Agave americana flowered was tied to the ground by a huge root and nothing could move it. Matt focused on cleaning up chunks of Opuntia cactus, removing baby Agaves, and cleaning up trash and weeds.

Josh, stop being so awesome!

Meanwhile, Josh started planting those baby Agaves over on the Triangle Garden up on 18th Street – an area that needs a revamp. He moved some Bromeliads and Aloe nobilis to more visible spots, and put in half a dozen Agave americana, and half a dozen Agave “Green Giant” that Chris spent a long time removing from the big mother plant up there. Dangerous and dirty work!

John, Compost King

John turned the compost. A lot of weeds have been added there recently, and the piles were really steaming hot from all the composting activity taking place – great to see.

The weeds will break down all that much faster now with added oxygen and a bit of rainwater to dampen the piles, so this task is really important. And exhausting, if we’re being honest.

Hilary and the rescued Agaves!

Hilary weeded the bed on the path to the composter. All the little Agave parryis and Furcraeas were getting choked with weeds, but she rescued them all, and added a nice layer of mulch to prevent more weeds too. While getting soaked to the skin. With no complaints. So cool.

Bill got into it with weeds too – he filled many bags with weeds from the path, as did John. That’s a task I usually leave to the weeding experts, and they did not disappoint me! Both these guys are Show Up and Get Shtuff Done types, and I love that about them.

After Chris was done planting six Salvia leucanthas with me in the Triangle Garden, we started tidying up and putting away tools, and went to see what Matt was up to. He had a digging bar and was trying to pry that Agave stump out of the ground, but it looked pretty futile – that type of job usually takes a few hours and the stump will weigh a couple hundred pounds.

Bill is a Weed Pirate!

Earlier in the day I used the 311 app to request a green waste pickup for all the non-compostable material, and coincidentally the Recology truck rolled down the street to get our 8 bags right then. We all helped the driver, Jose, to load the bags, then Josh made a joke about maybe Jose can help us drag the Agave stump out of the ground using his truck? He laughed – that’s a great way to get your truck damaged when a heavy stump suddenly lets go and flies into the back of your vehicle!

Jose jumped in his truck to leave. Then he came back. He had time to help us! Matt, Jose and Chris started digging and cutting the roots out from the Agave stump and using the 25# digging bar to rock it back and forth. Pretty soon, Jose looked like he was regretting his offer to help…

Jose saved the day!

After a solid 30 minutes of digging, prying, rocking, shoving, sawing, hacking and generally beating the heck out of that Agave stump it finally came loose! Jose backed his truck up to the stump and then it took another 15 minutes and some rope to drag the damn thing into his truck, because it was HEAVY. We thanked him and promised to tell his supervisor what a rock star he is, and away he went. Wow.

How did that happen?!?

All that was left to do was clean up the crime scene – shovel all the dirt and rocks back into the bed, sweep the sidewalk, replant the Agave filiferas in that bed, and marvel at how people just show up and help do filthy, sweaty, amazing things in the rain, just to make our Potrero Hill a better place to live. Thank you all!

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IHS Markit team and the battle of the weeds!

Women getting ish done

Julianna from IHS Markit emailed me a while back looking to do a VTO day at the gardens for her team. We’re always thrilled to show new people why the garden was started, and hopefully get them excited about drought tolerant gardening. or at the very least squeeze a couple hours of hard work out of them!

Sadly, we didn’t have a drop of rain in February but HAPPILY that made for a wonderfully warm and sunny Friday for Julianna’s team to visit PG and do battle with the emerging horde of weeds we have there.

Before and after

Ten of the finest IHS Markit team’s people assembled at PG, and Matt and Josh described the day’s duties. Suitably prepared for the job with gloves and tools, the team headed to the top of the garden to eradicate weeds and uncover plants – a lot of them recently planted – who were trying to compete with all the new growth.

In just two hours they cleaned the whole area, and I know that not only will dog walkers be very grateful, but the new plants we put in there will not have to compete for light and nutrients now and will grow on much better.

Compost hero!

Matt also asked one of the team to turn our newly filled compost bins. This is a pretty good workout for whoever does it, and our brave volunteer managed to turn TWO bins into one, which massively speeds up the composting process. It’s a tough job, so it’s especially wonderful when a volunteer tackles it.

All in all, the IHS Markit team was a joy, an we can’t wait to have them back to visit us. Go team!

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