Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Category: nature

Japanese Maple leaves

Let’s log some trees in San Francisco!

urban forest map

It would be a good thing. Urban Forest Map is trying to make a log of all of the trees in San Francisco. The group is made up of government agencies, nonprofits, and private businesses. By mapping the city’s trees they hope to calculate the environmental benefits the trees are providing: “how many gallons of stormwater they are helping to filter, how many pounds of air pollutants they are capturing, how many kilowatt-hours of energy they are conserving, and how many tons of carbon dioxide they are removing from the atmosphere. The information we gather will help urban foresters and city planners to better manage trees in specific areas, track and combat tree pests and diseases, and plan future tree plantings. Climatologists can use it to better understand the effects of urban forests on climates, and students and citizen scientists can use it to learn about the role trees play in the urban ecosystem.”

You can add some trees to the count.

Photo Wednesday: Muir Woods

Today’s image of shafts of sunlight cutting through tall redwoods along a Muir Woods hiking trail comes from vgm8383’s photostream. This is an HDR (high dynamic range) photo — a technique that combines multiple exposures to give a greater range of tonal detail. It worked pretty well in this instance because Muir Woods is surprisingly dark (test it with a light meter if you don’t believe me), and the light is very green.

Photo Wednesday: Muir Woods

muir woods

This view of Muir Woods in Marin County is from soupboy‘s photostream.

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“Raging Controversy” at the Goldman Awards

goldman awards

Yesterday I attended the Goldman Environmental Prize Awards, as I have done most years since sometime in the early 1990s. The event is held in the city’s beautiful War Memorial Opera House, with a reception afterward at City Hall. The award honors grassroots environmental activists from around the world with a cash prize of $150,000. According to Nancy Pelosi, the award is “on a par with the Nobel Peace Prize in terms of its recognition of courage and brilliance in protecting our environment.”

This year two of the winners were lawyer Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and community organizer Luis Yanza, both of Ecuador, who are suing Chevron to clean up oil contamination in the Amazon rain forest. This region is one of the world’s most contaminated sites, and residents report a large number of health problems and deaths that appear related to the contamination.

But the selection of the Ecuadorans for the prize has again highlighted the journalistic deficiencies of our local daily, whose declining circulation can be no surprise. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article headlined (not very grammatically) “Controversy Mires Choice for Goldman Prize,” recognition of the Ecuardorans has created “a raging controversy.”

Which is the Chronicle‘s way of saying that Chevron held a press conference to express opposition to the activists who were suing the corporation. After all, according to Chevron general counsel Charles James, even if the environmental activists win in Ecuadoran courts “their ability to enforce this is going to be very limited.”

Well, sure it’s going to be limited. If Chevron was a country it would be much bigger and more powerful than Ecuador. So I guess the message is might makes right, no matter what the human and environmental consequences.

Is this really a “raging controversy”?

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California poppy

hillside covered with california poppies

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), the state flower, blooms profusely along the northern California coast from about February through September. The most common variety is a bright orange color, reinforcing the sate’s nickname, the golden state (which also alludes to the mid-nineteenth-century gold rush). This poppy-colored hillside was photographed on the central California coast between Cambria and Cayucos.

Nature in the city

nature in the city

I once edited a book by the poet Michael McClure called Scratching the Beat Surface. One of Michael’s premises was that the natural world can be appreciated even in urban areas.

The screenshot above links to the website of Nature in the City, whose mission is “to conserve and restore the nature and biodiversity of San Francisco and connect people with nature where they live.” This initiative is a a project of the Earth Island Institute.

Don’t hold the organization’s arithmetical limitations against it. According to the website, Corresponding to the strategies for achieving our mission, our three major program areas are:

  1. Public Education
  2. Habitat Restoration & Community Stewardship
  3. Natural Resources Management
  4. Conservation Advocacy

These are worthy programs, however you add them up.

Trees of San Francisco

oak street, san francisco

San Francisco was hardly a forest before the swell in its population in the mid-nineteenth century — it was mostly coastal dunes, scrub, and marshland. The city’s most extraordinary transformation was achieved by John McLaren, who magically conjured up a woodland out of Golden Gate Park’s dunes.

Today the city is home to many types of trees, some of them spectacular. One website has identified the locations of the best examples of 213 species; the list is still growing. If you want to see what a particular kind of tree looks like in the San Francisco ecosystem, all you need to do is consult this list. Click the screenshot below to visit the site.

Just for fun, I used Google Maps to zoom in on a handsome Juglens nigra (black walnut), located in the panhandle across from 1809 OakStreet (image above).

trees of san francisco

Historical map of San Francisco Creeks

This great map from the 1890s shows creeks in blue and marshes in green, with modern landfill in magenta. A larger version is at the Oakland Museum of California site.

historic water featuers of san francisco

Fall color

japanese maple

The San Francisco Bay Area doesn’t have such a bad climate for fall color. The image above is of a Japanese maple; below is a Fuyu persimmon (both from my lot). But what we have is one of the world’s best climates for broad-leaf evergreens (you can see a lemon tree behind the persimmon), and as a result we tend to get specimen trees but never masses of color like these (photos taken near Ithaca, New York).

I like the color, and once I finish getting my backyard pool taken out I might plant a few more deciduous hardwoods.

fuyu persimmon

Sobrante Ridge

Most guides will have you enter the Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve from Coach Drive in Carriage Hills, but if you enter from the El Sobrante side — the trail head is at the end of Heavenly Ridge Lane — a short hike past the endangered Alameda Manzanita will take you to the top of the ridge, where a selection of pictnic tables awaits you. A view of Mt. Tamalpais lies to the west.

sobrante ridge view to west: mt. tam and marin county

To the east is Mount Diablo, and to the south Wildcat Canyon.

sobrante ridge view to south: wildcat canyon

You can descend to Carriage Hills to the north, if you wish.

carriage hills from sobrante ridge

Bay Nature

bay nature

Bay Nature magazine, to the surprise of many, has managed to stay afloat for several years now. They’ve even started broadcasting on public television stations. It shows how much the Bay Area values its natural setting (relevant to this recent issue and this recent issue, for example).

I do think their website would be better served if it had some content on its home page — a few paragraphs from a feature article, say — rather than just a bunch of links, arranged seemingly randomly.

Testing the limits

alameda manzanita

Bravo to Contra Costa supervisors who unanimously voted down an attempt to expand the East Bay urban limit line — a line overwhelmingly approved by area voters less than a year ago.

The proposal would have created a 75-home development in El Sobrante. El Sobrante (home to an endangered species of manzanita) is already suffering from severe traffic congestion and a scandalous shortage of services. The last thing it needs is more housing, the purpose of which would simply be to line some developer’s pocket. I wonder why such a propect has traditionally appealed to City of Richmond politicians. That is just so baffling. What could the explanation possibly be?

Ominously, according to the Contra Costa Times, “Architect Paul Wang said he will continue to meet with El Sobrante residents in an attempt to fix any flaws they see with the Golden Oaks proposal.” Wait, I see a flaw! This guy enjoys a sweet view from his bucolic home office in the Berkeley Hills. Meanwhile, on the other side of that hill — just far enough away that it doesn’t pollute his tranquil existence — construction crews would be cutting down “golden oaks” and putting up houses where they’re not wanted
and don’t belong.

Hey, City of Richmond and Contra Costa County (El Sobrante spans the two jurisdictions), did you ever think of creating a downtown park or two for this community that is home to many young families? And what about that pedestrian mall along San Pablo Dam Road that we’re not hearing much about anymore?

Shown: Endangered alameda manzanita (and friends). 

Wildlife uprising continues in the city

coyoteFirst it was uppity sea lions. Now it’s coyotes. According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, coyotes are attacking dogs in Golden Gate Park.

Coyotes disappeared from the city after the 1906 earthquake. They appear to have returned sometime in the past decade via the south peninsula. Recently a coyote was tracked with an electronic device, revealing that it traveled to Daly City and back in a single day (a trip that is agonizingly slow for commuters).

Over the weekend coyotes attacked a Rhodesian ridgeback, a large dog bred to hunt lions, in the park. To go after such a formidable opponent suggests the coyotes were protecting a den.

I have heard that city officials have killed the coyotes that attacked the dog, though I have yet to see an official report to that effect.

UPDATE: Yep, the shootings have been confirmed.

LINK: San Francisco Chronicle: “Coyotes attack dogs in Golden Gate Park,” by Jim Herron Zamora.

Matthiola incana “Perennial White Stock”

matthiola incana

Here’s a good plant for Bay Area gardens. Most people probably know the common stock that is grown as an annual in many parts of the country. This version, perhaps close to the wild species found in the eastern Mediterranean, is a perennial in most of the Bay Area. It has a woody stem and grayish green foliage. It grows to about 2½ feet. In the summer it gets fragrant white flowers on short spikes. It can be grown from seed, or it’s available in 4-inch containers from Annie’s Annuals. Full sun, average water.

Spring Garden Party at Annie’s Annuals

annie's spring partyAnnie’s Annuals in Richmond (at 740 Market Avenue) is holding their spring party this weekend, April 14-15. They will have free “supermarket sweep” raffles every hour — winners get 15 minutes of free shopping. There’s also a “gardening olympics” (“no athletic ability necessary”). Plus Calypso music, complimentary snacks and drinks, and gardening talks, as well as an Easter egg hunt, face painting, a bunny petting corner, coloring table, and sandbox for kids.

Annie’s specializes in unusual annuals and perennials, including cottage garden heirlooms and hard-to-find California native wildflowers. Annie’s plants are grown outdoors, not in greenhouses, so they tend to be tough. And they’re not sprayed with hormones as is the case with most commercial growers.

It’s a great place to pick up plants that you won’t find in retail box stores. But beware, at $5 or so per 4-inch pot, you can spend a lot in a short time.

The full schedule of events is here.

Record Cold

It’s freezing — literally. Over here in the East Bay we’re looking at a week of lows around or under the freezing mark. I’ve been watering my plants and covering them with plastic at night when I can. But I don’t have enough plastic (or time) for all of them. My fuschias and brugmansias are looking very distressed. I can replace the fuschias since they grow fairly fast (and I think they might come back), but I’d hate to lose the big beautiful brugmansias.

The Bay Area gets frosts occasionally, bt it’s unusually to have such a long duration of frost. We are going to lose a lot of our semi-tropical plants. This is a sad development.

link: Tom’s Garden

Outdoors in the Bay Area

So far the winter of 2006-207 has been a cool one in the Bay Area. But we got out for a short hike yesterday on Sobrante Ridge, and it was quite pleasant. The trail wasn’t muddy, and the manzanita was in bloom. I’m starting to post some pages on outdoor activities in the Bay Area.

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