Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Point Pinole pier.

Point Pinole

Point Pinole meadow and woods

This is a test of making a post sticky for a tag. At the moment this is only a test. Soon I will elaborate this tag.

Point Pinole pier and toyon bush.

Point Pinole pier with toyon bush in foreground.


A dashing new visitor to the garden.

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and Red Rock Island.

Red Rock Island

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and Red Rock Island.

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The little island to the left of the bridge is Red Rock Island, the only privately owned island in the bay. It marks the meeting of San Francisco, Marin and Contra Costa counties. It’s for sale and can be yours for just $5 million (marked down from $12 million). It has no water, but plenty of manganese ore, if that’s your thing.

View from study.

View from study.

The small north garden has become a favorite bird habitat. The spiky foreground plants are asparagus ferns. The orange flowers are Iochroma coccinea, beloved of hummingbirds, and perching birds also favor the plant. The ground cover is probably oxalis, which I should remove before it takes over. The yellow grass is Stipa arundinacea, which is reliably attractive in our area. Against the fence on the right is Victorian Box (Pittosporum undalatum), which the birds planted.

Brugmansia, detail.
Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi' (Angel's Trumpet).

Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ (Angel’s Trumpet).

White-Crowned Sparrows.

White-Crowned Sparrows

White-Crowned Sparrows.

White-Crowned Sparrows.

Senecio talinoides, detail.
Senecio talinoides.

Senecio talinoides.


The brugmansia is flowering heavily this year.

White-Crowned Sparrow.
White-Crowned Sparrow.

White-Crowned Sparrow.

This little guy — a White-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii), if I’m not mistaken — appears to think he’s tough. All the birds love the iochroma.

Actually, his alert expression is a characteristic of these birds, at least during their migratory season. Researchers — here’s one link — hope to figure how they have been able to stay alert with reduced sleep, hoping the findings might have human applications.

White-Crowned Sparrow.

White-Crowned Sparrow.


Citrus Burst Rose

Citrus Burst rose

It might be just a few days after the solstice, but a few brave flowers are still giving their all on the Citrus Burst rose.

Senecio talenoides

Senecio talinoides.

White Pelicans

white pelicans

The white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) are back at Lafayette Reservoir. Unfortunately, I only had my cell phone, and I’ll need to go back with a better camera. (I’ll update this post then.)

The white pelicans are large birds, with wingspans of as much as nine feet. From a distance they look like swans, until you see their beaks. They are social and, unlike the more common brown pelicans, they are surface feeders, not divers.

Where do these birds go in the summer?

I noticed at our local library a series of mysteries by Edith Maxwell featuring an organic gardener who solves crimes. Books in the series all have titles like Farmed and DangerousMurder Most Fowl, and Mulch Ado about Murder. In the spirit of authorial solidarity, I hearby offer Ms. Maxwell some further titles for her consideration:

  • Compost Mortem
  • The Berried Copse
  • Too Cloche for Comfort
  • The Deadheading
  • Shears Terror
  • The Bone Meal
  • Tilth Death Us Part
  • The Cold Frame
  • The Cutting
  • Loves Lies Bleeding
  • The Haulm before the Storm
  • A Rake’s Progress
  • The Scion’s Graft
  • Roots of Evil

Feel free to add your own contributions.

Gabion Retaining Walls

<em>Rising Cairn</em>, by <a href="">Celeste Roberge</a>. Welded galvanized steel and granite, 58" x 54" x 43". Collection: Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, California.

Rising Cairn, by Celeste Roberge. Welded galvanized steel and granite, 58″ x 54″ x 43″. Collection: Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, California.

Recently I posted on my Facebook timeline a photo of gabion materials I had ordered to replace a concrete retaining wall that had failed. Some people were unfamiliar with gabions and asked to know more about this ancient construction technique.

Saint George's Distillery, Alameda.

San Francisco Bay wind patterns

San Francisco Bay Area wind patterns

UPDATE, Oct. 2017. The best resource for current wind patterns now seems to be sailflow. A detail of a screen capture from the site is shown above.

The USGS webpage referenced below from the original publication of this post in 2007 has been discontinued “due to lack of support and redirection of research efforts”—which seems a shame. The site now redirects to a San Jose Meteorology department page. As of today that site does not seem to be functioning. I hope that this information gets back up online soon. We could certainly use it in view of this season’s devastating fires. If anyone knows of better resources, please leave info in the comments.

For air quality information, air now is better than spare the air.

Original post from Oct. 2007:

san francisco bay area wind patternsHere’s an unusual and interesting resource. The U.S. Geological Survey has a website that shows current wind conditions around the San Francisco Bay Area (they are considering a predictive model as well). There are two or three visualizations available, including the very cool flash “streaklines” (which unfotunately I can’t display here, and which might not work on some systems).

In the visualization above, the arrow size indicates exact speed (in knots, which are equal to 1.15 mph or 1.85 kph), while the color shows a certain range of speed. Speeds are at 10 meters and directions from true north. You can see that this morning there were strong winds blowing toward the Golden Gate from Marin, across midpeninsula, and at Mount Diablo.


Homemade tarragon vinegar

Tarragon vinegar.

Tarragon vinegar after application of boiling vinegar.

Tarragon vinegar is a staple of French cuisine. (French chefs often combine it with mustard.) “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism,” James Beard said, “I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”

It’s easily made. I took a sprig of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) from the garden and placed it in a sterilized bottle. Then I submersed it in boiling white wine vinegar. Let cool and cap. If you are using fresh French tarragon from the garden the result will be excellent — wonderful in salad dressings but also great even for things like deglazing skillets.

For best results, store in a dark place for a couple of weeks to allow the tarragon oils to infuse.


Artemisia pycnocephala, Sandhill Sage

Artemisia pycnocephala (Sandhill Sage

This is the final piece for the artemisia essay I’m working on. This replaces the version below, which I wasn’t happy with.

Artemisia pycnocephala, Sandhill Sage


Photo-derived botanical art series

Here’s the whole series I’ve worked up over the past few days.

Artemisia californica, California Sagebrush

Artemisia californica, California Sagebrush

Artemisia absinthium, Wormwood

artemisia absinthium
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood

Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa (French Tarragon)


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