Mark
Home gardener & plant fetishist
User avatar
Berkeley, California, USA

A Garden Grows in California

26 Jul '07 11:39 am
Prelude: Am I up to keeping a journal?
Q: Me? A: Well I can try. It could help me remember when various garden areas were developed and plants I've tried.
Q: Why an online journal? A: At least I can't lose it. I get lost in details writing just for me. This way I have to make sense.
Q: Do I have time for this? A: Once school starts, who knows? I think I'll aim for once a week. Sounds about right.


Chapter One: In The Beginning

Before 1990 I would have translated "gardening" as: chores, often involving getting dirty, which are done outdoors around the house. That year, 1990-1991, I started teaching. After one year of teaching came my first summer off. I liked it. Over the years I got a lot of useful things done in the summer like remodeling the kitchen and bathroom and putting a new roof on the warehouse. I also helped my wife Lia dig holes to plant roses.

I was willing to do the heavy or dirty work so long as it was understood that no plant's chance of survival should ever depend on me. Watering was out of the question. I didn't even know then that you had to feed them. Not my problems. That first year we were held up waiting for permits to do the new roof. While I waited I built a gazebo and a deck (it had to sit on something) beside the vegetable garden in our side yard. In the end we gave up on my idea to build a more sloping roof on our old warehouse and hired a contractor to replace our old tar and gravel 'flat' roof with a high quality cap sheet roof. With the time that was freed up I started thinking about building an outdoor aviary beside an old wooden shed, visible from the new gazebo. Originally it was to house our one pet cockatiel but once it was completed I started reading about pet finches and softbill birds. I got hooked.

I cleaned out the old shed originally built on the property by the Moonies who owned it before Lia and her ex bought it in 1976. They built the shed and a concrete pad behind it (just above Strawberry Creek) to run a rug cleaning business, not very friendly to the environment but it was a different time. I cleaned all the junk out of that shed and built quite a large flight cage inside (about 3' by 4' set a couple feet above the concrete floor and extending to the roof. On the outside I poured a concrete pad to about 3.5' out from the western wall of the shed and 7' wide. Then I built an outdoor aviary that connected to the indoor flight cage. The next year, I built two more outdoor aviaries on the northern wall of the old shed each of which opened into an indoor flight cage of similar dimensions to the first one. The shed became my bird room. I kept (and sometimes succeded in breeding) a number of little finches and softbills including Orangebreasted waxbills, Cordon Bleau's, Pekin Robins, Mesias, White hooded nuns, pigmy quails, Zebra finches, Strawberry finches, various weavers and I don't remember what all else. It was a little demanding having to feed them each morning and look in on them each afternoon but it was also enjoyable.

Almost immediately I got interested in growing plants in the outdoor aviaries to make for a more pleasant scene and of course also for the bird's enjoyment. One day, by a fluke, I happened to be walking by the San Francisco Botanical Garden (then called Strybing Arboretum) on the Saturday after one of their big spring sales. Thinking I might find something for the aviaries I stopped to shop. I remember marvelling at some of the plants and bringing home several. It wasn't long before I started reading about plants the way I'd read about birds.

Behind our warehouse our property extends another 40 feet. The warehouse itself isn't a large one having a footprint of just 40 by 80 feet, set in the South-West corner of the property. So our 'backyard' was about 40' by 100' more or less. It was in this area, that was largely unutilized, that I first started to try to grow some plants for their own sake. I layed out a good sized, crescent shaped bed in the North-East corner of the back yard, an area that gets full sun all day and in every season. At one end I incorporated an existing persimmon tree, at the other I planted an apricot and in the middle I planted a Fuji apple. I made a plot plan and laid out a very ornate, symmetrical design conceived entirely in terms of the color of the flowers (no matter how fleeting) and as seen from a crow's eye view (as I saw it on the plot plan). Live and learn.

For a several years I kept the birds and did the garden, but the demands exceeded what I could happily give. At one point there was a ban on bird sales out of fear of a communicable disease infecting farmed birds here. At that point I decided to give up keeping birds and didn't replace any as they died off. (They don't have very long lifespans.) Now I am bird free except for the birds that come of their own accord and feed themselves. One of my first objectives for the garden was to enhance its value as habitat for the local birds, and they do make good use of it. Mourning doves, hummers, robins, thrushes and finches all nest here and many more utilize the garden to forage including Towhees, a Green heron, scrubjays, American Golfinches, a hawk and Cedar Waxwings (seasonally). For the first couple years, I restricted my efforts to this one bed. I grew a number of plants from seed and planted blueberries for the birds.

And that's how I got outside and engaged with the garden. Perhaps taking care of little finches who don't show any indication of illness until they are on death's door prepared me for taking on the responsibility for watering and care for plants in a garden.

[P.S. Old photos next time after I learn to scan and transfer files.]
Mark in California

Q: "Do you ever sit down?"
A: "All the time until the urge to 'play' some more becomes too strong."

Mark
Home gardener & plant fetishist
User avatar
Berkeley, California, USA

Two old photos of the garden.

26 Jul '07 2:55 pm
I got a very nice twenty-something young lady to use Lia's scanner to load these old photos into computer files. This will give you some idea of what my garden looked like in the beginning.
aaabmark1.jpg
That's the first outdoor aviary I built and there is Daisy. This picture was probably taken late in the summer or early in the fall of 1991.
aaabMark2.jpg
This picture is taken around 1995. It shows the first crescent bed probably in late Winter or early Spring. You can tell because the grass is green only in this brief wet season until I put in irrigation. This would be 2 or 3 years into gardening. I'v
Mark in California

Q: "Do you ever sit down?"
A: "All the time until the urge to 'play' some more becomes too strong."

Jack Holloway
Passionate Gardener
User avatar
SEQUOIA FARM Haenertsburg South Africa

Great start, Mark!

26 Jul '07 6:23 pm
Very interesting and informative. And don't you just love old photos that you nearly threw away when you took them because they were so BARE. As time passes they develop real historical significance, much more so than the 'good' shots do.

By the way - now you've got to deal with the downside of a web journal - a bit like real life: people who interupt your train of thought and it would be rude and counter-productive just to ignore them :wink:

I too was an extremely unwilling gardener in my youth...

Dixie
garden enthusiast
User avatar
Waikato-New Zealand

interesting story

27 Jul '07 7:55 am
When I first tried gardening I didn't know about drainage/raised beds.I just planted and things sat in the ground miserably.Your early photos are very interesting,Mark.As Jack says,I wished I had taken more'before'photos,but I didn't think what was there was particularly interesting.With your section,how do you get on with the drainage,as it seems to be flat.I am amazed that you say you didn't know anything-are you being modest?Because later photos show a fabulous place!
Dixie.

gordonf
Happy Collector
User avatar
Lillooet, BC, Canada

Another Journal to Read and to Learn From!

27 Jul '07 11:03 am
Hi, Mark!

It was great reading how you got started with your garden! And, as Jack said, don't you wish you'd saved more "before" pictures to enjoy now! I know that I didn't save enough!

"Strawberry Creek" is an interesting name. Do you have any idea how it got its name? And all the birds that you raised! Wow!! I'd be happy if I could have a couple of Polish Bantams, but they won't let me have them in the city.

Keep up the good effort at writing the journal, even when you return to school. One tip that might work is to write down ideas as they occur, even in those rare quiet moments at school, so you won't have to do the writing, spelling, editing and everything else at the same time when you get to the computer. It helps to prevent forgetting things. And it might even shorten the time needed to write it all down on the computer. I'm looking forward to reading much more of your journal!

And the seeds will be in the mail tomorrow. I think they're dry enough now.

Cheers!

gordonf

pumpkin
compost executive
User avatar
Dairy Flat, New Zealand

27 Jul '07 12:02 pm
Darn good idea of yours writing stuff when it happens and not trying to remember at a later time gordonf. Thats what I like so much about forums, you never know when someone is just going to have a flash of genius! =D> Such a simple thing and yet so onto it :wink:

Mark, how cool to see your pix and where it all started. Bet when you just look at your garden now you can't see what it was like back then 8) Something that often intrigues me is how we just grow with our gardens and don't always notice them evolving. Having photos of the gardens infancy is so fabulous cos we have a visual of the difference and don't have to rely on a slightly wonky memory :D

I sure look forward to the weekly updates :wink:

~ Daisy is beautiful!

Mark
Home gardener & plant fetishist
User avatar
Berkeley, California, USA

Thanks everyone for the encouragement.

27 Jul '07 4:24 pm
I hope you know I had to do some real digging to find those photos. Somewhere around here is a photo album I take out at garden parties. It got put away so well I can't now find it. When I do, I'll show you some old pictures of the place before there was any trace of a garden at all. Barren weed lot surrounded by 8 foot plywood fences loaded with ivy. With one fig tree and one persimmon tree being the only deliberately placed plants in the back garden.

Dixie, I don't think I'm being modest about how little I knew going in. My family wasn't really into gardening growing up. I remember having the attitude in my early twenties that every garden was such a pretentious thing compared to the natural beauty of any one of many scenes I'd seen hiking and camping. But when I'd built those barren aviaries they just cried out for some plants. Part of what stopped me from becoming more involved with plants before was my life long history of doing in every house plant for which I had been responsible. However, compared to caring for tiny birds which appear to be alright right up until they're nearly dead, caring for plants is easy. Having gotten into a twice a day routine for checking on the birds caring for plants was easy and now I had a little world for my birds which wasn't going to develope the kind of scenery I'd seen hiking (or any other kind of appealing look) without my help.

P.S. I don't intend to go on writing 'chapters'. That was just for fun this time.
Mark in California

Q: "Do you ever sit down?"
A: "All the time until the urge to 'play' some more becomes too strong."

gordonf
Happy Collector
User avatar
Lillooet, BC, Canada

PS from Before

27 Jul '07 6:23 pm
Hi again, Mark- I forgot last time to tell you how lucky you are to have a persimmon tree! I planted one which died 3 years later. Another year after I'd given up on it and built a trellis over its dead trunk, it resprouted and is now seemingly doing well, but I don't need it there any more! Haven't figured what to do with it yet. Lucky you!! :D

Cheers!

gordonf

Mark
Home gardener & plant fetishist
User avatar
Berkeley, California, USA

End of Summer Progress Report

14 Aug '07 4:24 pm
Garden upkeep: B- It is looking pretty good at the moment and is in good shape for going into the school year. I got to the roses for pruning late and I'm past due for fertilizing them again. Room for improvement but not bad.

New projects: INCOMPLETE I'm giving myself an extension since I did today, finish prepping the hole, put the liner in the hole and fill it with water. Mosquitos drove me away this evening preventing me from finishing. I did finish building and organizing the new tool shed which is a godsend. Also I've been wanting for quite some time to rework the old bench which I built to look at the outdoor aviaries and that is now finished. There is now decking over what had been a gap and a decorative wrought iron window guard in the fence with a shutter on the inside so I can look out on the creek from there and hear the creek even better from the outdoor bed. I did complete some major transplants, potting up and a good deal of planting out so those are all points in my favor.


With any luck I'll have the stone work around the pond completed and some new photos to post tomorrow.
DSCN0052.JPG
The new window looking out on the creek bed.
DSCN0034.JPG
The general area around the new window in the fence showing the decking, some new pots and part of the begonia wall.
DSCN0068.JPG
I planted out new plants and shifted things around a little at the base of the blooming yucca. You can see the stones stacked up for the pond whose hole is visible to the right.
Mark in California

Q: "Do you ever sit down?"
A: "All the time until the urge to 'play' some more becomes too strong."

gordonf
Happy Collector
User avatar
Lillooet, BC, Canada

hARD wORKER!

14 Aug '07 5:44 pm
Hi, Mark!

Well, you've accomplished a lot today! Loved the wrought iron on the new window! And the idea of a begonia wall! Can you leave the begonias there all winter in Berkley? And I'm envious of your blooming yucca! Mine have never bloomed, even though all the neighbours' do and mine have been there since I moved in over 5 years ago. They get bigger each year but never any flowers! Maybe not enough sunshine... oh, well, their leaves sure look good! :D

I'm so glad that I don't have to begin psyching myself for "back-to-school"! I was speaking with a teacher friend yesterday and she was telling me that her principal presented all the staff with a large baggie filled with a book on methodology, pencils, felt markers and blank paper on the last day of school in June. They're supposed to read the book over the holidays and be prepared to discuss it at the end of August when they are scheduled for 2 days of professional development days before school opens. Now, I used to do that type of reading over the holiday, but I certainly wouldn't want someone else telling me which book to read!! :evil: I'm glad I'm out of it!!

Enjoy the rest of your holiday!

gordonf

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