Red Sunflowers–From Massachusetts To California

Several years ago friends from Cape Cod, Massachusetts sent us seeds from red sunflower plants that sprouted as volunteers on their beach.  We planted them to see if we could also grow them here in California.  The population has changed over the years, producing several varieties in color and providing a home for visiting insects and bees!

The sunflowers in this year’s crop were recently described by a passerby as sentinels…standing tall.

Sunflower Sentinels

Sunflower Sentinels

As the plants advance into fall, the blooms fade and the pods become a seed banquet table for the birds.

The first gallery below contains photos from summer and the second gallery is…shall we say…just for the birdsEmoji


As you will see in the summer gallery, the “reds” have expanded their color horizons while maintaining a home for visiting insects and bees!

  • Click on any photo below to start a gallery
  • The gallery may take a minute to load, depending upon your connection speed!
  • Navigate between photos using the left and right arrow keys, or by clicking or tapping the arrows on the left and right.
  • Click “view full size” below any image to see the photo directly outside the gallery.



Mulch Madness…Turf Insanity?

Many residents in Petaluma have taken up the call to mulch their turf areas and to convert their landscapes to low water plantings. Mulch Madness has even reached many of our public areas and parks…including City Hall…

However, as fate would have it (Doesn’t it always?), a city in Southern California takes a dim view of turf removal and seeks to fine a homeowner. 

A case of insane bureaucrats out of touch with water reality? For details, see this report in CaliforniaCityNews…

A Green Orange is not so Green: Water Wars over Couple’s Lawn

Work Continues on St. James Community Garden

Just a quick update…

Despite the rains, volunteers have managed to continue their work on the new community garden at St. James Catholic Church….

The full scope and scale of the project are starting to emerge…

A recent e-mail from Lois Pearson serves nicely as a progress report:

We finished planting the children’s garden and cleared the section going out of the parking lot. The main thing is to keep all the areas weeded right now.
We have plans for the 3rd section now and will be on the look out for free dirt to build up the area. It is retaining a lot of standing water in certain areas. If you know of a source please let me know.
Next Saturday (February 13) we will be sowing seeds for summer planting in our next section. It will be at the garden between 10 and 3. We will move under the over hang if it is raining. They will then be transported to Gatti Nursery to grow.

St. James Sprouts A Garden–Part II


The transformation of 3/4 of an acre at St. James Catholic Church to a food-producing community garden is no small task. Perhaps this photo collage will provide a sense of the physical size of the project…

Coordinating the logistics and schedules for the garden construction and planting is a full-time job. Fortunately, Lois Pearson  (I call her the “Dedicated Dynamo”) and the other members of the St. James Community Garden Committee have been more than up to the challenge.

Lois is also quick to point out that many people in the community have helped bring the project along…

We have had several people donate their services and or supplies for our start-up. Lucas Deniz tilled our field, J.P. Ospital put in our irrigation system, Michael Birmingham built our wood boxes, Carlo Farrina and Jim Gambodini are donating fieldstone, John Shribbs has been an advisory as well as donated many native plants, Pete Bonardi and John Brugaleta are doing our electrical. Rose Zamudio from Tuscan Gardens and Grayson James from Petaluma Bounty have also advised us. Mari Philo is in charge of the Planting Committee and has done a fantastic job.
Tyler Harwood is doing his Eagle Scout project by building us 5 redwood picnic tables and benches. I have a few Casa students doing their senior projects and the Helping Hands Group has also pitched in.

As an aside, I have observed volunteers at many community projects in Petaluma over the years. Without exception, they are always focused, hardworking people. This man, however, went above and beyond, showing up with a walking leg cast…


The St. James community garden will be somewhat different as there will be no private plots.  Instead, the primary purpose of the garden is to grow fresh vegetables for those in need in our community. 

According to Lois…

We will  harvest and give the produce to anyone in need in the Petaluma community– COTS, PEP, Food for Families, etc. We will also grow seasonal flowers to decorate our church altar. 


Many of the seedlings in the photo below were started by volunteers using heirloom seeds donated by the Petaluma Seed Bank. The Gatti Nursery provided space to grow them before planting in the garden….

For more information on the Petaluma Seed Bank see Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co and an article by Chris Sampson of  The Argus Courier.


As with any garden project, lots of mulch and compost are required.  Sonoma Compost stepped up to the plate and donated some of the materials.


Finally, the “buzz” in the air is that the garden will also include at least one bee hive courtesy of  Ettamarie Peterson of Peterson’s Farm 

(Additional photos are available at Community Garden At St. James)


Members of the general public are welcome to come and volunteer to work on the project. You do not have to be a member of the church to participate.

  • Additional workdays are scheduled for January 23 and January 24, (next Saturday & Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 3 pm.
  • For questions or information on upcoming workdays,  contact  Lois Pearson 763-8467, or Stacy Arancio 769-8657, 

Donations and volunteer time notwithstanding, there is an ongoing need for funds to keep the project going forward. Consequently, there will be a “Valentine Social”  fundraiser–appetizers, desserts, wine, music and dancing–on Feb 13th from 7 to 10pm in the St. James Parish Hall. 

  • Tickets are $30.00 per person or 2 for $50.00.  Ticket contacts are Lois Pearson @ 763-8467 and Adele Calkin @ 763-5792.
  • They will also be selling raffle tickets for a three night stay in Palm Desert. 


Petaluma’s Remarkable Water Conservation

All the sturm & drang at the November 2, 2009 Petaluma City Council Meeting precluded press coverage of a remarkable presentation by Mike Ban and David Iribarne of the Department of Water Resources and Conservation. 

As your Resident Mulch Correspondent, I will correct this media oversight!

The Ban/Iribarne Council update regarding the lawn transformation project at City Hall included a striking chart of facts and figures regarding overall water usage and conservation in Petaluma. To say it is dramatic is an understatement…

Water Slide 1

These figures reflect the cumulative effects of people using more efficient fixtures and appliances as well as replacing their lawns with low water landscaping. For example…

  • The report mentioned that one residential household reduced its landscaping water requirement by 42% or 37,000 gallons.
  • Friedman Brothers  Hardware Distribution Center on Lakeville Highway cuts its usage by 30% or 692,000 gallons by replacing 35,000 sq. ft. of turf with low water landscaping.

Clearly, the efforts of individuals, businesses, and the City of Petaluma are bearing fruit.  Going forward, the numbers will improve even further if homeowners and businesses continue their efforts.  In addition to properties already converted, the City is planning to sheet mulch or convert the turf areas at the Police Station, Fire Station 3, the Library, and Wiseman park.

According to David Iribarne, to date the City has already transformed 103,000 sq. ft. of turf on City properties, saving 5 million gallons of water annually.

For a copy of the complete presentation to the City Council, click on Petaluma Water Conservation Report

Valley Vista’s Harvest Fair

The Valley Vista Elementary Harvest Fair is an annual event to raise funds to support the Teaching Garden at the school. This year it had the added flavor of being on Halloween.

But how likely is it for an East Side Blogger to cover a harvest fair on the far West Side? Not very, unless several strong hints come over-the-transom before Halloween. And come they did…

  • First, there was Frances Rivetti’s Blog on the upcoming Halloween Harvest Fair
  • Next, I heard mention of it several times during the lawn transformation project at City Hall on October 24
  • Finally, Susan Garbert sent me a flyer promoting the Valley Vista Harvest Fair– “Aztec Dance, Pancake B-fast, Baker Creek
    Seed & Cricket Landscapes, Gardening demos, Native Plant Sale,
    Pumpkin Pie Sale, Crafts and Costume Parade.”

All of these hints played into my general fondness for Valley Vista Elementary as I had worked there as a poll worker through six elections.

So, I grabbed my Mulch Correspondent gear and set out for Valley Vista last Saturday morning.

…Of course, I shot a few photos…

Crowd Collage 2Croud Collage 1In THe Garden Collage


Harvest Fair Cam 1 010Garbert Collage

Aztec Dancers

Aztec 2Aztec 1Aztec 4


Raffle CollagePrincipal Collage

According to the Valley Vista Web Site: 

“In 2000, we broke ground on one of the first teaching gardens in the county. With a newly hired Garden Coordinator, we set out to educate our students about nutrition, ecology, health, life cycles of plants, cooking, and all the other wonderful lessons a teaching garden offers.”

“Currently, our kids all have 30 minutes of garden instruction  weekly focused on cooking/nutrition, stewardship (planting, garden maintenance, recycling etc.) and science. We have two 10 week programs running in the Fall and Spring.”