They’re Changing The Landscape…

…And Building Community At St. James and Petaluma’s Cavanagh Recreation Center…

…Two Stories For The Easter Weekend…

St. James Community Garden…

Starting literally from scratch a few months ago, the St. James Community Garden continues to grow…in production as well as in land under cultivation. Lois Pearson advises that this month they plan on building two additional sections and planting  twelve more fruit trees.

The project is driven by dedicated volunteers and fueled by donations of materials and volunteer hours. In addition, money has been raised by numerous fund-raising events.

One of the fund-raisers was a recent garden mosaic tile workshop where people could learn how to make stepping stones for their own garden or for the St. James Community Garden. At the end, 79 stones were created–15 of which were created for use in the garden.

According to the instructor, Mari Philo: “We had all age ranges in the classes. The youngest was 4, the oldest in their 80’s.  We had families, singles, partners and even a couple of walk-ins.  Every mosaic stepping stone turned out absolutely unique and beautiful–stones representing crosses, hearts, animals, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, flowers, abstract and more. Some people made one, some two, and some even four at a time.”

Photos from the St. James Mosaic Tile Class 

Individual photos may be enlarged by clicking on them.


Petaluma’s Cavanagh Recreation Center…

In May of last year, on some of the hottest days of the year, volunteers working with the City Of Petaluma transformed the landscape around the Cavanagh Recreation Center from lawn to low water landscaping.  (See Petaluma Gets Its Sheet (Mulch) Together…)

When I learned that Daily Acts had scheduled another volunteer workday for March 26, 2010, I decided it was a great opportunity to follow-up on the story. I was more than impressed with what I found.  The landscape was thriving and ready for the second stage of planting and completion of the rain garden.  Frankly, I was a little jealous that some of their plantings were not only larger than mine were—they were already in bloom. 

A little Garden Envy, I suppose…

Photos from the Cavanagh Recreation Center Workday 

Individual photos may be enlarged by clicking on them.

Ladybugs…(Look Closely)


City Hall–Gone to Seed? UPDATE!

In my earlier post on the new City Hall landscape (See City Hall–Gone to Seed?) I said: “It was not clear to me who was going to oversee the (ongoing) maintenance of the new landscape.  At the time I thought it might be a volunteer group, but I later learned that maintenance was to be the responsibility of the City of Petaluma.”

As an elaboration on this point, I received an e-mail from Jane Hamilton of Rebuilding Together Petaluma (RTP) which adds further detail. It is included here with Jane’s permission…

“Rebuilding Together Petaluma was to supply the volunteers and event management, Daily Acts was to supply the expertise, training and design input, and Petaluma Bounty was to provide expertise, design input and ongoing oversight and maintenance of the vegetable planter boxes and community garden portion,  while maintenance and completion of the grounds surrounding City Hall was to be the sole responsibility of the City of Petaluma, as is the maintenance of all of their properties. The non-profits involved did their part beautifully. Now that its spring, I am sure the City must have imminent plans to fulfill their part.”

With respect to the last sentence in Jane’s e-mail, I hope that is the case.

City Hall–Gone to Seed?

Last November, I wholeheartedly praised the community effort to convert the turf area around City Hall to a low water landscape. See New Landscape at City Hall–post mortem thoughts 

Without a doubt, it was a major capital improvement carried out by volunteer groups working closely with the City of Petaluma.

But I also cautioned:

…the euphoria and enthusiasm (which I share) generated by the event must be tempered with the realization that the work is not done.  We are starting our third year with a “transformed” sheet mulched (residential) landscape and have no regrets.  Nevertheless, it does require monitoring, weeding and some pruning. From time to time, plants die and have to be replaced.

Going forward, the new City Hall landscape will demand the same attention, albeit on a scale larger than a residential yard. While turf maintenance and turf water demands have been eliminated, there will be maintenance of a different kind requiring different knowledge– and yes, the new landscape will require some water.

It was not clear to me who was going to oversee the maintenance of the new landscape.  At the time I thought it might be a volunteer group, but I later learned that maintenance was to be the responsibility of the City of Petaluma.

To get to the point quickly–The project succeeded. The maintenance has not. In fact, to date, it has been nonexistent…

They may have eliminated the need and expense of lawn maintenance, but the new landscape, while it does not need lawn mowers and chemical sprayers, requires maintenance skill sets of a different kind. 

In short, it needs the regular supervision and maintenance by someone who knows how to care for a variety of plantings and who knows…

  • When to irrigate and in what amounts
  • When to prune
  • What to prune
  • When to harvest the vegetables
  • When to replenish the mulch layers
  • When to replace the dead plants

On March 17, 2010 I toured the new City Hall landscape with camera to document the current state of the landscape since its completion in October 2009. It was not a pretty sight. For a complete photo album, see City Hall Landscaping…A Neglected Project?

Normally I like to offer suggestions, but in this case I am not able to do so. I seriously doubt there are any funds in the City budget to secure this service.  That leaves volunteers as an alternative.  But I really think it is unfair, not to mention unrealistic, to expect volunteers with the required skills to take on the regular management of a landscape of this size.

In the meantime, the weeds continue to spread.

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

The Great Petaluma Squash Mystery

By way of background, we are in our second year of serving as caretaker to our new Habitat Landscape– the former front lawn. While we have remained generally faithful to the dictates of low water native plantings, I have also experimented with various other plants. To put it simply, if I get a seed, I’m inclined to plant it to see what happens.

A certain resident of the West Side, who sometimes writes as Emperor Norton II  gave us some acorn squash seeds. Now at this point I must step out of the narrative line to point out that I do not have a clue about squashes of any kind.  However, my wife said she liked acorn squash (although I don’t remember her ever eating one) so I planted the seeds.

And they grew. Lord, did they grow. Monster plants with monster fruit.

Now I, not knowing anything about what an acorn squash is supposed to look like, kept tending  the plants.  Then my wife suggested that they did not look like acorn squash and pointed one out at the grocery store.  Sure enough, they did not look the same.  But a photo will allow you to be the judge of what was growing in our Habitat…

Name That Squash

I presented the above “evidence” to the seed provider, Norton II and demanded an explanation. He demurred, harvested the evidence and returned home.

Later he submitted a written response–through his lawyer…


We have secured further evidence in the ongoing case of the Squash Caper (no not capers). 

It seems that the seed supplier–who now is hiding behind his lawyer (me) and refusing to talk to the press–was saving both acorn squash seed and spaghetti squash seed, and dried them appropriately.  But without admitting guilt or assuming responsibility (To quote  Simpson, himself a recovering attorney: “We admit nothing! We deny everything!  We demand uncontroverted proof!”), there is a possibility that when the seeds went into an envelope and got labeled, that seed labeled as acorn squash and given to one Frank Simpson, as part of a TARP (Total Acorn Reparation Program) Bailout might have been mislabeled and might have been in fact spaghetti squash seed.  

While we stipulate to the facts of the obvious results that what actually grew in Simpson’s yard did behave and look like a spaghetti squash, and in fact looks increasingly like a spaghetti squash as it gets closer to maturity, and in fact said squashes grown by Simpson are exhibiting a slight yellowing around the stem as they mature, we will not accept any financial or punitive responsibility for the resources expended by Simpson, his worker bees, or his habitat birds in the growing of spaghetti squash advertised as acorn squash, insofar as the seeds in question, once transfered to Simpson’s custody were no longer under constant surveillance and may have been switched by nefarious evildoers, and the planting of said seed was performed without observation by opposing counsel making it in fact impossible to be certain the source of the plants actually placed in the ground that produced the offensive squash. 

Furthermore, as Simpson has destroyed all evidence of the plants themselves by their removal from his habitat it is now claimed by us that the squash in question, presented by Simpson as evidence, cannot be confirmed as the squash that were growing in his habitat in that they were picked without the presence of  Norton II’s counsel to observe, and were in fact picked before they had the opportunity to reach their full potential as living spaghetti squashes.   

Because those raised by nuns were taught not to waste food, Norton II intends to keep the evidence presented by Mr. Simpson and see if they will continue to ripen in his root cellar and attain a more yellow color, at which point Norton II will attempt to consume them with homemade tomato sauce. 

Case closed

Dewey, Cheatum & Howe Esq et. al. etc.


READER NOTE: For an update on the Petaluma Strawberry Scene (Click Here)


Petaluma Gets Its Sheet (Mulch) Together…

More and more people have been acting to reduce or eliminate their lawns–not a bad idea in our part of the world considering our water supply limitations and drought conditions. I have reason to believe that Petaluma’s Stage One Emergency Contingency Plan for water use reduction may be called into play sooner rather than later. I suspect that Stage Two may not be far behind.

Recently, the City of Petaluma decided to join the sheet-mulching lawn conversion community after persuasion by Trathen Heckman, Daily Acts and David Iribarne, Water Conservation Coordinator for the City of Petaluma. 

The first sheet-mulching project on city property was at the Cavanagh Recreation Center in Petaluma, May 15-17… 

Day 3  May 17 010

Yovanna Biebereich provides the background for this project in her recent Argus Courier Article

Over the hot weekend, volunteers and members of Daily Acts transformed the almost 2000 sq ft. of turf using the sheet mulching technique. Several landscapers and landscaping companies also donated their time.  Other landscapers/permaculturalists did the design work, mainly Erik Ohlson of Permaculture Artisans and Patrick Picard of Equinox Landscapes.

Approximately 150 people registered and/or participated in some or all of the events and workshops related to the event…Day 1  May 15 001

Even better, some pledged to get rid of their lawns (Names redacted by yours truly)…

Day 3  May 17 011

On Saturday, Mayor Torliatt stopped by to check things out…Day 2  May 16 007

The volunteers braved the heat (assisted by occasional cooling hosings) to complete the project…

End of The Day 016End of The Day 020

The temperature presented a bit of a challenge, particularly on Sunday, when it hit 96 degrees as measured by my thermometer.  I did manage to collect photos from all three days to document the transformation of the lawn areas.

To get a sense of the day, you can view the photo album by Clicking Here.  When the program opens, take advantage of the full screen option.