A naturalistic landscape design going under-appreciated

The company I work for recently moved in to a new corporate campus location in Foster City, CA, right by the San Mateo bridge. The site features 3 buildings (4 if you count a parking structure) surrounding a central quad, which features a berm and a naturalistic meadow planting bordered by trees.

A view of the quad from the 3rd floor of one of the buildings. Note the wind chop on the bay. I’ll come back to that.

The walkway along the main building’s border with the quad includes seating areas, and concrete “benches” that continue up into the grassy berm.

The benches in the meadow are a bit confusing to me. There’s no pathway, and while in a non corporate setting I might imagine feeling inspired to hang out in the sun up there in the middle of all those swaying grasses, given the professional context I probably wouldn’t actually do that. It will be interesting to see if I ever observe anyone wandering up in to the meadow (and it would be sort of a shame if no one ever does!).

My first impression of the design was happy surprise — I thought, wow how progressive to go so naturalistic in a corporate office park! Plus, I like how the grasses evoke the marshland that must have originally been here. But then, I am such a sucker for grasses and wistful, moody landscapes.

Check out the juxtaposition of the blowy grasses sparkling in the sun and the power lines and industrial tanks behind them.

I asked a few of my coworkers what they thought of the landscape design, and (perhaps not so unexpectedly) heard “stark”, “barren”, and “desolate”. One person commented that they thought maybe the landscape wasn’t yet fully installed. I can’t say I’m surprised by the general impression — perhaps in part because the San Diego office has a more formal landscape design, and in true Southern California style includes a considerable amount of outdoor meeting/socializing/work spaces. The San Diego office design is actually a pretty interesting mash up of formal spaces, native plants, and a naturalistic yet very artificial arroyo and koi pond (it’s lovely, don’t get me wrong). I’ve been meaning to do a blog post on that. But I digress. I think part of the challenge for the Foster City design is the fact that this location is so extremely windy. There are outdoor meeting/socializing areas, but I can’t imagine anyone lingering in any of them, and one of my coworkers specifically commented that it would have been nice if they’d included deliberate wind breaks in the landscaping. Maybe it will be less windy here come Fall/Winter? I’m doubtful. Or maybe once more of the plantings grow in that will help? The site isn’t completely done — a soccer field will be added on what is more or less the bay side of the current campus, so there’s more to come.

All corporate landscapes have to deal with the adjacent “nature”, and perhaps the more naturalistic the landscape the more complicated that relationship becomes. The southwest corner of the FC office campus has been taken over by a family of Canadian geese, who make their residency very well known to the users of the office buildings through the “presents” they leave behind on the walkways and the completely unused bocce court, and through their occasionally aggressive behavior. My gut reaction is to side with the geese, but then they’re an invasive species and this site isn’t actually home for them any more than it is for us corporate drones.

Here’s a shot of the goose family patrolling the perimeter.

Despite the absence of immediate appreciation the local professionals have for the landscaping, I wonder if the design is in fact serving its purpose. Maybe modern naturalistic design, no matter how artificially reconstructed it may be, serves a purpose if it makes those that experience the setting think about the windswept bayside marsh that must have been here at one point, harsh elemental exposure and all. And perhaps forcing some human-invasive bird negotiations will inspire some reflection on how to cope with these issues on a larger scale. It will be interesting to watch how this landscape grows in as the seasons change, and in particular as the site gets more use. It’s only at about 1/4 capacity right now. So perhaps these outdoor spaces will get more appreciation in the future.

Bloom Day June 2018

Summer has arrived in San Diego! That means a couple of things… First, it’s going to be dry and hot from here on out. Second, I need to let go of any vague intentions to add new plants until the Fall. And third, the flowering wind-down has begun.

But it’s not all bad. Eriogonum grande var. rubescens has burst on to the scene.

Along with its cousins, sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum something)…

Common buckwheat Eriogonum fasciculatum (I LOVE this plant by the way. It’s so lacy in appearance and yet tough as nails)…

…and giant buckwheat Eriogonum giganteum. My neighbor smartly pointed out how much it resembles cauliflower (she was about 7 at the time).

The native type Palo verde is done flowering, but Desert Museum is still going strong.

Hesperaloe parviflora “brakelights”

The chuperosa Justicia californica is confused and keeps on flowering because its near a micro spray.

Verbena bonariensis

Gomphrena fireworks (a bit blurry)

Globe amaranth of some kind (and colors)

An echinacea! I usually kill these so don’t keep your hopes up that we’ll see this again…

Desert penstemon. (I sure have a lot of pink going on in June.)

Matilija poppy Romneya coulteri

Digiplexis “Illumination flame”

Kangaroo paws Anigozanthos NOID are fueling a lot of hummingbird fights these days (with Salvia clevelandii in the foreground… also inspiring hummingbird angst)

Little tiny flowers on the Euphorbia leucodendron

And a NOID epiphyllum that is utterly spent.

Signing off for June! (For bloom day at least). Have a fabulous weekend.

Belated Bloom Day: May 2018

This month I figured I’d focus on the front yard, but its looking awfully bleak to me now that the poppies are done. Still, there’s this exuberant fleabane of unknown species (Erigeron something). These guys are on irrigation so they get a little out of hand this time of year.

Anigozanthos (not sure which one):

Hibiscus from a big box store

Camissonia: This is such a great plant — and tough, too! Little wonder I suppose, given that its a native.

One of my very favorite natives is blooming. I think this is a variety of Eriogonum umbellatum, but I’m not sure which one.

Manfreda Silver Leopard

Cleveland and Black sage (Salvia clevelandii and Salvia mellifera)

Island Mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora from Annie’s annuals)

Another favorite native, Eriogonum giganteum, isn’t quite open yet. Next month!

The plantlets are starting to pop on the Agave desmettiana stalks. Sure, they’re not flowers, but still noteworthy. That purple blur in the background is more Salvia clevelandii.

So I just have to pause here and say I didn’t realize quite how much natives dominate my garden. I’m certainly a native plant advocate, but there are just way too many interesting plants in the world for me to ever actually commit to an all-native garden. But yet… I nearly have! I blame it on negligence: the exotics under my care have a tough time of it.

On to a sampling of the backyard, where there are a few things that deserve to be mentioned.

First, the Achillea x ‘Moonshine’ is just glorious right now.

Penstemon heterophyllus X ‘Margarita BOP’ positively glows

I’ve got two different chalk Dudleyas here: I need to spend some time figuring exactly which these are. The flowers might be kind of plain but the hummingbirds really like them.

A potted Euphorbia lambii is blooming

Tiny little white flowers on a Rhipsalis (I think? No idea which one).

Finally, the epiphyllum cactus is about to open. The angle of bud changed dramatically today. The 2 additional buds are still doing ok — if they make it this will be the first time I’ve ever gotten one of these to produce more than 1 bloom.

I went out to check it at 10pm: still not open. Stay tuned!

This bloom day report is a nod to Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Weekend Update

This weekend was the beginning of the end of the poppy season. I suppose the season had already started to end on its own, with more seed pods than flowers the last couple of weeks.

As always the poppies were wonderful while they lasted. Every spring I am amazed by the show of orange. The were at their peak weeks ago….

…and this weekend it was time to start pulling them out of the ground. I left a few plants that still had buds left, but they’ll be done soon. It certainly looks a lot more bare now but seasons change.

This weekend I also spent some time refreshing some pots on the back patio.

And I finally put something (a NOID echeveria ) in one of the Dustin Gimbel pots.

Chuck made new side table out of some California sumac remnants. It sort of looks like an antelope… or a spider. It’s in a perfect spot to keep the Rhipsalis nicely shaded all day.

I did a little rearranging of the patio. Still a work in progress but here’s how I left it for now.

The epiphyllum cactus that’s closest to opening still hasn’t. It also hasn’t dropped any of its other buds yet… fingers crossed I’ll get multiple flowers this time.

The flowers on the bloom stalk of the Agave in the backyard (stricta? Striata?) finally opened this weekend. I need to get to work on figuring out what it is: I have a chance now that I know what the flowers look like. Sadly… still no sign of pups.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend that gave you exactly what you needed.

On to Monday!

The Grandma Jacaranda

The jacaranda trees in San Diego are just starting to bloom. Yesterday evening I spotted this giant in South Park: it’s the biggest jacaranda tree I’ve ever seen! Usually these guys are relatively small, widely used as street trees. South Park is an older neighborhood, and I’m betting this tree has been here for many, many decades.

Too much time at the office (and on the road)

I’m back! I’ve been busy… first with 5 days at a conference, then with a rush of project milestones at work.

First, I was on the road at a medical conference for work in the lovely city of Austin, Texas.

This is a city with so much horticultural appeal it was host to the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling this past weekend. I was there for the prior weekend at the end of April, and sadly, didn’t see nearly enough of Austin during daylight hours. The convention center exhibit hall was where I spent most of my time there. But I did have a chance to catch up with some of my very favorite long distance colleagues, eat some amazing food, and sample a few of Austin’s local beers.

I made an meager attempt to catch the Bats from the Congress avenue bridge, but showed up too early, got hungry, and cut out for Indian food instead. Next time, Austin, I promise to have more fortitude. I’ll bring snacks.

Late April in Austin was all about the birds. The local great tailed grackle population was putting on quite the show, trying to impress one another with lots of enthusiastic whistling and carrying on that echoed off the downtown buildings. There were other, err, shenanigans down by the lake shore.

I have to say they out performed the mockingbirds by far.

I did have a couple of opportunities to do some walking around, spotting lots of agaves in bloom…

Gorgeous trees up by the capital building…

and these friendly little guys,

…plus a few snapshots of what Austin has to offer…

(Street Scene With Hyundai)

Definitely a city I need to visit again!

The Ray Snow

Ray, the Ceanothus in the front yard, has been putting on a quite a show of Blue flowers for the last couple of weeks.

Along the way the flowers start to drop off the tree, and accumulate on the pavement, like snow.

It really piles up after a few days….

… piling up on the plants underneath….

… cracks in the driveway…

And edging the sidewalk in blue even a little ways down the street.

Ray’s done by now for this year, but I like the psychedelic edge while it lasts.