Remembering 2005

In 2005, George W. Bush was inaugurated for his second term in office as the 43rd American president. I was not at all surprised when he won. I'm sure many of you will disagree, but I found it hard to identify the bigger nincompoop in the 2004 presidential race, George Bush or John Kerry. Anyway, it's over now.

The New England Patriots won their second consecutive Super Bowl and the Chicago White Sox beat the Houston Astros to win the World Series for the first time since 1917. That meant nothing to me, but my dad found it all very meaningful.

The Oscar for best film went to Million Dollar Baby, which I never saw. My favorite movie in 2005 took place in sun-drenched southern California...
"If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving! I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!"
My favorite album that year must have been Loretta Lynn's incomparable Van Lear Rose, made with the White Stripes' Jack White. I listened to it incessantly.
In a booth in the corner with the lights down low
I was movin' in fast and she was takin' it slow, uh huh
Well I looked at him and caught him lookin' at me
I knew right then we were playin' free in Oregon...
What other events serve as 2005 milestones? Pope John Paul II died in 2005. So did Rosa Parks. Richard Pryor. James Doohan (Star Trek's Scotty). Anne Bancroft. Peter Jennings. Terry Shiavo...

The Huygens probe landed on Saturn's largest moon (Titan) and I thought that was cool. YouTube went online. French doctors performed the first human face transplant.

And this was my garden, as seen from my deck.


It may seem hard to believe, but back in 2005, noone Embellished the Tropics. Fairegarden fairies remained deep in seclusion.

The Transplantable Rose sat around bare-root waiting for Annie to dig a hole for it in her Austin garden. Pam wasn't Digging yet either.

Gardeners, though somewhat Intoxicated, were not yet Ranting or Going Wild, let alone making careful Studies in Contrasts.

The phrase Miller Time had nothing to do with gardening.

And--I just checked--get this: In all of 2005, Carol only Dreamed of May...twice.

Considering all that, you may be surprised to learn there was a little bit of whoreticulture happening in San Francisco. But it was still very cold and calculating. Nothing to attract the notice of real gardeners, that's for sure. How could it? I knew NOTHING about gardening.

Here you can see what level of thrill moved your erstwhile blogger to take pictures back then:

the new girl

Yeah, fabulous retaining wall, chuck b. Armeria as a focal point? Why the hell not! Mulching with sphagnum moss? Yep, just another fine example of thinking outside the box. (Lesson learned: Show a little respect for the box.)


Let's backtrack...

Guy and I closed escrow on October 31, 2003. There was no garden at that time, just a cheap sod job on heavy clay, with some ratty-looking lavender bushes in rows along the north- and south-facing fences. There was nothing to take a picture of. For a year or two, no pictures were taken.

Within a few months of moving in, we took out the lavender along the south-facing fence and planted bamboo, for privacy. It grew fast but mostly weeped and never formed the screen we had in mind.


We came in to possession of a 20-g ceramic pot, and put a Meyer lemon in it. I'd always wanted a lemon tree. We killed two or three Meyer lemons before getting it right a couple years later.


(Oh yeah, that lush green grass? Miracle Gro.)

At the time when we planted the bambooo, there was no deck or back steps yet, or even a backdoor. We had all that work done in January 2005.

deck 065

deck cable 004

deck cable 006

If anything, this is where the garden really began, not with bamboo or a containerized lemon tree. The deck and the stairs re-defined the backyard space and gave us the impetus to come down here and do stuff.

Guy went first. One weekend in June he put in this cobblestone landing and path to connect the stairs to the garage so we wouldn't have to walk through the mud anymore.


He saw a guy in a store parking lot with a truck bed full of cobblestones and inquired if they might be for sale. He said yes.


He was a contractor taking them out of a yard in Noe Valley. His assistant delivered 80 of them to our garage door for $200.

These cobbles came to San Francisco on boats in the 19th century as sailing ballast. San Franciscans have been finding new uses for them ever since. Sewer walls in the old parts of town are made with these rocks. You see them used as edging material in city parks. Road repair crews still dig them up from time to time when they find sections of old cobblestone street under layers of asphalt.

Simply called 'San Francisco cobbles' or 'SF cobbles', you can find them for sale at Bay Area stone yards for $2-3 per stone. We've probably spent another $500-600 on cobbles since this first purchase. Who knows where our cobbles have been, or what new uses they will find when Guy and I ultimately leave this house.

Since the deck construction doomed the lawn underneath it, this was among the first places where I started to plant. I learned a lot about cultivating clay soil here. And ruined many clothes doing so.

shade garden aug 18 2005

I also learned that hosta and lily of the valley must be nice in gardens elsewhere, but not in Bernal Heights. Sadly, I wasted a year reading east coast garden books. Well, I was clueless. And I'm not even going to tell you about the swarms of flies I fed for months with my early composting efforts, or how I tried to snuff them out by shoveling garden dirt on to the compost pile. (No, that never works. Add shredded newspaper instead, and lots of it. Then wet it down and add yard waste. Once the true composting begins, you can add all the food waste you want. No more flies.)

It's hard now to recollect all the ideas and rationales behind the early design choices. Those were heady days, as my mind swirled with new possibilities. On many levels, I was starting to change inside too, into the gardener you know about now.

My southern neighbor's yard was still a neglected, overgrown forest that shaded half my yard. This picture would have been mid-day in summer; you can see where the shadow is. Lavenders on the north-facing fence had to go.


I kept going with the path...


For awhile there, I thought a series of quick, 90 degree turns would be just the thing. That didn't last long.


It was also during this period that I stumbled upon a mystery.

iron mystery bar

Just below the soil surface, I discovered the tip of an old iron bar set vertically in the ground while I was laying down cobblestone path. I excavated three feet down and still the bar wouldn't budge. At length, I gave up trying, and changed the path. The mysterious iron bar remains in place, buried in the garden for some other person to find at some future date.

iron mystery bar, detail

As the path evolved, so it carved out some planting beds. I fell in love with flowering maple (Abutilon sp). Why not plant four of them right next to each other? Nice! ("Nice!"--Are you hearing the sarcasm in my voice?)


I still have the peachy-yellow one on the left, and you see it all the time in my Bloom Day posts because it always has flowers. The others are long gone.

This is the early version of my first raised bed, before I thought of using the cobbles to, you know, raise the bed. First, I had to convince myself that a pile dirt would not be sufficient.


From up on the deck, it wasn't so bad, once the plants started to grow.

view from deck of phase one

Do you see the red plant material in the lower left? You'll never guess what that is. It's a hanging basket of red Rhipsalis that I bought online from the Tropical Gardens of Maui. Of all the weird, random things that I did as a young gardener, I have to say a) stumbling on the Tropical Gardens of Maui online, b) reading through the entire Tropical Gardens of Maui website, c) identifying plants for purchase from the Tropical Gardens of Maui, and d) and purchasing tropical plants from the Tropical Gardens of Maui probably reveals more about me than anything else I can tell you. I'll just leave it at that. Draw your own conclusions.

By November, I still had a lot to learn (and the Rhipsalis was long gone, of course--and replaced by a bird feeder that attracted mice and produced more weeds than I can tell you about; it's also long gone), but I was starting to get the hang of things a little bit. And I had my first gnome. See him? That's Butternut.

bottom stairs

Meet my other great folly of 2005, the water feature.

deck view 1

For gardeners, the lure of the water feature, esp a pond-based water feature, is so compelling, so alluring, so intoxicating, so all-consuming, you pretty much have to just go there to see how it works for you. Because once the notion of having a pond grabs you, it will never let go, no matter how hard you try to escape it.

This is actually my second pond. The first one came and went in the space of a Labor Day weekend without ever being photographed. I fell under the charms of Ortho's All About Garden Pools and Fountains and became convinced that I could bang out a flexible-liner garden pond all by myself without any kind of experience building anything, ever. I won't go into it... I'll just say leveling the top of the pond on unlevel grade is very, very difficult and certainly not for the ordinary novice. That's all.

Anyway, when I accepted reality without a flexible liner pond in my garden, I still had a big hole in the ground--pretty much the entire planted area you see here + kidney-shaped pond. I decided to try a pre-formed liner version instead. The pre-formed pond was much easier to level, but I was never happy with the edging. It looked fake and obvious and I could never hide that. The raccoon who came by every night to knock rocks and dirt in the pond didn't care about the pond's facile fakeness. It was a just a gas to him, and he partied like it was 1999. A month spent cleaning up raccoon mess and replanting unplanted plants finally put me off the water feature. Even today, I have no interest in one. We have a birdbath. I'm good.

Come back soon and I'll tell you how things turned around for me in 2006. We'll talk about the advent of garden blogs and how they inspired me to a) garden, and b) garden blog. I'll finish discussing the path and we'll do some before/after comparisons.


Brieannon said...

Great and hilarious post. I think I'm going through similar growing pains at the moment. But it's all fun. Time consuming, but fun. It's nice to see gardeners open up about where they think they went wrong, and laugh at their youthfulness. Makes me feel a little better about the many embarrassments I have in my gardening past (and present).

Carol Michel said...

Fascinating! Can't wait to read about 2006. You've come a long way in four years. BTW, I have no pond either, I know where I would put one but feel like I would need a professional to put it in for me, so it just hasn't been a priority. I do have a bubbler fountain by the front door.

(Yes, my blog got off to a very s*l*o*w start.)

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Unknown said...

This was a very good read!

JT said...

Thanks for the perspective on garden blogs and the evolution of your garden. I have a shoe box full of plant tags on which I had written the dates and locations of planting. More than I like to admit are also marked "muerto" or "86". But enough have survived, even thrived and the garden has become a riotous mishmosh of plants that is my haven.

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

This is great! I love seeing how gardens evolve, especially from their beginnings.

Hard to believe you've only been gardening for four years. Would never have known it.

Anonymous said...

Fun watching your garden change into the amazingly luxurious melange it is now. Look forward to the next installment.

Anonymous said...

What a great entry! For me, this year is my version of your 2005.

Maggie said...

Love, love, love your blog (and also a big fan of Van Lear Rose!).
xo, M

Annie in Austin said...

What a portmanteau post, Chuck - with hints the story could be a novel if you told us everything. I like the part about the path, deck and steps making the garden really take off.

Four years seems a short time to garden and a long time to have a blog. I went back and read some early posts because I didn't find you right away. You were always eclectic and had the knack of linking to interesting things right away - yours were great blogs from the very beginning.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Frances said...

Hi Chuck, what a hoot! And thanks for the link love too. I have been stopping by your place for many years, and always came away with a smile for your enthusiasm. Your garden has matured along with the gardener. So many rookie mistakes we all have made. Need a rock wall? Just lay a couple at the edge and there you have it. HA

heather and elaine said...

This was fantastic. I can't wait for the next installment. Thanks for the blog. I always enjoy it.

Brent said...

Nice retrospective.

That mysterious metal bar looks like it could be a ground rod.

Christopher C. NC said...

That was a fun post. Is the cement sidewalk along the back fence still there? If so you have hidden it very well.

Everyone wants to have a tropical garden. Why is that? Did you visit Tropical Gardens of Maui when you were there before? When I went it was looking a little let go.

In some ways this garden is my new 2005 beginner garden blog. Otherwise I'd have to start in my childhood for the very beginning.

Ann Atkinson said...

Great post, Chuck! What a wonderful story. How great we can all laugh at your early mistakes. Oh wait: We all made (still make?)many mistakes in our gardens, too. Thanks for showing us it's normal ;-)Keep on gardening, Chuck!

chuck b. said...

I'm glad so many people enjoyed my embarrassing reveal. :)

I did think grounding rod, but so far from the house, and why so hard to extract? Anyway, that would certainly be the simplest suggestion.

Annie, I have a novel I want to write, for sure. Not about my garden, but about gardening. Must find a writing class.

Pam/Digging said...

Have you really been blogging since 2005? You're an old-timer!

Thanks for the shout-out. I wasn't blogging yet in 2005, but I was obsessively reading the few I had found and planning my own, which I started in 2006.

I love how you point out that your garden really started with the deck and stairs that gave you access to the back yard. Hardscaping is the catalyst for many a garden's beginning. And your comment about abutilons cracked me up because I've just found them this year and have come close to making that same mistake out of misplaced enthusiasm. Eek!

And, oh, I'm still laughing about the water feature experiment. You'll know why when you read my post tomorrow.

Entangled said...

That's an impressive transformation in just 4 years - both garden and gardener!

Jenn said...

Ah, I guess I've earned the grey in my hair.
2005, eh?

Love your unfolding tale, can't wait to read the next installment.

Chloe Marguerite said...


Thank you so much for sharing the delightful tale of you and your garden's evolution. I am always happy to see the transformation ( or sometimes growing pains) of other gardens...

Chloe M.

ryan said...

Really interesting and entertaining. I wish I had more photos from my first days and the courage to show them off.
I didn't know those cobbles came over as ballast. I demo'ed a bunch of them the first san francisco job i ever did.

Les said...

Fascinating post! I love how people new to gardening latch onto things they want and try them, grow them or build them - regardless if the plant will grow in their gardens, if it is a good design principle or if there is anyone around to tell them it is a bad idea. Perhaps with increased knowledge and experience gardeners lose some of that innocence. Thanks for sharing your beginnings, I look forward to the next installment.

cdillon said...

Oh, Chuck B, you are the most generous soul. Your pictures are a delight. Thank you for sharing your beginning. Bless your eyes and heart.
Keep up the great work!!