Category Archives: Gardening

Our Busy Summer Activities

We’ve had few opportunities to add more info to the website this summer as we are spending most of our time working outdoors away from the ol’ computer keyboard.  When we do get a chance to check up on the web, it’s usually to do research or source out more amazing and unique native and drought tolerant plant material for our local clients.  At Bay Gardens we’ve been busy helping out with many landscaping projects in the East Bay including jobs in Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland, Kensington, Piedmont and elsewhere as time permits.  Installing Drip Lines,  building Garden Boxes,  and planting a variety of edible landscaping jobs have been the main thrust of our activities.

Susan Busy At Work For Bay Gardens
Busy Moving Plants Around To Their New Homes As Usual

One of the more rewarding talks I gave this year was an Earth Day presentation to residents of a senior living complex near Grand Lake in Oakland, where i was able to answer questions, share insights as well as some helpful gardening tips & techniques. Through that opportunity I was able to meet some wonderful elder gardeners, who’ve I’ve since been able to return and assist with their patio garden projects. Another new client of mine is an older poet, and his wife, a wonderful artist, who I hope to inspire in some way by bringing new life to their lovely Oakland Hills garden, one already dotted with native California wildflowers with the backdrop a wild canyon.

Collaborating with other garden designers, visiting nurseries, as well as bidding on new projects and planning additional features for the many gardens and maintenance projects we do has also kept us occupied. Next on the immediate Bay Gardens agenda is getting trained and certified in Gray Water installation so we can help our clients with conserving and re-appropriate their wash water on their properties for garden usage.

I am excited to work with plants, and would love to hear from you about your outdoor space, your plans and how perhaps I can help in some way to get you closer to your gardening goals in the near future. Feel free to leave me a message through the website here or call the number posted. In my next post here. I plan to go over some of the activities I recommend be undertaken for the busy late summer and early fall planting season.

This Moment In American Horticulture


This moment in American horticulture is a unique one, as this country’s health crisis has us all hopefully reassessing diet, our global food production methodology, and our national role in the resource depletion & climate change occurring on the planet. A sliver of hope emerges from the storm clouds, as a new consciousness is arising in America that people don’t have to wait to start working with the planet, instead of constantly against it. It was in this spirit that I started my Bay Gardens landscaping & edible gardening business, leaving behind the false promises of the fashion industry, and it’s production chain that was inconsistent with my personal core values.

As we digest the nightly news, with it’s plethora of stories on peak oil & nasty spills, nuclear & chemical disasters, salmonella and e-coli poisoning outbreaks, more folks around here awaken to the fact they don’t need to have salad greens trucked over a 1000 miles when they can grow their own. Why settle for produce that are chosen by companies only because they are uniform in shape and can withstand long distance hauling when you can have flavorful & unique local and heirloom varieties?

I have long noted a trend towards edible gardening and food growing over the past two decades. A 2010 story featured on NPR, mentioned the 4,000 registered users who logged onto website from the U.S. to Italy, Israel and Hong Kong who actively tend greens even in cramped city apartments. Retail behemoth Home Depot reported a 30% uptick in vegetable seed sales after the 2008 banking crash and Burpee said they were selling more vegetable seed than flower seed for the 1st time in the company’s 130+ year history. Apparently for the 1st time in 150 years, according to statistical data, nationally more farms are being started than closing. 

A story I read in a spring 2010 LA Times highlighted a “a mini-boom in mini-farms” as “scores of businesses like My Backyard Farm in San Clemente, Your Backyard Farmer of Portland Oregon and Freelance Farmers of New Haven Connecticut” offer agricultural conveniences for those too busy to tend their own plots. This trend is only more prevalent today, as increasing numbers of people seek to grow at least some of their own food. It was a calling that prompted me to do the same at my homestead several years ago, and now, I regularly help empower others with the same knowledge & ability.

Rain water catchment and harvesting are also increasingly popular, as people and businesses across the country from Michigan, Texas to North Carolina to California install a range of solutions from simple barrels, and even large scale solutions to retain the water we desperately need for our landscaping and gardening needs. I can help you do the same on your property, whether with swales, barrels or cisterns, to prevent erosion from swift moving stormwaters, or just to provide a supplement to your regular EBMUD or Hetch Hetchy water use.

Here in the Bay Area, long a leader in environmental stewardship, many examples abound…

In Berkeley CA, we have likely heard how restauranteur Alice Waters created her acclaimed schoolhouse garden project that gets kids away from their desks and puts idle hands in the soil & into action, instead of into trouble. They learn the natural processes like propagation & composting onto chopping & cooking  to grow & prepare their own organic food.  This garden has now become an iconic example of a growing trend in school gardening projects.

In landscaping, many Americans turn away from the artifices & pest control paradigms of the past and an awareness and appreciation of nature is coming back into the fore. I took the Bay Friendly garden tour in Alameda County CA recently and saw numerous instances of people who removed their lawns and began creatively using low water plants to build habitat and create a sense of privacy & beauty without harming the planet.  Many had installed water catchment equipment, or in some cases even had chickens & bees as co-inhabitants onsite. These are things I endorse and encourage, have helped others accomplish,  and of course have done on my own property.

This is indeed a unique moment in American horticultural history, and we all have a role to play. Contact me with your ideas and questions about how to better fulfill the promise of stewarding your own small piece of land here in the Bay Area. I’d love to hear about your garden, and perhaps together we can increase it’s productivity and it’s role in your life and that of your family.

What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture Title Graphic

Knowing About My Background As A Certified Permaculturist, Occasionally People Ask Me Simply “What Is Permaculture” ?

I like to think of it as just using what you make and making what you use. I imagine my great grandparents did quite a bit of this on their dairy & hops farms in early 20th century.

The basic concepts, while shockingly underutilized in this modern era, are not necessarily new,  as many are built upon ancient agricultural techniques & wisdom.

The principles of Permaculture encourage a more harmonious circle of re-use in which less new material is brought in to the growing site & less materials are discarded & sent out to landfill.

Permaculture, is a relatively recent term, but it’s constant re-interpretation by it’s proponents can also incorporate new ways & technologies to foster water conservation, reduction of fossil fuel use & create less environmentally destructive means to food production.

Permaculture can be described as an all encompassing living theory, with a lifestyle embodying an overall attitude directed towards the creation of a living sustainable agricultural ecosystem.

As a horticultural methodology, Permaculture is implemented in a way where everything within the growing system is designed to maximize potential and minimize waste, eventually through creating an interconnected, stacking of functions.

A properly planned permaculture system can be self sustaining in many ways, which also means less eventual maintenance work for the gardener. Planted in a way that mimic natural settings, Permaculture projects feature plants that grow in a layered story, from the canopy above,  down to the ground cover and everything in-between. Landscapes planted in this matter allows the plants to thrive and care for one another symbiotically. The plants are more able to reach their full potential with a greater harvest.

Making and using compost is a very important part of closing the circle of re-use in Permaculture.  By keeping all of the kitchen scraps and yard waste out of the over taxed landfills, it reduces carbon dioxide and methane gas from being released into the atmosphere. Making your own compost, to be applied in your garden,  also allows you to know exactly what’s in it and prevent harmful foreign contaminants from entering your soil.  Whether making traditional compost or vermicompost,  both are vital nutrient rich soil conditioners that aid in water retention. Vermicompost is an easy to make organic fertilizer made utilizing earthworms to help breakdown green waste.

Raising chickens has many added benefits to a permaculture system, as well as being a source of eggs, and quite entertaining !  Worms can be fed scraps and even the chicken waste, and left to their own devices,  both worms & chickens will work hard at digesting greenwaste, and turning the soil for you. The fertilizers created by chickens and worms will increase soil fertility, helping create a wonderful cycle.

Beekeeping also has great benefits, while increasing the overall fertility of the garden through much needed pollination,  honey bees can also provide a source of really local honey and other useful by-products such as wax and pollen.

Some good examples of implementing Permaculture principles would be the use of solar (hardwired or passive), as in a greenhouse or cold frames.  Catching and using rainwater in barrels or cisterns lessens the amount of impact a gardener would use on municipal tap or well water.  Installing a basic graywater plumbing system that recycles either household laundry or shower water, and diverts it into the landscape is a re-use project in tune with the principles of Permaculture. These energy conservation methods are wonderful ways to reduce wasting of precious resources in the garden.

In creating a permanent system using the ideas mentioned above, you are utilizing a natural gardening methodology that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels, that doesn’t pollute the environment, that builds rather than erodes topsoil. Permaculture is a way to work with the land to create harvest methods that support biodiversity and are more productive than what have become the standard commercial methods that rely on pesticides & destroying the soil every season.

If you wish to implement the principles of Permaculture to your garden, do get in touch with me, as I would be happy to consult on your project!