Archive for the Plantings Category

Plot to Grow Art: site overview


A canvas of fresh soil for current and future plantings.

The Plot to Grow Art is a circular willow fenced area on the North side of the Kezar Triangle dedicated to growing ideas that help connect people to place through temporary plantings and agriculture. Several times a year, with the help of volunteers, plants will grow and be harvested to reflect a particular theme or concept. It might be an agricultural crop, a useful natural dye or plant with historical significance. Cover crops will be interspersed between them to improve the soil and provide groundcover.

Have a suggestion or planting idea you’d like to propose? Consider joining the Kezar Triangle Arts Coalition and let us know what you think!

The Plot is volunteer run and open to all (although please be considerate of the plantings, it’s not a dog run!).   :-)

FIRST CROP:   Organic Barley (Hordeum Vulgare)


Plot to Grow Art: Barley


Hordeum Vulgare

(Planting March – harvest June, 2014)

A small sign at the entrance of the Plot to Grow Art reads:

Beautiful barley with a nice view of the tall stalks on the North end.

In the 1860’s during the initial planning of Golden Gate Park, the windswept sandy soil of this area posed a unique challenge to park landscapers. After many failed planting attempts, it was noticed that barley spilled from the feed bags of horses was sprouting, temporarily stabilizing the dunes. Once established and combined with other plantings such as yellow lupine and sea bent grass, the shifting sands were transformed. Further layers of topsoil, manure and mulch were added over the years and by 1873, the park could sustain a wide range of vegetation. During that time, park stables were located next to Kezar Stadium. Is it possible this sprouted barley was first noticed here?

Barley has been chosen as the first crop to be planted at the Plot to Grow Art because of its historical connection to the area. This important crop first grew here by accident and it was because of barley that Golden Gate Park became possible.


The process:

This was the first official planting of the Plot to grow art. The site was previously lawn and then served as the spot for tractors and equipment during the construction phase. We had no idea how good the soil would be so this first crop allowed us to take a “snapshot” of the soil underneath using the first crop that helped essentially do the same for Golden Gate Park. We added additional soil and compost from the nearby CommUNITY Garden and then after a little blessing of the site, planted the area with the help of volunteers and then let the irrigated field, sunlight and barley do its work. Never knew watching grass grow could be so fascinating…

As the barley grew and began to seed it became very clear that the soil quality was wildly inconsistent providing visual testament to the conditions underneath. Some spots were really sparse and scruffy while others were abundant and lush.

A full stalk of barley next to an underdeveloped one.

The North end produced tall and healthy grain while the South end barley was short and produced few grains per plant. Look at the difference! The barley plants were also beginning to ripen unevenly as well. The seed was organic, and it was grown without any chemicals but it became clear that the soil deserved some serious love before a full harvest would be possible. Rather than harvesting the barley bit by bit as it ripened and increasing the chance of fallen grain mixing in with the soil with each attempt, we decided to cut the grain early and return it all to the Earth as a gift. We have future crops planned so it made sense to really build up the soil to make it easier for future plantings to thrive.

Adam Huggins volunteered his scything and farming skills to harvest this first crop.

The green grains were unripe and unlikely to germinate but would make excellent groundcover and organic material to protect the next planting: a California native annual, lupine. In keeping with the history of Golden Gate park in which lupine was added to the barley and sea bent grass, this next planting will feature a field of the purple-blue flowered nitrogen fixing plants and serve to build the soil up even further.

So on a windy cool Saturday in mid-June, after scything the grain, digging up the earth and piling the cut barley into a mound in the center, then adding compost to the entire field, our extraordinary artist and permaculture friend Adam Huggins and I (Sam Bower) planted presoaked and scoured lupine seed throughout the planting area. The day was a bit windy and cool and gorgeous and lots of neighbors and friends stopped by as we worked.

A bag of seed + water + sun + air + soil grew into an exhalation of green and back into a pile of hay.

Central area and small path left unplanted.

The lupine (specifically the annual Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus, Crop #2) seeding was a remarkable family effort, since Adam’s grandfather harvested the seed from a single plant, his father then hand sanded and soaked the seeds the night before (to ensure easier germination), and Adam and I finished the harvest and new planting. It’s a bit late for lupine planting in SF so we’ll have to see how they do. Fingers crossed!

Very satisfying, though, to see the whole process through and complete the effect by adding a gap for a walkpath and a future contemplation spot (we’ll probably set down a few temporary bricks down) in the center of the field. Before harvesting the barley, Adam and I meditated in the field and found the soft sound of the tall grains in the wind and the protected space incredibly beautiful. Future visitors should get the same chance to enjoy plantings comfortably from the inside!

Very grateful to SFRPD for the generous use of their tools, advice and supervision of the process. The current plan is to try planting barley again next year and bring it to a full harvest of grain which we will then distribute to neighbors.

Adam Huggins and Sam Bower after a beautiful day's work in the sun.

Lots of smiling visitors on Saturday suggesting we brew beer with it all when we get an actual crop and our answer: we’ll help it grow it and then you can make soup, tea, bread or homebrew or whatever you want with it. Very nice to feel part of the spirit of the original San Francisco Diggers coming through the idea of growing grain in the park. Would be nice to envision yearly picnics, clowning (with help from the nearby Circus Center?) and permaculture education at the Triangle in the years ahead. Public urban parks able to balance recreation as well as artful community foodscapes and wild food forests as well as biodiverse native plant and wildlife refuges would be nice but we have a long way to go for that. For now, temporary plantings in a little circular plot in the Kezar Triangle will have to do as seed thoughts for the future.  :)

Before and After

Inspired by the rephotography movement, we recreated a few images of the Kezar Triangle from our original photos of the site before any of the recent improvements.

This is the view from the Southeast corner near the native plant garden maintained by local landscaping champion Greg Gaar. You can see the steep slope, stumble-encouraging drop off and the eroded path heading across the field. The improvements included native plantings, grading near the steep edges as well as the handicap accessible pathways that opened up the central field area. Notice also the tree silhouettes on the horizon. 2013 saw some old cypress tree pruning and clearing by the Rec and Park tree crew along Whiskey Hill as well as a couple trees with dangerous branches that were removed from the East end of the Triangle.

This is a mid-field view looking towards the Southeast corner. You can see the spot where the previous two photos were taken long Lincoln Way near Arguello Blvd. The irrigation systems for the Triangle were old and had to be accessed manually.  The sprinkler heads would get covered with dirt and were hard to find and were often located using a metal detector each Spring! The image on the left shows a leaky pipe making a puddle while just a bit further along the fields were dry and full of gophers. Irrigation system upgrades were the largest single expense for the new improvements but they should save water and help the gardeners spend their time much more efficiently. You can still see the changes in sod on the Triangle showing where the underground pipes are. It’s interesting to imagine the underground network of water mains and piping that make the landscaping possible. While we did choose native plants with low water needs, the Triangle still depends on irrigation to look good.

You’ll notice the eroded dirt paths going through the middle of the Triangle from this photo on the left.  Muddy trenches in the winter with dry ruts in the summer, the new pathways now address these issues and skirt around the edge of the meadow opening up more space for discus throwing, picnics and free play areas.  The new paths are “NaturePave” – decomposed granite with a binder – and are ADA compliant, smooth and easy for wheelchairs, strollers, bikes and even skateboards to roll on. We also worked with the SF Department of Public Works to add a new pedestrian crosswalk at the North end. The new path is slightly to the East of the old path to provide easy access to both the old and new crosswalks for better safety. This photo is a view looking North towards Kezar Drive and the rest of Golden Gate Park.

From the sidewalk along Kezar Drive looking South you can really notice the new path changes. Not only are the old path scars healed with new sod but there are plantings and a low woven willow fenced area to protect the new peripheral plantings on the North and South ends.  The new walkway onto Kezar is just to the East (left) of here and splits the difference between the two crosswalks into the rest of Golden Gate Park (behind this location along the sidewalk).


Construction begins! Nov. 2013


It’s official.  

Work on the landscaping improvements at the Kezar Triangle is finally underway! Soon, the eroded dirt trails and patchy irrigation will be replaced with a new efficient watering system, improved accessible pathways and entry areas, native plantings along the periphery, spaces for temporary art, and an unobstracted central grass meadow for recreational activities.

fenced site

SFRPD has a page with contact information, too, as official recognition of the work in progress.  :)

NOTE:  Contractors are installing a temporary protective fence around the field beginning in November so work can begin on the lawn and irrigation excavation. Over the next months the remaining work will be completed and the Triangle should be open to the public and ready for discus practice in early 2014. It will take the young plants a while to get established but the bulk of the landscaping should be completed by then.  We’re very much looking forward to keeping you updated and getting the Kezar Triangle ready for its full potential in the years ahead.

Thank you, as always, for your support, helpful feedback and patience with the slow but important approval process all along the way.  Once the Triangle is reopened we will be looking for volunteers for gardening support and for participation in the Kezar Triangle Arts Coalition which will help plan activities and temporary installations for the site. Stay tuned and let us know how you might like to get involved!

Happy Autumn and hoping the weather smiles on the construction and planting process.


New Trees!

At 8:30am on a Friday morning, Carla Crane, Linda Chamorro and I (Sam Bower), met with Zack Taylor and his friendly crew of apprentice gardeners from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department to begin the first phase of the incremental transformation of the Kezar Triangle.  We’ve been advised to start small and work within what Golden Gate Park would want to do anyway, so we’ve begun with and got approval for the planting of 16 new trees along the northeastern edge of the Kezar Triangle!  We’re proud to welcome a mix of native coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) and California buckeyes (Aesculus californica or California Horse-chestnut).

Here’s the beautiful view as we walked to the site in the early morning facing East…

early morning

And so the digging began…

tree and hole

The first tree to be planted was one of the coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia).  You can see the others still in pots on the lawn.

the first tree!

Here’s a detail of one of the California Buckeye or Horse Chestnut trees (Aesculus californica) planted and watered with still more people planting in the background. That’s Linda Chamorro of Rebar Group in black who volunteered for the morning and planted several trees.

horse chestnut

Here’s Carla Crane working hard in the dirt and applying her gardening skills to the task (while I, Sam, after planting one tree, loaf around taking pictures…).  ;^)

coast live oak

More planting…

landcaping apprentice and linda planting

And the last part was to stake and support the new trees for safety. The SFRPD tree planting crew pounding in the stakes first…

pounding in the stakes

And using the rubber straps to hold the trees in place.  The orientation of the stakes allows for the trees to move somewhat and takes into account the prevailing westerly winds.  Let’s hope they do well!

staking and protecting the new trees

Here’s the happy planting crew led by Zack Taylor of Golden Gate Park and his crew of apprentice gardeners and tree specialists.  Carla Crane and Sam Bower of Friends of Kezar Triangle in the middle.

planting crew

Thanks everyone!  We’ll have an official welcome for the trees on Earth Day 4/22.  It will be a while before they reach any significant size but it’s a great place to start.  Some native ground plantings nearby and mulch and eventually, irrigation improvements next…

The challenge in the future:  how do we make this more artful?  How do we involve more people in future plantings?  Many opportunities ahead, join us!