Fun at Tilden Botanic Garden

I really love Tilden Botanic Garden. For one thing there are about one million little bridges. And there is just a pleasing variety of microclimates and fab plants.

The one on the end is a nudibranch or maybe a paramecium.

I realize a botanic garden probably isn’t the right venue for this but I did it anyway and it was pleasing. I will stick to using nature to make ephemeral art in urban places.

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Lagurus ovatus

Laguras ovatus
Lagurus ovatus, or bunnytail, in my yard last Spring.

Lagurus ovatus is highly adorable. I had it planted in a couple of containers this summer, including this old colander. Most the kids who visited my yard made a beeline for it and spent some time petting it.

I like this in containers and used as a border. It self sows though, so if you don’t want to see it in the next year you can trim the seed heads before they dry and blow all over the place. If you do want to see them next year let the seeds dry and then collect them.

How do you store seeds?
I often use old pharmacy medicine bottles.

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Christmas day nature art

I bought myself the book Land Art in Town: Simple Inspiration Through the Seasons for Christmas this year. It is an awesome book. The author, Marc Pouyet, hung out in cities across Europe and made and photographed his land art. I call it nature art and think of land art as bigger earthworks type stuff. I’m more drawn to this smaller scale, urban, unexpected art using nature.

Here are some of the things my sister, son and I created.

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Olive Percival and her children’s gardens

The other day in a used bookstore I came across a book called ‘The Children’s Garden Book’ by Olive Percival. I now know this is only an excerpt from the full, never published, manuscript.

The first line of the forward is, “This is a book of suggestions for children to whom destiny has given such golden things as a plot of ground and many hours, or several years, uninterrupted by the city’s call (ever more insistent, clamorous) to indoor amusement”.

And further down, “If, for the first ten or twelve or fourteen years of life, the children of today could have personal flower gardens in which to play, to study, to read, to work, to dream, the world tomorrow would be greatly lightened of it’s ugly and menacing burden of materialism and general faithlessness”.

The next section of the book are thoughts and notes to the “to the young gardener”.

Here is an example, “Long ago, in Elizabethan England and when our colonial history was just beginning, a bouquet was not called a bouquet nor a nosegay nor a boughpot by those of highest fashion. It was called a tussy-mussy! Nobody seems to know why.”

Thanks to the internet you can read all about tussy-mussies!

The books goes on with more tidbits and advice and then she shares her garden plans for children. Things like “the Fairy Ring”, “The Kate Greenaway Garden”, and “the Moonlight Pleasance”. Each garden comes with a plant list, and illustration and planting plan and text describing details of the garden.

Olive Percival in her garden

“In this our lovely and bedazzling world – a perplexing world that deafens and deadens us with screaming sirens, rattling dragons, many toys, and noisy amusements (omg, girl, you have no idea.) – we contrive to to remain avowed lovers of flowers, even if allowed little time or place to make plants grow and willingly or unwillingly come into blossoms.”

It is so sweet. I fell in love with Olive Percival. Besides being a gardener of some fame and a published writer and poet, she was also a book and doll collector, an antique hat collector AND a milliner, an expert on Chinese and Japanese art, a traveler, and a photographer and generally a mover and shaker amongst the intellectual set of southern CA.

I love her because not only was she sweet and all into flowers, paper dolls, cats and 19th century children’s books but she was also a feminist and could bust out a bit of snark. We would have been friends for sure. Here’s a quote from an article she wrote for the LA Times in 1910,

“As for equal suffrage, I have never in my life heard one sane argument against it. I think the only argument that men who are opposed to the measure have ever advanced in justification of their unfair and un-American position, is that they do not want women to lose their delicacy and charm by rough contact with matters political. This is not ‘sentiment’ but sentimentality. . . . There is no sense or intelligence about it. Women must live in the world as truly as men and in many instances they are as well equipped for the actualities of life as men. . . .”

I have acquired one other book written by her, “Our Old Fashioned Flowers”. The Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA has her diaries and photographs.
I may have to road trip to the Huntington Library to see her photographs and all the gardens and art that it looks like that museum and botanic garden have. It looks awesome! They have a tea room! Maybe I will go by myself for my 40th birthday (fast approaching).

– Olive May Graves Percival (July 1, 1869 – February 18, 1945).

You can read more about her here.

I HIGHLY recommend listening to this 30 minute talk about her life. *sniff*

Oh, and someone’s term paper on her life here.

The more you read about her the more awesome she gets.

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School Project – Sloped site

This is a project from a design class a few semesters ago. It is a sloped site in El Cerrito with nice views and a daylighted culvert.

It had an interesting feature in the backyard – a serpentine brick wall, also called a crinkle crankle wall. Neat! It seemed oddly wasted as a wall along a narrow path at the back of the house where no one would ever see it if it was meant to be decorative. However, it DID make sense once I learned that a brick serpentine wall is a very strong retaining wall. It can be only one brick thick, saving space and money while adding some visual interest.

“This ingenious technique of garden wall construction has been used for several hundred years. The serpentine shape provides lateral strength to the wall so that it normally can be built only 4 in. in thickness without additional lateral support. Since the serpentine wall depends on its shape for lateral strength, it is important that the degree of curvature be sufficient. The following general rule is based upon the performance of many successful serpentine walls. The radius of curvature of a 4 – in. wall should be no more than twice the height of the wall above finished grade, and the depth of curvature should be no less than 1/2 of the height.” -from

The daylighted culvert was another interesting feature. The easements surrounding it meant we couldn’t do anything to change it to make it less all about ugly concrete. Still, it provided a nice water sound and wildlife habitat.

The assignment was to create a landscape plan and plant list for the front and backyard and do all the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance calculations.

“There are two water budgets in the Model Ordinance; the Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA) and the Estimated Total Water Use (ETWU).
The MAWA, is the water budget used for compliance and is an annual water allowance based on landscape area, local evapotranspiration and ETAF of 0.7. The ETWU is an annual water use estimation for design purposes and is based on the water needs of the plants actually chosen for a given landscape. The ETWU may not exceed the MAWA.” – from The Updated Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance Brochure

This was also the property used in my concurrent Grading and Drainage class. We used a zip level to map the site elevations and worked out a complete grading and drainage plan for the property.

Photos of my project to come soon.

Another brick serpentine wall resource:

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Painting with plants

I am focusing in on plant color and texture right now.

I have had the opportunity to visit the personal garden of the owners of Potomac Waterworks twice, once in the Fall and once in Spring. I mean, what a lovely garden! My inner 8 year old wants to live there with the fairies and unicorns and so does my outer 40 yr old. :)

Not only is it a technically marvelous construction project but it is the most thoughtful and beautiful landscape painting I have ever stepped into.

This is a watercolor painting I did based on a photo I took:

While there are many “rules” you can learn and follow around color and texture in the garden you really have to be an artist to accomplish this.

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Sketchbook – Backyard koi watercolor


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Hermit crab cityscapes

Okay, this contains many of my favorite things.

Amazing tiny things!
Small animal!
3D printing!
More miniature things!
Art idea that most people would think, “What?! WHY?”


Artist Aki Inomata creates beautiful plastic shell for hermit crabs that are crafted into elegant cityscapes.

You can watch a short video here.

Reading articles about Ani’s work led me to this article on Inhabitat about Maker Bot’s Project Shelter and the shortage of hermit crab shells.

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Map of Paris Dress

old gold velvet  map fabric
I found this old gold velvet map fabric online. It’s got a bit of stretch to it and has a nice heavy substantial weight to it. I decided to use a pattern from The Party Dress Book: How to Sew the Best Dress in the Room to whip it up into a fluffy little party dress. Crinolines! Will be needed! OH YES!


I added pockets, too. <-- possibly a mistake. Also, it was possibly a mistake to use this heavy fabric for what is supposed to be a flirty party dress. Anyhoo... I'm working on some fitting. The lower part of the torso needs to be lengthened and the bodice strap is making me twitchy. I had all sorts of ideas for incorporating some sort of Ardiuno into this dress. Upon further consideration I realize this would be distracting and TOO MUCH. I will be adding some embroidery to it, however.

The Arduino powered dress will come later and needs more thought.

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Progressive School Natural Playscape – Stage One

This is a great project off to a great start. Stage One has been completed with much community help and the kids have been having a blast exploring it.

This is an under used area at a progressive private school (grades K-8). K and 1st grade teachers have requested this area be transformed in to Create with Nature and natural playscape area.

After meetings with the teachers and Landscape Committee I came up with a fun plan that can be completed in various stages as budget become available


Teacher Requests
– Largish circle of stumps (in combo w/ plants) to enclose the Create With Nature Zone
– Create ‘Storage Library’ for loose parts and tools – organized baskets of materials
– Ability to take over that whole space – involves moving nursery area
– Moving the mulch pile over
– Barriers to keep kids out of parking area and out from under delicate oaks
– Incorporation of other play elements –
– Water, Playhouse, Interesting plants, Pathways

Create with Nature Zone – Enclosed by plants and stumps, inside are some movable stumps and some larger immovable stumps to build on
Loose Parts Library – Includes wicker baskets, wine crates or other containers with well organized loose parts
Mulch Mountain – Large persistent pile of mulch to be replaced as it breaks down or is used elsewhere
River Bed – Includes child friendly hand pump to access water, water flows into basins or sluice and down into dry river bed w/ bridge for crossing
Pathways – Mulch pathways, include two clear entrances, pavers under oaks through plantings, pavers for a curvy path leading to living willow tunnel
Barriers – Natural fencing (willow or branches) along parking area, low mosaic seating wall at south edge, under oak plantings
Playhouse – Small 3 sided playhouse made from natural materials – willow or branches

Stage 1 – Oct 6th – Main goal is to build Create with Nature Zone and Library of loose parts.
Stump circle – Arrange and dig stumps as we have into largish area surrounding tree
Library – Low, kid accessible shelves for storing baskets of loose parts
Loose parts – Tree cookies, tree blocks, smooth river stones, twigs, pinecones, bamboo pieces, interesting seed pods, any interesting plant material
Tools – Small brooms, rakes, trowels

[metaslider id=746]

Next Stages:
Stage 2: move mulch pile, create fencing along parking area, build willow/branch playhouse
Stage 3: plantings and pathways
Stage 4: incorporate water, boulders, watercourse and bridge
Stage 5: K and 1st students create mosaic tiles, organize community mosaic build

Also viewable on my Projects page!

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