Archive for December 10th, 2007

planning continued

Well, as you can plainly see, my plan to post further about planning got derailed.   I said I would talk about how I plan big projects,so here goes.

Usually, a big project plan begins with a lot of dreaming.   Usually, these dreams are long term.   For example, we have friends that have a very nice wood fired sauna.   The social group meets there the first Saturday of every month (except July and August when it is too hot) and we have a little party, share potluck food, and those of us who are so inclined sauna.   After a couple of years of going to the sauna gathering, Jim and I started saying to each other, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a sauna?  Then when we had parties we could share it with our friends.  And we could have a sauna whenever we wanted to fire it up.”

We said this sort of thing to each other for a couple of years.   Then it got put on “The List.”  Once it was on the list, we started seeing where it fit in the priorities of the list.   This required some discussion and compromise, because I felt that I wanted a greenhouse sooner than I wanted a sauna.   Jim thought it would be better if we built the sauna first.   As you can see by “The List,” we have a sauna and the greenhouse is still on the list. 

After it got put on the list, we had to decide where on the place to put it, and then Jim researched, planned, and built it.   The process of actually building the thing took more than a year, it was done in two phases.  First the sauna and deck, then the dressing room.  

When I plan a garden project, the same process occurs.   Most often it begins with me looking at a space and starting to “see” what ought to be there.  

When Jim and I lived in San Francisco down in the Outer Sunset, my kitchen sink had a lovely view of the back yard.   It was completely neglected and unkempt, mostly bare dirt with a few struggling camellias, and some pelargoniums towards the front.   The place was flat, rectangular, and divided into six squares by three concrete walks.   After I had stared at it for a year, a vision of what could be out there started to form in my mind’s eye.

I started to dream a little, and one day I went out to see just how thick the concrete that formed the walks was.   It was only 3 inches thick, and had no rebar in it at all.   It seemed to me that if I broke the walks up carefully, I could move them over into the corner and lay them out to form a patio area.   Then, I could dig a hole in the soil back there, line it with the rest of the concrete and mortar the cracks to make a fish pond.   I could use the soil from the fish pond to make a mound of dirt to give the place some variation in height.  To make a path, I would collect driftwood and lay it in the dirt, having it split around the mound of dirt to connect to the two sides of my little patio.

I started making plans on paper.   (It turned out this was a darned good thing!)  I measured the paths to make sure that I would have enough concrete to make the patio and the fish pond.   I refined my plan, and then I went to my landlord.

“Marciano, I would like to make a garden in the back yard.   Would that be okay?” I asked one fine Saturday morning.

“Yeah, sure.   Whatever you like,”  was his response.

“It’s okay with you if I do whatever I want back there?”

“Yes, whatever you want is fine.”

Wow!   I could not believe how lucky I was.   Next Monday morning, after everyone had gone to work, I got busy out there with my sledge hammer and broke up all the walks into manageable pieces.   I slaved that day, moved quite a lot of them over to the corner and had them laid out in the patio formation.   Then I started digging the hole for the fish pond.  Needless to say, after a few hours, I was exhausted and retired to the house.  

Not long after that, I heard my landlords come home from work.   They climbed the stairs to their flat, and I heard Marsha walk into the kitchen to start dinner.    Then I heard her footsteps tapping rapidly into their living room, there was agitated conversation.   They both went to the kitchen, and shortly after that I heard Marciano coming down stairs.   He knocked, and of course I answered.

“What are you doing out in the back yard?” was his rather distressed question.  “Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t involve breaking up any more concrete.”

“Oh, it’s all broken up already!”  I replied blithely, quite proud of my accomplishment.  Then I noticed how upset he was getting.

“I don’t know what you think you are doing!” he repeated.

“Marciano, I am building a garden.   You told me I could!”

“I thought you meant a few rows of vegetables or something.   I didn’t think you were planning on ruining the place.”

Things were getting bad.   My landlord was upset, my garden was barely started, and it looked like I was going to be forbidden to build it at all.   Then I remembered my carefully laid out plan.   “Marciano, I have a plan.”

His face brightened.   “A plan?”

“Oh, yes.   I couldn’t do a job this big without a plan.   Let me show it to you.”  I almost dragged him into the living room, where my plan, all carefully measured and laid out on graph paper, was sitting on the coffee table.   He looked it over carefully, and I explained its salient points.   I told him I had already arranged to borrow a truck to get the driftwood and rocks I would need.

Marciano was no dummy.  Here he had a tenant who was going to add considerable value to his place for free.  He immediately gave me permission to continue, and after I had done the initial terraforming gave me quite a lot of money so I could purchase plants.

If you have a clear image in your mind of the flat, barren sand patch I began with, now have a look at how it looked after the garden had been there for one year.  These pictures were taken from the stairs up to our flat.  The first one is the left half of the garden, the second one is the right half.  There is quite a bit of intersection in the middle of these views.



Now, my method of populating this garden with flowers was to go down to the Sloat Garden Center down on the Great Highway every month, walk around and buy whatever was blooming well right then, take it home and plant it.   I made a disastrous choice at the beginning of the garden’s life and put a tender Japanese maple that I purchased out in Marin County in there.   It died a slow and horrible death by salt wind.  After that, I only planted things that were doing well at the Sloat Garden Center.   It was in the same micro climate as I was.  

After three years, this is how my space looked.  I had flowers year round, and I was busy making compost to enrich the soil.



We had to put a cover over the fish pond.  It was too shallow and too close to Golden Gate Park and its raccoon population.   They thought that all those fish were a dandy idea.  What a tasty addition to the diet!  After they cleaned the fish out of the pond the second time, we built the wire cover.   The cats found the pond fascinating too.  This is Susan fishing.  If you look through the fence behind her, you can see pretty much what the back yard looked like before I started working on it.


So that’s how I plan big stuff.   Dream, visualize, measure, plan, and then work hard to bring the dream to reality.   Perhaps that is why I haven’t actually written a book.   I have dreamed and visualized, but I haven’t measured, planned or worked hard yet.  Maybe it’s time for the next phase to begin.

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