2. Xeriscape gardens


September 12, 2012 by missionazul

is a type of gardening that grew out of the arid dry regions around the Rocky Mountains and the American Southwest.  ‘Xeros’ means dry in Greek, ‘scaping’ refers to the landscape.  The aim of xeriscaping is to conserve water use in the garden, while still creating and growing a beautiful place.  In California, we have occasional droughts when it does not rain much in the winter and early spring.  There is less water in the rivers.  The level of water in the reservoirs goes down, and water starts to cost more.  Lawns go brown.  Towns, farms, and suburbs squabble over water.  The salmon wonder…

There are a few xeriscape practices that help to establish the dry garden:


At City College, we created the first xeriscape garden in the fall of 2007 at the site of a memorial garden, in front of the Diego Rivera Theater.  This is the site more or less as we found it.


We planted California plants – Eriogonum arborescens (California buckwheat) and Rhamnus californica (coffee berry).  We planted plants from Africa – Amaryllis belladonna (naked ladies), Chondropetalum tectorum (African rush) and species of Pelargonium, the scented geraniums.  We planted Lavandula dentata (French lavender) from the Mediterranean, and Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax) from the land of the Maoris.  Harakeke!


We have gone back once a year for maintenance to cut back plants that grew too fast, or to clean up the dead leaves.  The plants sway in the wind and are comfortable in the heavy clay soils.  Five years later:


In Fall of 2008, we set our sights on a bare and square patch of soil outside of the Pierre Coste Cafeteria. With the approval of the garden supervisor Steve Petersen and thumbs up from the chair of our department Steven Brown we went for it.  The garden is at the center of Ram Plaza where numerous student activities congregate.  We designed a garden with swirls of granite stepping stones and small circles of succulents.  This was the day of the planting:


It got done because of this excellent crew:


Four years later, plants have gotten big.  Zero irrigation, once a year maintenance.  The diversity of the world is represented here.  We have plants from California:  Festuca rubra         (red fescue), Iris douglasiana (Douglas iris), Grindelia hirsutla (gumweed), Quercus agrifolia          (coast live oak), and Artemisia pycnocephala (beach sage).  There are plants from Africa: Pelargonium graveolens (scented geranium), Pelargonium tomentosum (peppermint scented geranium), Gazania species, Arctotis hybrids (African daisy), Oscularia deltoides (Sandsteenvygie), Aloe ciliaris (common climbing aloe), and Cotyledon orbiculata (Pig’s ear).  From the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa come: Aeonium arboreum                        (houseleek tree), Aeonium decorum and Aeonium urbicum.  Representing North and Central America are Salvia leucantha (Mexican sage), Opuntia species (beavertail cactus), Agave Americana (century plant), Agave filifera (thread leaf agave), and Echeveria elegans            (hens and chicks).  The backdrop is Juniperus chinense (Chinese Juniper).  A little problematic has been the theft of succulents by garden thieves.  Don’t steal our garden plants!  They are easy to propagate!  No need to take the whole thing, just a little piece will do.  Come take a class, we’ll show you how it’s done.

In Fall 2009, from Pierre Coste Cafeteria, we moved on over to a couple strips of hard, compacted, rocky areas next to a little dining establishment on campus called the Lunchbox.  Yup, not much to look at…

Pacific wholesale nursery down in Colma, next to San Bruno Mountain, donated some Chilean trees, Luma apiculata, in four foot boxes, to start us off.  We dug and drilled holes with a Bobcat, and plunked the trees into the dense clay and rock, construction fill.

Colors bursting makes students happy.

At this garden, we continued to use plants from similar climates – plants from California, South Africa, Chile, Southeast Australia, and the Mediterranean.  Special treats were Alstroemeria psittacina (Inca lily) and Phlomis fruitcosa (Jerusalem sage) students had grown from seed.

With the yearly ritual of xeriscaping in place, we focussed on a triangle garden swathe next to Batmale Hall in 2010.  This was a site as dry and as barren as could be.  Winds swaggered up from the ocean and cut across sideways.  No protection against the wind!  Half the site was shaded by Monterey cypress trees, and water rolled off the thick duff layer of dropped leaves.  We carved and mounded small swales, and put on bark mulch to help conserve moisture in the soil.  Here is the site two years later:

The orange Iris looking leaves belong to a New Zealand plant – Libertia peregrinans.  It is orange in the sun, and green in the shade.  In the foreground with the purple flowers is Scilla peruviana, not from Peru, but from the Mediterranean.

Yellow composites, dandelion relatives.  They are our most reliable plants for xeriscaping.  What a bunch of supercool students!  Get the job done!

Some of the featured gardeners include:

Joe by the Yard

Urban Farm Girls


Phoenix Firestarter

and SF Green Spaces.

3 thoughts on “2. Xeriscape gardens

  1. zanngo says:

    Love seeing the updates of work from years gone by! Thanks for creating this blog and telling me about it! 🙂

  2. Jake Sigg says:

    Thank you for helping us come to terms with our environment.

    It would be helpful if you would also think about inviting wildlife into the city. Wildlife are being pushed to the wall–many species even becoming extinct–because of loss of habitat. For wildlife there is nothing better than the plants that they co-evolved with–San Francisco native plants.

    Jake Sigg

  3. Greg Gaar says:

    We have FREE San Francisco native plants at the HANC Native Plant Nursery.
    If CCSF folks want a truckload for your gardens just email me and we can work it out.
    Our nursery has given plants to city college in the past and we continue to propagate.
    Ideal time to plant would be after the second soaking rain in November.
    Nursery is located at Frederick and Arguello next to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.

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