The Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group was surprised last Wednesday when they gathered at the Exedra. The Piedmont Police Department was there in force. Was there a problem? Possibly their large numbers required a parade permit? No, Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers and a number of his officers were conducting a community outreach to share information on their programs, along with free coffee and bagels. The walkers were happy to see the officers, and get an extra bite of breakfast.
As the walkers assembled, Chief Bowers was asked to say a few words, which he did. He stressed the importance of community and how Piedmont benefits from it. He also said how appreciative he is of a new police dispatch facility that the City Council has recently approved.
The group was pleased to see Chief Bowers and the other officers, but they were not the reason that there was another large turnout of walkers at Exedra. A parade-permit worthy gathering of 40 members of the group and three of their K-9 best friends were ready for Hope Salzer of Piedmont Connect to give them an encore mini-tour of the group’s Healthy Landscapes 2021 Fall Front Garden Tour. Hope had taken the walkers to three of the tour’s fourteen gardens the prior Wednesday. However, the group wanted to see more, and Hope generously agreed to lead another walk. Piedmont Connect is a collaborative community organization supporting resident initiatives and city efforts to build a sustainable future, and Hope is a member of its Healthy Landscapes team.
The plan for the day was for Hope to take the walkers to four additional gardens in the south central part of Piedmont. The first destination was 250 La Salle Avenue. The group headed up Highland to Sheridan and Wildwood Avenues in a long line, through the Hall Fenway to Crocker Avenue. They walked up it and reassembled at the corner of Crocker and Lafayette Avenue. It was noted that Lafayette is one of those Piedmont streets that magically changes its name to La Salle in less than a quarter mile when it bounces off Woodland Way.
However, the group was not to see this street magic. They turned down Muir Avenue to get to La Salle, and then took a right to the garden at 250. It is a unique, steep, very natural garden; every inch packed with “succession planting” vegetation that provides color throughout the year. Additionally, all these plants absorb rain better than grass would, if we ever get rain again, thus reducing the danger of excessive runoff down the steep yard to the house. Even the car strip in front of the garden is covered with plants. The yard supports birds, insects, and other wildlife, but has also survived the deer that roam throughout the neighborhood and our city.
The next stop was just up the street at 131 La Salle. This is a different type of drought tolerant garden. It is more formally structured, and currently has vibrant, early fall red and yellow colors from bottle brush, firecracker, and other plants. It was noted that former Piedmont mayor and landscape designer Valerie Matzger beautifully designed the yard for the homeowner. There are also a permeable walkway and other surfaces that allow rain to soak into the ground, if we ever get rain again, rather than run off into the street. The environmental mindset of the owner was further evidenced by the solar panels on the house’s roof. The home’s front steps also provided tiers for the walkers to pose for the attached group photo.
The group continued on up the street to 66 La Salle. This is a new garden, only planted this past spring, and it shows how quickly a lovely, drought tolerant garden can be created. This is another very steeply sloped front garden of a home above St. James Canyon that also survives the foraging of local deer. The garden has many plants that attract bees for their pollen and nectar. Hope stressed the importance of all types of bees and the need to protect them. She told the group they are in real danger. In fact, the bumble bee has been recently named an endangered species. Birds are also being harmed by human actions. Hope told the group that their population is in decline and their U.S. populations reduced by three billion of them since 1970. This garden uses drip irrigation, and includes a colorful flower with a name that Hope finds especially fun. It is Salvia “Hot Lips.” The group asked Hope about ground coverings and she shared her preference for using compost. She said the challenge is getting enough of it to cover a garden, but has found that Piedmonters can obtain a quantity of compost from Republic Services, Piedmont’s trash removal company.
This enjoyable tour was taking a little longer than the group’s usual 90 minute walk, but the morning’s last garden was at 98 Sea View Avenue, which was on their route back to the Exedra. The group walked back La Salle, took a right on Indian Road, and then a left on Hampton, continuing to its corner with Sea View and the house there at 98. This is another beautifully designed and lovingly maintained garden with a large variety of plants, flowers, and small trees. There are manzanita, citrus, climbing roses, native grasses, and many more. Succession planting provides color throughout the year and highly efficient drip irrigation minimizes water usage. As Hope was describing the garden, the homeowner came out and told the walkers how he has maintained the yard, and how much he enjoys it.
This was a nice, very personal way to conclude Hope’s wonderful tour. Before the walkers made their way back to the Exedra, they gave Hope a big round of applause. Everyone was impressed with her knowledge and passion for environmental sustainability. The walkers had seen four beautiful, drought tolerant gardens this morning in just under two hours in a walk of about two and a half miles, and they were already talking about future walks with Hope.