J.P. Murphy Park Garden Tour

J.P. Murphy Park
Three areas: 1960 9th Avenue, adjacent to 1934 9th Avenue and adjacent to 1935 8th Avenue

The water restrictions in 2014 presented an opportunity to transform this narrow, steep slope of lawn into a diverse garden with significantly more use value. As a lawn it was too narrow and too steep for anyone to use it for play or lounging. It’s habitat value was something close to nothing – ok for worms but little else. Even its aesthetic value was limited – it was used as a pee place for several neighbors’ dogs daily, so even the verdure carpet appeal was diminished by areas where grass would not grow. Irrigation was turned off for the water restrictions and then plants were installed in 2015 with cardboard and chips covering every inch of space between. It was watered about once a month (or less) during the dry season for the first couple years. It has really filled in, with a diversity of plants, textures, and colors. Its habitat value and its aesthetic appeal has greatly improved.

In 2015 the slope adjacent to the North Path was planted with Coffeeberry, Yerba Buena, Woodland Strawberry, Lonicera involucrata, Scrophularia californica — plants that were available at the time from the park nursery that are suitable for dry shade. The soil was soo hydrophobic that all attempts to water would run off within minutes. Using a surfactant helped some. (There is no automatic irrigation here only hose hook-ups for hand watering.) It also was not fenced nor sheet mulched. Well, learn as you go, right? Most plants were trampled and the (mostly grass) weeds soon took over. A fence was installed in an attempt to deter further trampling. The bed was replanted in January 2019 with Carpenteria and Heuchera. AND it was throughly cardboarded and mulched with wood chips. Success! A year later it is fulll and thriving.
Several of the Lonicera survived as well and are now blooming. The Scrophularia is super tough! It not only survived but kinda took over, so most were pulled out and potted up for replanting elsewhere.

At the 8th Avenue entrance the Ceanothus and Lavender were installed in the spring of 2016. Most other plants were installed in the winter of 2018/2019.

Favorite plants
The Fremontodendon has survived gophers undermining it (literally!) a couple times and yet thrives and puts on a stunning floral show. The Heracleum is just so beautiful – the texture and form of the bud emerging, those massive leaves, and the flowers on the outer edge of each umbel are different than the ones in the center. AND it is a whole universe of tiny insects, most of which we can’t see even if we’re looking.

White crowned sparrows, juncos, chickadees, house finches, California towees, hummingbirds, two species of bumble bees, honey bees, nuthatches, scrubjays, salamaders, roly-polys, centipedes, spiders and soil creatures and of course all those little bugs we never notice.

Favorite thing
It’s a public garden – available for all to enjoy. It is a good example of lawn transformation into a diverse garden with very little water and relatively little maintenance. Brown is NOT the new green!

Biggest challenge
Scofflaw dog owners

Cardboard and wood chips! It works very well to hold down the weeds, keep moisture in the soil, and invite all the esssential soil creatures to move in. Take care of the soil and the soil will take care of the plants. Persist! Persevere! If at first you don’t succeed, try something else.