Tag Archives: garden

Happy 100th Birthday WP668 Caboose!

WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Cake 25 June 2016

On Saturday, we celebrated the 100th Birthday for WP668, the railway caboose where Mentoring Standard has its office in Willow Glen (San Jose, California).  Many friends and family and train enthusiasts joined John and me in cheering on our old train car.  You can read the history of WP668 on her website.

There were balloons and a cake and we distributed WP668 Caboose Con-Duck-tors (a rubber duck toy dressed as a train conductor) as party favors.  John gave tours of his N-scale model train layout in our former garage.  WP668’s birthday present was new night lighting along her roof line.

WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Party 25 June 2016

WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Party 25 June 2016

WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Cake 25 June 2016

Eleanor and Jessica, WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Party 25 June 2016

Paul and Natalie, WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Party 25 June 2016

Eleanor and John, WP668 Caboose 100th Birthday Party 25 June 2016

WP668 Caboose at night 26 June 2016

WP668 Caboose at night 26 June 2016

WP668 Caboose Con-Duck-tors 27 June 2016

Images Copyright Katy Dickinson 2016

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Goodbye old pepper

New maple tree
Our neighborhood sadly said goodbye to what was probably its oldest tree this month. Despite regular arborist care, the California Pepper split in half on 30 March. It had lived 81 years (1935-2016), and measured at least 162 inches in circumference and 51.59 inches in diameter. When it fell, my son Paul said that the light into his room got noticeably brighter.  The old pepper was wet enough inside to be home to a Aneides lugubris, the Arboreal salamander, a species of climbing salamander native to California. The cut wood pieces were pink-orange and were quickly picked up by local wood workers.

Neighbors Gary and Linda hired more arborists to try to save what was left but an ultrasound test said that the remaining trunk could not survive and might fall on their house. This month, after four honey bee hives (and their honey) were carefully relocated, the rest of the tree came down and was replaced by a hopeful new Autumn Blaze Maple tree.

September 2014 – Thanks to Google Maps!

Pepper Tree, Belmont, San Jose Sep 2014

March 2016

31 March 2016 California Pepper tree fallen San Jose CA

31 March 2016 Gary and Linda with fallen California Pepper tree San Jose CA

Salamander inside California Pepper tree San Jose CA March 2016

pink wood from California Pepper tree San Jose CA March 2016

May 2016

Pepper Tree, Belmont, San Jose May 2016

Pepper Tree, Belmont, San Jose May 2016

Pepper Tree, Belmont, San Jose May 2016

Pepper Tree stump, Belmont, San Jose May 2016

Pepper Tree chips, Belmont, San Jose May 2016

Linda and Gary with new maple tree

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson – with thanks to Google Maps for the 2014 image

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Easter Egg Hunt 2016


Sunday morning was our annual backyard Easter Egg Hunt – a very popular event among our friends, family, and neighbors. Children ages 20 months to 20 years joined the search for hundreds of plastic eggs filled with chocolate candies. For the adults, there were two specially hidden eggs: gold and silver. Only the following unreasonably-hard poems gave clues to their locations:

Silver Egg
(Hidden in the thatch of a jasmine vine on an arbor)
A Silvery Sonnet in Iambic Quadrameter

You’d have to share Bruce Banner’s height
to see me, though Scott Lang’s would do.
I spy Prince Adam’s gift and strong
John Henry’s lifelong deadly work;
those battlefield banner icons
of Henry IV and Richard III;
Cascadian separatists’
beloved Doug rises near me.
You Ravenclaws’ll examine text,
Those Gryffindors’ll fetch ladders,
Gauche Slytherins will counterfeit,
my badgers — Hufflepuffs — prevail!
I shine like the good captain’s shield,
keep on your search and don’t you yield!

Gold Egg
(taped to the top of a tree branch ten feet above the ground)
A Golden Sonnet in Rondel Form

From my stand I see tall privets
and high above me is a tree
above which trucks flew high & free
that now shade stones & thin rivlets.

You ate breakfast warm off trivets
while I perched here meek with glee
from my stand I see tall privets
and high above me is a tree.

My neighbor’s the joy of kid-lets
and grown-ups too shade in her lee
warm on her couch you can see me
above kitty’s curling ringlets.
From my stand I see tall privets.

Thanks to the Associate Easter Bunnies: my daughter Jessica for the poems, and son Paul who stuffed 775 eggs, and to John and Matthew and all the friends and family for helping create the festivities.  Such a delightful celebration of Spring and renewal!




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Untitled . Untitled





Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Front Yard Done and Growing Well


I wrote last month about putting in our New Front Yard as part of the Landscape Rebate Program of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD). I started working on this project in April 2015. The yard has already passed its final inspection and our refund check should arrive within the next eight weeks.

The drought-tolerant plants are growing happily and my hope is that the winter rains (should we get any!) will not cause mudslides in the new dirt mounds.



Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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New Front Yard


During the last week or so, we have been following up on the water conserving landscape plans I wrote about in August. So far, we have removed the old lawn, brought in new topsoil and decorative boulders, created Paul’s seating area, and placed hundreds of new plants. While I am in Monterey tomorrow with the TechWomen mentors and Emerging Leaders from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, John is going to finish installing the new watering system. The last step is to put mulch (bark chips) around the plants to conserve water and protect them. So far, I am happy with the results!  Once everything is complete, I can submit receipts to the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) for a refund of part of the cost of this big project.

August 2015:

October 2015:












Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Water Conservation Landscape Program – Santa Clara Valley

MyPlanImage2 17June2015

We have been reducing our home water use for many years and have recently been approved to proceed with a landscape redesign as part of the Landscape Rebate Program of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD). In April 2015, we started the process of replacing our 1006 square feet of water-hungry front lawn with a garden that needs less irrigation. During the last four months while the severe California drought has helped our our lawn to die,  John and Paul and I have completed these process steps:

  1. “Pre-Inspection Survey” by Conservision – in which our eligible landscaping was officially measured and evaluated and reported to SCVWD, 8 May 2015.
  2. Returned “Landscape Rebate Program Request for Application Form” to SCVWD, 8 May 2015.
  3. Received blank “Landscape Rebate Program Application Form” from SCVWD – mailed to us 3 June 2015
  4. Returned “Landscape Rebate Program Application Form” to SCVWD – mailed 22 June 2015, complete with detailed garden diagrams (created using Garden Planner software) with plant, materials, and irrigation equipment lists. This required much cross checking of the Sunset Western Garden Book against the SCVWD Qualifying Plant List – as well as family discussions about what we want at the end of this process.
  5. Received “Notice to Proceed” from SCVWD, dated 28 July 2015.

In designing the new garden, I was very disappointed that many of the California native plants I had originally thought to use in my landscape design were marked in the Qualifying Plant List as having “Genetic Concerns”.  I think most home gardeners will be like me – unwilling to hire/pay a plant ecologist (or find a qualifying native plant database) to determine the local wild populations. I ended up picking from listed plants that are non-natives.

“*G = Genetic Concerns This genus contains species native to Santa Clara County or cultivars that have parents which are native to Santa Clara County. Consult a plant ecologist or native plant database to determine if your landscape project is located within 5 miles of wild populations. If so, please follow these suggestions to protect local genetic integrity: 1) select a local ecotype 2) avoid use of cultivars or hybrids, especially those with non-local or unknown parentage and 3) avoid use of nonnative ornamentals which share the same genus in order to prevent unnatural hybridization.” (from the SCVWD Qualifying Plant List)

I think that the complex and drawn-out application process assumes that most people will be hiring a landscaping company to do the work.  The Landscape Conversion Rebate potentially pays $2 per square foot for converting high water using landscape to low water using landscape (through December 31, 2015).   SCVWD will only reimburse for materials (plants, equipment, dirt, mulch, rocks), not labor, so even with the rebate this could be a very expensive project for those who cannot do the work themselves.  My planting list includes:

  • Phormium – flax (purple/brown)
  • Bearded iris (red and purple and yellow)
  • Muhlenbergia rigens – deer grass
  • Helictotrichon sempervirens – Blue oat grass
  • Verbena lilacina (purple)
  • Verbena peruviana (red)
  • Achillea tomentosa – woolly yarrow (yellow/grey)
  • Agapanthus inapertus (purple)
  • Narcissus – daffodils (yellow)
  • Dymondia margaretae (yellow/grey)

I have 90 days from 28 July to finish!


Photo Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson. Diagram created using Garden Planner software


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Public Objects to San Jose Water Company Plan


On 28 May 2015 in downtown San Jose, California, the San Jose Water Company held the first and only public hearing on their Proposed Water Shortage Contingency Plan – that is, how they will respond to Executive Order B-29-15 by the Governor of the State of California (signed 1 April 2015) requiring a further statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage through February 28, 2016. The private San Jose Water Company serves over a million people in the greater San Jose metropolitan area (about 230,000 paying customers) – including many in core Silicon Valley cities: Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Santa Clara, San Jose, and Saratoga.

In his introductory remarks, John B. Tang (Vice President of Government Relations and Corporate Communications, San Jose Water) said that they expected a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by 15 June 2015. He further mentioned that there has already been a 17 foot drop in groundwater during the last year (subsidence) and that it would take up to 300% of normal rainfall to retreat from the drought.  Mr. Tang said that San Jose Water is asking for residential customers to cut 30% of their water usage – by average rather than by individual customer usage. There will be an appeal process published later to address issues of medical needs and larger-than-4 family size. Palle Jensen (Senior Vice President-Regulatory Affairs, San Jose Water) and Bob Day (Director of Customer Service, San Jose Water) also spoke.  Mr. Jensen in particular expressed his frustration in only having 25 days to prepare their plan.  He several times blamed the plan’s shortcomings on the short development time allowed and on requirements given to San Jose Water by the Santa Clara Valley Water District and other agencies.

My son Paul and I were among about 350 upset local citizens, landowners, and small business owners who attended the meeting.  All who spoke objected to how the San Jose Water Company has chosen to respond to the Governor’s new water reduction order. Of the dozens who came to the microphone after many hours of patiently standing in line in the auditorium, no one objected to conserving water or minimized the seriousness of the California drought, now in its fourth year. They did energetically disapprove of how the San Jose Water Company proposes to respond.


  • California’s Executive Order calls for a 25% water usage reduction as compared 2013 and directs that “These restrictions should consider the relative per capita water usage of each water suppliers’ service area, and require that those areas with high per capita use achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use.” [emphasis added]
  • The San Jose Water Company’s plan calls for a 30% reduction of the average water usage across residential customers.  Apartments and business will only have to reduce landscape watering.  However, private homes will have in addition to conserve inside water usage. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 31% of  City of San Jose citizens live in “Housing units in multi-unit structures” – that is, about a third of area housing that will not have to conserve water under this plan.
  • The single most recommended change requested by the public to the San Jose Water plan was to ask that reductions be based on individual (per capita) usage for all customers rather than by average of only residential customers.
  • The criticism most frequently expressed at the hearing was that no notes were taken by the three executives (other than to record who spoke and what city they came from) and no recording was made – indicating that this meeting was only for legal requirements, rather than to listen seriously.  There was no indication that the San Jose Water Company proposal would be modified before its submission to the PUC.  However, the executives did say that they would consider changes to the program in the future.
  • The size of a residential lot is not taken into consideration in the proposed plan.  Several speakers from the public said that they have many large trees that will die without water this summer.  One woman with a big lot said she had already deeply cut her water use and the new plan would require her to cut 88% of her water usage in addition to paying much higher water rates because of drought surcharges.  She said it cost her over $4,000/each to have large dead trees removed so that they did not create a fire hazard. Another man with a larger property said he had already cut his water usage by 45% but was being asked to reduce even more.  The San Jose Water executives eventually mentioned that the Santa Clara Valley Water District has an agricultural exemption program that homeowners who grow their own food or have orchards can investigate.
  • Some businesses (commercial nurseries, golf courses) are exempt from the restrictions; however, swimming pool and spa companies will not be allowed to fill new pools.  About five of the speakers from the audience identified themselves as being associated with pool or spa companies who foresaw serious job losses.  They said that swimming pools use less water than even drought-resistant landscaping (and one third of the water of a grass lawn), so the restriction on filling new pools did not make sense.
  • One speaker reported that other water companies in the San Francisco Bay Area are being far less strict in their requirements of customers.  For example, the nearby East Bay Municipal Utility District (“East Bay MUD”) is only seeking to reduce water use by 20%.
  • Several speakers objected to San Jose Water encouraging neighbors to tattle on each other. There is even a special webpage to make local spying easy. (Compare this to a southern California community that last month started giving cash rewards to their Water Saver of the Month to encourage conservation success.)

Our own family lives in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, part of the San Jose Water Company’s service area.  We have a large lot bordered by the Guadalupe River. As I wrote in February, the Guadalupe River in San Jose was dry in summer 2014 for the first time since we bought our house 18 years ago. The river rose this winter but only a few water pools are left now. Our riparian property is home to a large number and variety wild animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.  We have dozens of very large trees – old native oaks, cottonwoods, redwoods, ashes, olives and other nut and fruit trees – that are already stressed by the long drought. We have been reducing our water use for many years and are in the process of applying to the Landscape Conversion program of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. That is, we are letting our lawn die and planning to replace the grass with less-water-hungry plants. We will redirect the lawn water to do what we can to save our trees.  Fires set by the homeless who often settle along the riverbank are a big concern for us.  There was a serious fire caused by a campfire a few years ago just upstream from our house.  We are very motivated to keep our trees watered and in good health to reduce fire risk.

From the 9th edition of the New Sunset Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (2012) p.719:

How to Fight Drought:
When drought comes, and with it the possibility of local bans on lawn watering or punishing hikes in water bills, what can you do? It’s too late at that point to install a water-conserving landscape, but you can take steps to save the plants you have.
Save established trees and shrubs first. These are costly to replace and have the greatest impact on your landscape. (A lawn can be replaced with sod in an afternoon, but a 70-foot-tall redwood can take 20 years or more to replace)….”




Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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