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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Oct 18

California-Style Landscape

Posted on October 18, 2017 at 4:42 PM by Ann Vallee

poppy for blogMarin-Friendly Garden in San Rafael

California style garden 250With the help of Landscape Architect Pete Pedersen, the owners of this expansive sanctuary in San Rafael have created a dream California-style landscape. Comprised of a variety of low-water-use plants (some native and some Mediterranean) and dotted with succulents, this garden provides a peaceful, picturesque environment while remaining water-conscious, too. 

The interesting variety of leaf types, in shades of green, gray and deep red, make the garden visually appealing year-round, with flowers being “the icing on the cake.” Meandering, permeable pathways let visitors slowly wander through the landscape, and “niches” have been created to allow for enjoyment of the garden from many different perspectives. 

Besides its beautiful plant design, the site also considers the flow of storm water and takes advantage of rainwater catchment. A 5,000-gallon cistern collects roof rainwater to supplement the irrigation system. 

Take a video tour below and scroll down for more photos. Explore more Marin-Friendly gardens at:

California style garden 1

California style garden 2

California style garden 3

California style garden 4

California style garden 5

California style garden 7

California style garden 8

Oct 13

Current Events

Posted on October 13, 2017 at 9:25 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

October is a time we typically think of pumpkins, falling leaves and crisp cool evenings leading us toward winter. However, it is also the peak of fire season—a time when summer suns have dried the tall wildland grasses adorning the beautiful hills and valleys we call home. It is also a time when humidity drops and winds flare up, potentially creating a perfect storm—a firestorm. Tragically this is what we are now witnessing. 

Discussing which bulbs to plant for spring or how to prepare the garden for winter is difficult for this blogger when many of our families, friends and co-workers living in Sonoma, Napa and Solano are suffering the ravages of fires. Our thoughts are with them.

In the past, I worked with CalFire on educating the public about creating defensible space around our homes. The beauty of our north counties is thanks in large measure to the expanses of open, vegetated lands. Living alongside these open spaces requires due diligence on our part to study our properties, address fire hazards and create buffers to protect our homes. We can’t anticipate or prevent every emergency, but we can take steps to reduce our risk.

There are two types of wildland fires: ground fires and crown fires. Ground fires typically are grass fires where the flames stay low. These fires tend to move more slowly going downhill than uphill. If your property sits on a slope, take topography into account when creating buffer zones—you’ll need to maintain more defensible space than those living on flatlands. Try cutting a wide swath and clearing the annual grasses across the back of your property to help curtail a fire from entering your domain. (Remember that mowers can start fires, so wait for cool, moist days and use caution.) Well-irrigated, fire-resistant plant material or noncombustible material such as rock or pavement can be used as an interface in these areas.

Crown fires are the second type of fire and more difficult to manage. To help prevent a ground fire from climbing into the crown, limb up all trees to at least ten feet from the ground. Remove all dead and dying vegetation including dead limbs within the trees. Create space between limbs as well as between plants to reduce fire spread. 

Keep driveways clear for fire equipment to access your property. This includes overhead tree limbs. And note if a fire truck can turn around or drive through the property.

For more information about creating defensible space, visit:

One more word of advice: Fire pits seem to be the rage these days. If you are considering one, safety is mandatory. Check local regulations to learn what type of construction is permitted. Clear the surrounding area of all vegetation, especially overhead. Create a non-combustible area around the fire pit and store fuel well away from the area. Use a fire screen to capture any embers that may escape. Only use the fire pit when the wind is calm and the humidity is high. After enjoying the ambiance of the evening, douse the fire with plenty of water. Do not leave the fire unattended.

Be not only water wise, but fire safe. 

Oct 06

Pest … or Welcome Guest?

Posted on October 6, 2017 at 10:52 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Nobody likes a pest—at least nobody that I ever met. Garden pests can come in a variety of forms including insects, deer, rabbits, squirrels and, of course, weeds. What counts as a pest can vary from place to place. A plant that is well behaved in one climate or location may become a problem in another. 

Invasive plants can cause many types of problems in our gardens. For starters, they sap the water and nutrients that our other plants need to stay happy and healthy. Worse yet, they can take over an area if left to their own devices, choking out the wanted plants. 

Sometimes pests are brought into our garden by our own hands. This includes invasive plants that we unknowingly purchase or acquire from a well-meaning friend. Many years ago, such a friend thought to fill a newly built raised planter box in my backyard while I was on vacation. Unfortunately, this gift also included the roots of an invasive bulb that proved a challenge to eradicate.

 Baneberry (Actaea rubra)
Do you have a plant that just appeared in your garden and isn't familiar to you? It could have arrived as a seed on the wind or dropped from a bird flying by, or carried in on a purchased plant. In fact, this past weekend I found a beautiful berry-bearing plant growing along the creek. The plant was unfamiliar to me and the need to know brought me to one of my favorite online resources: Did you know you can key unknown plants on the CalFlora website? This website includes photos to help confirm identifications. Check it out, as it can help with early detection of pests, as well as general identification. You might just find the mystery plant is a winner. In this case, I discovered the plant to be baneberry (Actaea rubra), a toxic plant that thrives in wet, shady areas of a garden. I then double-checked if it is invasive using another great resource, the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) website. Good news: Baneberry didn't fall into that category. This pretty thing is a keeper.

Pest plants are a broad topic—books have been written on the subject. Yet the definition that stands out best for me is: A weed is any plant growing where it’s unwanted. That definition was an eye opener to this gardener. Just be wary of the wanted plants that can escape and become unwanted invaders in other areas!