Avant Gardener

Ever since 2008, I’ve had a houseplant or two in my dwelling.  By 2015, that number had grown to twelve, mainly hardy hanging philodendrons, spiky dracaena, and resilient aglaonema.  It’s not often that I lose one of them; these plants are pretty hard to kill.  A few have come and gone, usually lasting a few years without trouble.  Based on that unwarranted confidence, I fancied myself as having a bit of a green thumb.

Earlier this year, I was inspired by a couple things — firstly, that lovely patchwork flower garden on top of the multi-colored greenhouse bunker in The Witness, still my favorite puzzle set of the game; secondly, the flowers around Walnut Creek, where my current workplace is located; and thirdly, the very title of this post, which I’ll get to — to create and plant my very own flower garden in my backyard.

In San Francisco, it’s a blessing to even have a backyard, and my house had its renovated last year.  Since even before then, I’ve cared for the grounds insofar as I’ve been the one to voluntarily pull all of the weeds out of the beds surrounding the patios.  This past summer, and tired of looking at nothing but concrete and wood chips out my windows, I decided to add some color.

Naturally, watering hardy indoor plants regularly is a little bit different than growing flowers in a bed of mystery soil.  I didn’t know anything about it, really; I kinda just winged it.  Couldn’t be that hard, right?

I went ahead and dug up the dirt in two rectangular spaces with my trowel and garden fork.  We have a shovel too… not sure why I didn’t just use it.  A couple inches of worked dirt should be enough to plant in, I thought.  It only took a few hours in the afternoon summer sun to get it ready for planting.

The next morning I would head down to one of my new favorite spots in the city, Sloat Garden Center — right next to the ocean by the zoo — and snag a couple dozen 4″ perennials of varying colors as well as fertilizer and soil.  The soil in my yard is somewhat sandy, thanks to the dunes that used to cover my neighborhood, so I ordered soil specifically to enrich it.  Luckily, I happened into the store on the very weekend where they were having their annual flower sale.  I didn’t know about it beforehand, honest.

I very scientifically measured appropriate intervals for planting my perennials, dug little holes, and put them in, eventually covering the whole planting area with soil and mixing in the fertilizer.  After a light water, I was done for the day.  I have to say, it looked pretty nice!

Weekend project complete! #flowers #flowergarden #greenthumb

A post shared by Jake Buckley (@jacobdbuckley) on

I gave them a shower ever other day or so, as needed.  My lovely little flowers.  They grow up so fast:

In this fledgling garden was a great variety of color, shape, and size.  A cluster of magenta, red, white and orange geraniums flanked by deep blue and purple verbena and yellow, red, and pink calibrachoa.  Others included white lantana, apricot sprite agastache, and a few grassy pink things — I don’t know the names of the latter because they’ve since been replaced.

During the later summer, I went home for Labor Day weekend.  It was, unfortunately, the hottest week of the summer in California — temperatures in the city exceeded 85 degrees for days on end, which is a rarity.  In my absence and without water for four days of extreme temperatures, I lost a great deal of growth on my garden, with some flowers wilting enough to require amputation, while a couple just outright died.

To make matters worse, there was an invader in my garden.  I didn’t full understand the scope of my troubles until I saw it with my own eyes.

A gopher!  This little underground terror had been burrowing his way around my garden for weeks, casually nomming down my more appetizing plants — the verbena and calibrachoa —  as well as stunting the growth of the rest of the garden with its tunnels and root damage.  I had been puzzled as to why my left-side bed was under-performing the right; here was a sure indication.

Now, I should have known better.  There are gopher scars in the vacant planting bed at the rear edge of my yard, as well as all across the neighborhood.  I can’t help but notice them now whenever I’m out and they’re everywhere.  Indeed, the folks at the garden center confirmed they’re somewhat of an epidemic in the city, especially out on the sandy western side.

So with that in mind, I purchased and liberally deployed rodent repellent in the garden.  The above pictured bed was subsequently completely unaffected by the little menace following this endeavor.  The verbena he was most recently eating has fully recovered, as have the calibrachoa which were chewed up only on the fringes, with the cores left intact.  But, he scurried his way underneath the patio and began to severely terrorize my other bed.  The repellent had failed, despite continued use, and every week, another one of my tasty flowers was crippled.  I knew exactly where he was coming from, yet I had nothing at my disposal to solve the problem.

Finally, last week I’d had enough.  After losing two flowers completely and having *four* more crippled in just days, I decided to take a full measure.  No, I didn’t kill it.  That’s, ironically, only a half measure.  I plotted out and engineered a solution: I was going to enclose the beds of my garden in steel mesh to ensure that they were completely impassible to burrowing animals.

I bought corrosion-resistant galvanized steel meshing, planters for emergency evacuation, and wooden stakes to attach the mesh to.  I spent nearly a whole week working on it, starting by digging out my most vulnerable flowers a few at a time each evening after work.

Of course, that only seemed to embolden the little guy by giving him a direct path through now-thinned soil to get at other at-risk flowers.  I lost one completely, and am rehabilitating two others that were severely wounded.  What a terror!

When the weekend finally arrived, I stripped the garden down six full inches of dirt, roughly four inches below the base of the patio on all sides.  It was harder work than I was expecting.  By day’s end, I had two giant piles of dirt, but a snugly secured steel mesh in each bed, fastened in place with staples and friction.

That’s four cubic feet of dirt, plus whatever air filled in the gaps of the newly unpacked earth.  The mesh is jammed in there as best as I could get.  The only gaps are hopefully not large enough for vermin, but I can’t be sure.  The good news is any potential access points are easy to mend without needing to dig up the whole garden again.

The next day I woke up sore, but managed to fill in all of the dirt, along with new enriching soil, layers of repellent, and fertilizer before the morning was through.  I replanted all of the flowers in the new beds, re-arranging them in a more appropriate configuration given their individual growth patterns and colors.

In a few weeks hopefully the dirt will settle and I can finish the landscaping off nicely.  By then, I also hope the damaged flowers will have somewhat recovered.  For now, my reborn garden looks a little unfinished.

Five months into this project, I feel like I’ve learned a ton about how to build a garden and care for it.  San Francisco’s climate is welcoming, so I have yet to experience the challenges of other areas, but at least it’s a start.  When I inevitably move out of this house (hopefully not for awhile), I’ll have practical knowledge to build on for my next garden adventure.  It’s been unexpectedly expensive to do this, but it pays off in the vibrance and life it gives my yard.  I appreciate my view far more than I did before.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow up on the title of this post.  “Avant Gardener” is a song by Courtney Barnett, one of my latest favorite artists.  I have to admit the lyrics of this song are also partly responsible for my dive into yard work; the way she puts it, it sounds wonderful, at least at first.  Coincidentally, I went to see her in concert in Oakland just last week during the majority of my garden troubles, and as I suspected it would, the show closed with this very song.  Incredible.


Adidas & The NHL: 31 Thoughts

The long-awaited Adidas NHL jerseys are finally here, having been revealed today, and, well, it could have been worse.  Some of my wishes, the ones I wanted most, failed to come true, but a few actually did, in a way!  First, a little history

The Adidas jersey technology (called Adizero) was revealed last year before the World Cup, touting lightweight construction and liberally deploying nonsense buzzwords.  The World Cup of Hockey jerseys weren’t bad, but they also didn’t really look like NHL jerseys, given the general lack of waist striping, thick yet minimal arm striping, and only one traditional shoulder yoke, to say nothing of the added Adidas three-stripe motif.  Lots of stripe issues, apparently.

For all of the Adidas cut jerseys, the most glaring new change is the collar.  No longer does it rise above the shoulders and taper to a point at the base of the neck; instead it lays flat and is rounded, joining to the NHL crest from the sides.  I need to see it modeled on players in full gear and/or during play action to really make a judgment, but my first impression is I’m not sure that like it.  It feels less like a sweater and more like a shirt.  In a way it feels cheaper.  At least, and it was a touch-and-go for a while, they can support laces.

One more common thing to note: the logo crests and rear numbers generally appear quite a bit larger.  I’m going to say that this is for the better.  There are numerous tweaks to the fabric, crest construction, and stitching, but I won’t go into detail as that’s not really my area of expertise or interest.

So, here are my brief (mostly) thoughts on each of the new jerseys’ unique aspects.  For fun, I’m going to assign a letter grade to each, based on my expectations, how they could (potentially) be better, and how they took advantage of or missed a once-in-a-decade opportunity.  Alright, let’s go!

Anaheim Ducks:

In what will surely be the theme of the day, this looks basically like their old one.  I must say, unlike most rose-glassed millennials, I think I prefer their current logo and color scheme to the Disney mask and bizarre eggplant and jade scheme.  That said, this jersey still needs some work.  The lines along the lower arms and torso remain weird, and I’d rather they went with either the original Mighty Ducks’ striping style, or their (former) third jersey’s, but that’s neither here nor there.  These are merely adequate. (C)

Arizona Coyotes:

It wasn’t that long ago that the Coyotes debuted a shiny new jersey, so it’s little shock that they’re sticking with it, more or less.  It’s decent, though I still prefer their original Reebok Edge set without black. (B)

Boston Bruins:

Can’t mess with a classic, though I must say the shoulder yokes look a bit weird in the new cut. (A)

Buffalo Sabres:

Still using navy blue.  Still using front numbers.  Still using silver.  Sigh…  At least they got rid of the piping, finally.  The collar is no longer fully gold, with blue in front instead.  Huh.  I’m simultaneously let down and relieved.  An intermediate step, I’m hoping — progress, however little, is still progress.  Let’s see those Winter Classic uniforms ASAP!  (B)

Calgary Flames:

No retro promotion.  Sigh.  The continued use of black.  Ugh.  Flags on the shoulders?  Why??  They got rid of the piping but kept the side stripes.  That de-italicized their nameplates?  I don’t get it.  They’re better, but not much. (C)

Carolina Hurricanes:

Whoa!  Really did not expect this!  The Hurricanes have reintroduced black into their jerseys, thank the hockey gods, but more importantly, the storm flag stripe is back!  These are solid.  A cleaner, but not emptied retooling of their original jersey, it’s got history, distinction, and modern simplicity all in one.  Drastic rebrands aside, this is what the Hurricanes should have done in 2013, but it’s better late than never. (A)

Chicago Blackhawks:

As expected, nothing to see here.  Hard to improve upon what they’ve got, even if I think it’s massively overrated. (A)

Colorado Avalanche:

Ohhhhhh baby, I see mountains!  The Avs are back, and it’s only been ten years in the making.  Can you believe that the Colorado Avalanche have gone half of their team’s lifetime without this classic look?  It just feels so right that it’s been restored.  From absolute worst to near-best, Colorado is the winner of the Adidas redesign.  Perhaps their team will chart a similar course on the ice? (A)

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Disappointing insofar as it’s not the cannon jersey, but I’m glad it still looks pretty sharp.  The major changes appear to be that there’s no more white in the collar, and there’s a new (worse) nameplate typeface.  Otherwise, yeah, again I didn’t get my wish. (B)

Dallas Stars:

Not much to report, which is great because the Dallas Stars reinvention in 2013 was one of the best rebrands in NHL history, at least from a jersey perspective.  Stick with what works. (A)

Detroit Red Wings:

Again, nothing to really see here.  The simplest uniform set in the league stays that way, and we’re better off for it. (A)

Edmonton Oilers:

In April, I watched the Edmonton Oilers defeat the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.  During warmups, I shot photos of the teams, and I have to say, the Oilers looked damn good in their road whites with royal blue shoulders.  After suffering the worst of Reebok’s 2007 transition, management made the wise (easy) decision to go with the original 80s jerseys full-time in 2011.  With the team finally resurgent this past year, it seemed to all be clicking into place. …And then they scrapped the blue homes for orange.  Not the worst decision, given the WHA history there, but still a little weird.  Alberta should be blue vs. red, but that’s not the main issue anymore.

For some reason, they’ve decided to replace the royal blue with navy in their color scheme.  Huh?  Navy simply does not go with orange.  The Islanders tried it in 2002 and, surprise surprise, decided to re-adopt their classic colors as soon as they were allowed.  But then there’s the new Oilers jersey itself.  What they’ve done here is kind of a shame; thankfully the recently leaked jersey wasn’t quite accurate and the collar isn’t completely hideous, but it’s still not great.  Those stripes, while faithful to the previous home/away set, don’t work with these colors — the blue looks black in contrast, and I’m worried about how the away jersey will look.  This is a definite step backwards.  Way to take a top-10 jersey and throw it right in the trash, Edmonton.  (D)

Florida Panthers:

Having just completely rebranded last year, the fact that there’s nothing new on these is warranted.  This is, in my opinion, the best the Florida Panthers have ever looked and it’s a relief they didn’t even go so far as to tweak anything. (A)

Los Angeles Kings:

No changes here.  I wish they’d bring back purple in some way, however these have become another modern classic jersey — two Cups in three years will do that to a look, even if it’s not the best. (B)

Minnesota Wild:

Finally, we’re back to green homes in Minnesota, and as a nice compromise, they’ve taken the script M from the old (beautiful) thirds and put it on the shoulders.  They’ve notably added a wheat-colored chest stripe, which is becoming somewhat of a trend thanks to the Panthers stealing from Montréal last year.  In addition, red remains an accent around the NHL crest, as well as in a stripe nestled inside the wheat arm stripes.  If the road jersey can finally match the home, the Wild will be one of the best dressed in the league.  I am very pleased with these. (A)

Montréal Canadiens:

Don’t. mess. with. perfection. (A)

Nashville Predators:

Huh.  While I’ll admit the old template (once shared with and worn more poorly by the St. Louis Blues) had its flaws, it added some necessary contrast.  This one seems rather dull and empty.  Thankfully, the piano keys and number strings remain, as well as the original typeface, but I am slightly underwhelmed.  It’s a bit curious that the blue at the waist and arms was pushed even further down.  I don’t know — that might be too much yellow.  On the other hand, it’s minimal and clean, which is a highly desired quality in a timeless jersey.  In retrospect, I might view these better.  For now, they get a (C)

New Jersey Devils:

Here’s a look at the new New Jersey jerseys.  New Jersey had their old jerseys for nearly thirty years; for the first time since 1992, New Jersey has new jerseys.  I wonder if they didn’t want new New Jersey jerseys because of obnoxious people like me talking about their new New Jersey jerseys like I’m doing here?  Or, maybe because the old New Jersey jerseys were such a timeless, modern classic, three-time Cup-winning uniform that it would be idiotic to change them?  Well, it’s not a radical departure, but it’s different enough to feel wrong.  The waist stripe is gone and the white on the arms is widened significantly, apparently to evoke the Colorado Rockies.  One curious addition: a green inner collar featuring the three Cup-winning seasons listed.  Was this necessary?  No.  I prefer New Jersey’s old jerseys to New Jersey’s new jerseys. (C)

New York Islanders:

Same classics as they were, except I’m going to rate them as if there were improvements because there’s no more black alternate. (A)

New York Rangers:

Like their cross-town rivals, the Rangers didn’t need to change anything.  The only difference is the red from the NHL crest is much wider due to the Adidas cut.  Looks weird, but there’s not much to do about it. (A)

Ottawa Senators:

Oy, Ottawa, what are you doing?  It wouldn’t have taken much to make this uniform infinitely better, yet you do so little anyway.  Somehow you’ve successfully converted one of the worst Reebok-era uniforms faithfully into Adidas form, albeit with a new number font.  Wow.  I don’t get it; a stunning new set would bring in so much money, and for a frugal owner, that would seem like a no-brainer, no?  Disappointed.  (D)

Philadelphia Flyers:

It doesn’t appear that the Flyers really did anything here, except perhaps thicken the white at the end of the sleeve.  Can’t complain, I think their look is fine. (B)

Pittsburgh Penguins:

One of only two teams not to put out reveal teasers, probably because they’re busy doing other things at the moment.  Also, there’s nothing new anyway.   (A)

San Jose Sharks:

Look at that new Shark shoulder patch!  I’m very happy to see this, and it looks great.  Still rocking the minimal teal, I see.  That’s fine, I love the color and it doesn’t make my Pavelski jersey too obsolete.  I would have liked waist stripes, but what’re ya gonna do?  Can’t win ’em all.  (B)

St. Louis Blues:

The only major change here is a switch from yellow to white on the back numbers, which I think I like more.  In addition, there’s a new hanger effect inspired by the St. Louis city flag that is quite welcome.  Already one of the best jerseys in the league, it’s even a slight bit better now.  (A)

Tampa Bay Lightning:

The Toronto-south look lives on, unchanged.  It’s alright, I guess, though I think I’d prefer it if they went back to black.  (B)

Toronto Maple Leafs:

The other team not to put out teasers, it too makes sense as not a lot has changed from last year’s fresh redesign.  And why should they?  This is the look of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ future. (A)

Vancouver Canucks:

Come on Vancouver!  What are you (not) doing?  Your jersey is perfection except for the one thing I asked you to change.  We get it.  You play in Vancouver.  You don’t need to tell us with a wordmark.  (B, but it coulda been an A)

Washington Capitals:

I’m not sure about this one.  The Capitals have been rocking their look for a decade, and while it’s been symbolic of the franchise’s best (regular) seasons, as well as their consistently heartbreaking playoff runs, I’m not sure it really translates on this new template.  It feels…off.  Also, it should have been Weagle.  (C)

Winnipeg Jets:

Yep, looks the same.  I was never really a fan of the Jets look, yet it’s been six years now and that’s, well, how they look.  (B)

And last but not least, the newest member of the National Hockey League, from T-Mobile Arena on The Strip in Paradise, Nevada, playing in its first professional season, please… welcome… yoooouuuurrrrrr……

Vegas Golden Knights:

Not bad, eh?  As expected, there is red featured on the arms as an accent stripe, while gold plays a major role in the elbows and above a thick black hem line.  I would have liked more red, but alas.  Black also fills the arms up to the shoulders, similar to the Coyotes’ latest.  The shoulders feature the secondary logo, which looks damn good here.  Shame the aways don’t have a grey yoke, but those details in the gold are an interesting touch!  Really, not a bad start, Vegas. (B)

And that’s it.  Except the remaining 31 away jerseys will appear over the next few days sometime between now and the start of the season — many are already appearing out in the wild.

As for my overall impression of these, they’re decidedly above average.  My final grades are as follows:

  • D: EDM, OTT

The Oilers’ leak had me spooked, but they’re by-and-large decent.  I’ll get used to the collar change eventually, while most of the jerseys look so similar to their previous iterations there won’t be any adjustment needed at all.  However, the missed opportunities will surely continue to haunt.  Buffalo, Calgary, Ottawa, Washington, and Vancouver… try harder next time.  Minnesota, Carolina, and Colorado?  I appreciate what you’ve done.  Thank you.

Fogust (or The Coldest Summer I Ever Spent)

June was lovely.  What has been my least favorite month nearly every year since I graduated college turned out to not be so bad in 2016.  The sun was shining nearly every day; the city was warm.  The typical June Gloom of the California coast gave San Francisco a miss.  I spent many days outside, at the beach, wandering the streets as I’m wont to do.  It continued through the first half of July, where thousands of others joined me on the streets across town as the sun bathed our fair city in an unexpected aura.

My second summer in San Francisco was shaping up to be a lot like the first.  A warm, if a bit breezy and relatively cool compared to a “normal” summer, generally sunny affair.  Last year I spent many weekend days from June through September lounging at the beach.  That’s Ocean Beach, a place many San Franciscans avoid due to its typically unwelcoming wind and clouds, its cold and deadly water, and its general lack of attractions and amenities compared with a typical beach town.  Some days in 2015, the strand was swarming with people, even down south of the park where I live.

My neighborhood has a reputation for being a cold, dreary place.  Indeed, even the name “Sunset” is ironic in that half of the time, you can’t even see one.  Last year’s incredible weather had lowered my expectations of getting socked in by fog summer day in and day out.  I had really lucked out with picking my little beach cabin.

These days, there are a lot of amateur meteorologists in California.  Now in the fifth or sixth year of a drought, depending on who you ask, those environmentally-obsessed of us have taken to scanning forecasts and weather patterns for any sign of coming rain.  In 2014, it was predicted we’d likely have an El Niño event for the winter.  None came, although there was one day of insane rain in December, mixed in with the typical drizzle of Northern California winter.  Last year, things had taken a turn for the optimistic — the Pacific Ocean warmed in such a way as to produce what was expected to be the most significant El Niño in years.


Long story short, it was pretty good.  We had rain from January to April, including a seemingly-continuous torrent in March, that filled up our reservoirs and gave the suffering terrain a much needed drink and a wash.

But here’s the thing: El Niño is not typical.  The relative warmth of the ocean prevented the full development of a San Francisco summer.  When cold Pacific water meets moving humid oceanic air, a layer of condensation forms.  When the temperature differential between two geographic areas is significant, wind is summoned to flow from areas of high pressure to low.  When these two conditions align, as they had been previously limited from doing, the cool marine fog from the Pacific is pushed inland toward the warm, heated earth of California.  In San Francisco, the geography of the city helps aid this movement, as the Golden Gate provides a path of most admittance.  The rest of the city falls under its cover as collateral.

IMG_7223Which brings me to today.  It’s the end of August.  There’s no El Niño this year.  There’s just fog, and there has been every day since the end of July.  From my house in San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood, I have not seen the sun since then.  There was a brief period yesterday where blue sky shone through, but it was fleeting.  It was so remarkable, however, that I had to step outside to take a photo.  It was the only time I can recall seeing the sky this month from home.

Most mornings my car is drenched in droplets, the street shiny with moisture.  Sometimes it is actually raining, in a Seattle kind of way.  I go to work every morning wearing some kind of extra layer, only to shed it once I arrive at the office.  Almost without fail, the sky clears up beyond Daly City, where the freeway emerges into the northern reaches of Silicon Valley.

Fog is a nice blanket — a hug from the ocean.  I’m comforted by the fact that I know the Pacific is just down the street.  I can watch the nebulous shapes roll by the trees in the day, or through the illumination of streetlights at night, and feel like everything is going to be okay.  It’s the days when the fog is high, in the form of an overcast, grey sky, that I go crazy.

I’ve always been solar powered.  Winters back home in New York were interminable — from October to April there was incessant blandness, aided only by the common appearance of a peaceful snowfall or a once-in-awhile blue sky.  When spring arrived though, there was nothing better than the sweet relief of sunlight and the coming summer’s warmth.  And that’s the idea that keeps me going now, albeit here the reverse is true.  Fall in San Francisco is wonderful, a welcome respite from the inhospitable cold of summer.  We average over 70°F for the only time all year, the days are clear, and those of us lying dormant under the suffocating overcast can come back to life as it was weeks ago.  The unending grey of August fog has worn me out.

I think it’s about time I took a vacation from the coldest summer I’ve spent.  Any ideas?