Story and photos by Murray Schneider
On Saturday, June 15 Joost Avenue resident Sally Ross led a corps of over half a dozen Sunnyside neighbors in a quarterly Sunnyside Conservatory gardening work party. From nine to 11:30 A.M. the crew weeded the Conservatory grounds, rich with drought-resistant plants, grasses and a number of towering palm trees.
“We have to stop early,” said Ross, who holds positions in both the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association and the Glen Park Association, “because a wedding is scheduled this afternoon.”
That cold and grey morning Ross pulled weeds that took root beneath a palm tree on the western edge of the Conservatory. The weeds didn’t look all that threatening, but Ross unearthed a definition for the inimical troublemakers that might brook little dissent among California gardeners.
“A rosebush in a wheat field is a weed,” she said with a voice of authority, serving notice that she’d thought long and hard on an irksome gardening conundrum, and that whatever usurper she’d been tugging had no place in any garden with which she wanted to be associated.
Ross has been part of a neighborhood grass roots effort to turn the Sunnyside Conservatory into a green showplace, a home for Rec and Park sanctioned music performances and private celebrations. For decades the building languished ramshackle and vacant astride Monterey Boulevard, a blight on the Sunnyside. Under a Department of Public Works imprimatur Ross’ neighbors also took it upon themselves to beautify stretches of Monterey Boulevard’s street medians. Now long portions of the street’s dividers host landscaping similar to that found on the Conservatory grounds.
Bob and Keren Abra, co-chairs of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Greening Committee, planted and sustained all sections of the road median except the two in front of the Conservatory. During the garden party Abras, who live on Judson Avenue, worked along Ross while Dave Crossman, a Rec and Park gardener, hauled tarps filled with weeds to his truck.
“This is my ‘beat,’” said Crossman, who has worked for the City for only a year and seemed really into his job. “I turned the sprinklers on at Miraloma Playground before I arrived, and when I leave here I head up to Dorothy Erskine Park.
Not before, however, he’d drive to McLaren Park and dump the Conservatory weeds, which will be composted. “I work with and supervise the group,” said Crossman, who lives in the outer Richmond District. “The tools and vehicle are provided by Rec and Park.”
But Ross, who knows that an army marches on its stomach, provided the confections. Her blueberry buckle and oatmeal cookies lined a table surrounded by urns of hot coffee, and Joe Schuver at Destination Bakery on Chenery Street better hope Ross doesn’t go public with her recipe.
“Actually,” she confided, “the blueberry buckle comes from Betty Crocker.”
The work party gathered around the table around 11 o’clock, talking and munching, flax and agave put aside in favor of pastries and beverages and a little architectural chat. “You know,” said Ross, “acanthus is the same plant the Romans used to decorate the tops of their columns.”