By Murray Schneider
With an Elk Street destination in mind, two Glen Park Garden Club volunteers marched across a portion of a Glen Canyon hillside on a recent Friday, armed for battle.
They were there to weed.
This plan, to leave not a stalk of mustard or radish left standing.
“The Elk Street hill was planted with dozens of native plants that are struggling to survive,” said Kay Estey, who has honed her green thumb with the GPGC for 12 years, but missed the initial work party. “Wild radish and mustard are a challenge for the recently planted natives.”
As part of the renovated Glen Canyon Park Playground, which opened on March 15, the Recreation and Parks Department planted scores of plants and shrubs that complement its state-of-the-art children’s swings and slides.
Many of these plants, such as Islais cherry and California lilac were mulched and weeded.
Others, however, those running-up-the-hill along Elk Street to the Sussex Street steps, weren’t. Now they are victimized by a wrinkled tangle of interlopers that can grow to three feet and produce an enormous number of seeds that germinate easily and do not require much moisture.
The Garden Club normally limits itself to a meeting a month, supporting members’ backyard gardening efforts, taking gardening tours and giving holiday parties.
But for the 30 members of the GPGC, the jungle of weeds adjacent to Elk Street was too much to endure.
“The radish and mustard have choked and overwhelmed most of the new plants so they can’t get sun and air, and they’re drying up,” said Estey, who recently sharpened her gardening chops along Penny Lane, landscaping the Surrey Street steps with Adam King and his crew of volunteers. “For a year or so it’s vital to keep the hillside free of weeds and replace those that have given up the struggle.”
“Among other things, what needs to be done is form a volunteer group of regular work parties to weed, mulch, check the plants and water when necessary,” continued Estey. “The plants are delicate. They need regular deep watering to get their roots established. Most of them are tough and drought tolerant, but not for a year or two,” said Estey, who also writes the “Digging the Dirt – News from the Glen Park Garden Club ‘ column.
Recreation and Parks heard the GPGC plea, and on June 13 enlisted garden club members in thwarting the weedy strains with an inaugural hillside work party.
“We look forward to working with the Glen Park neighbors to care for the renovated Glen Canyon Park, and we encourage folks to sign up with our Volunteer Services Program,” said Connie Chan, RPD Deputy Director of Public Affairs. “The department knows that we cannot do it alone, and we rely on our volunteers’ help in caring for our parks.”
Led by RDP gardener Wayne Kappelman and two other gardeners, GPGC volunteers Jay Estey and Darlene Shadel labored for three hours, removing thick stalks of mustard from the parched hillside.
Swaths of it carpeted a slope, cloaking California poppies, choking them in thickets of yellow weeds that produce chemicals that inhibit germination and growth of the wildflower.
Kappelman pointed at telephone polls on the hill, which acted as goalposts for the morning’s scrimmage. He explained his objective: remove all the weeds between the two poles.
Elk Street was still more than a football field away as the morning’s work began. Kappelman game plan didn’t include quarterbacking a Hail Mary touchdown pass, only inch-the-ball forward a yard-at-a-time.
Karen Mauney-Brodek, who took a morning leave of absence from her RPD Capital Division administrative duties, donned a pair of work gloves and joined the lineup. For the next several hours she shouldered tarps filled with mustard and delivered them to a waiting truck.
Jay Estey, who lives on Conrad Street, jammed a shovel into the baked and unyielding dirt, which had a texture of kilned clay. He removed stalk after stalk of mustard, then lobbed each onto a burlap tarp, which Mauney-Brodek and another volunteer deposited in the Rec and Parks vehicle.
After 60 minutes or so, one of the gardeners climbed into the truck’s flatbed and trampled down the mound of mustard.
The City workers and volunteers worked without a break for 90 minutes when Kappelman signaled a time out. Mauney-Brodek refilled her water bottle; others walked to a water fountain at the Rec Center.
Estey rested on his Rec and Parks shovel.
“I’m pleased to see this happen,” he said. “It was sad to see this hillside go to weed.”
Day lighted now, the poppies complemented lupine and buckweed, each able to inhale morning sunlight. Integrated among the plants, recently planted cedar, coastal oak, holly, redwood, and Douglas fir also had space to spread their branches.
Sylvia Lehnen, who lives on Elk Street, had watched for three months from her living room as mustard colonized the hillside. She’d exchanged e-mails with Karen Mauney-Brodek as to how best halt the usurpation.
”I’d like to see a permanent volunteer group,” Lehnen said, echoing Estey. “I’ll distribute flyers and see if we can get additional help from people who look at the hillside every day.”
“The garden club can’t take on the project formally, as we already have a garden on Diamond Street near Buddies Market that we take care of,” said Estey. “But we can drum up neighborhood support, and ask members if they can join a volunteer group that can assist Rec and Parks.”
The Glen Park Garden Club has venerable antecedents. On Monday, February 3, 1908 the San Francisco Chronicle announced the formation of the new Glen Park Outdoor Art Club, reported to be the first of its kind in the City. Organized by the “ladies of Glen Park,” its goal was to make the new residential neighborhood a “model suburb.” The ladies first project was to beautify Glen Park and to improve the neighborhood.
The Chronicle reported, “Rose bushes appeared in abundance.”
“Our Diamond Street garden doesn’t have any roses,” said Estey, “but we have about 40 different types of water tolerant plants such as Pink flowering currant, Sticky monkey flower, checkerbloom, even a few nice non-California natives such as Lion’s Tail and Jerusalem sage.”
The day’s work resumed, with Kappelman and Estey tackling mustard with renewed effort.
The goal was to vanquish it so that Rec and Parks’ operational crew can make routine forays among it, line trimming it with weed whackers. Such long-term maintenance ensures the mustard won’t go to seed.
Once done, the game plan is straightforward, according to Estey, who isn’t reluctant to give a chalk talk.
“Continue weeding the hill, replace the dead and dying plants, mulch around the plants for at least two or three feet and water the them.”
The latter is vital.
“The newly installed spray irrigation system has been wonderful for the weeds,” said Estey, “but doesn’t provide deep watering for the new plants.”
Rec and Parks inserted quick couplers into the hillside, and they will give future volunteers the ability to either rainbow spray or twist a hose into the couplers and hand water.
With an eye on the Elk Street pay dirt, Sylvia Lehnen added her own Xs and Os to the playbook.
“I’d lay a strip of mulch, maybe two to three feet wide along the Elk Street sidewalk,” said Lehnen, a five-year GPGC veteran. “This will discourage weeds growing to the edge where they encourage people to dump trash and become a fire danger.”
With the lunch hour approaching, Kappelman directed a second truck to back up the slope while Jay Estey returned his shovel and gloves and made ready to leave.
Like an old-time western lawman, Estey slapped a holstered pair of pruning clippers hanging from his belt.
“I never got a chance to use them,” he grinned.
Kappelman and Estey shook hands.
“Get to Elk!’ Estey said to Kappelman.
Kappelman rejoined “Get to Elk,” sounded like a title of a Hollywood epic.
If so, both men should have their names on the multiplex marquee, above the title.
Those who would like to volunteer with the Recreation and Parks Department can contact Kimberly Kiefer at Kimberly.Kiefer@sfgov.org. Anyone wanting to join the Glen Park Garden Club and help maintain the Elk Street slope can contact Sylvia Lehnen at email@example.com.