written by Alison Malouf
The grassy islands that divide Dolores Street are one of the most visible casualties of San Francisco’s drought. Last October, Patricia noticed withered brown patches spreading through the once lush medians, the result of the city staunching their sprinklers in an effort to conserve water. The solution seemed obvious – to tear out the thirsty turf and populate the medians with plants that have evolved to thrive under drier conditions. Vivid California Poppies, Sages, spiky Spider Aloe, and other bright, drought tolerant, and pollinator friendly plants can create a much needed habitat for our bees. The pollinators, essential to the reproductive cycle of a third of our food crops, can take advantage of the continuous ribbon of Dolores Street as a pesticide-free urban garden sheltered from the heavy pesticide use on agricultural lands. As mono-culture farming and careless use of pesticides make agricultural habitats less hospitable to pollinators, cities have the potential to play a valuable role in their conservation. We believe every garden/open space in the urban environment should be a pollinator haven!
When Patricia reached out to the city with this idea, she was met with an enthusiastic expression of interest and a couple of caveats. First, the city, while excited by the proposal, was unable to fund the project. Second, Patricia would need to secure the neighborhood’s support. Starting at the northern end of Dolores, she approached Prado Group, the developers and management of the new 38 Dolores building, and Whole Foods. She found them eager to contribute to a lively new median through partial funding and future maintenance. Support from the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association (MDNA) followed only after the commitments of Prado Group and Whole Foods were enshrined in writing and the design had been approved by a historic consultant. The median is in the process of becoming a historic landmark, but it was determined that its historic character will not be compromised as long as the iconic palms remain untouched.
MDNA also expressed concern that the gathering places featured in the original design would change the medians from stately, distant oases to congested satellites of Dolores Park, so the design was modified to fully blanket the median in flowers. Finally, Patricia set up an information booth at Whole Foods and hosted a community meeting at 38 Dolores to supply information and answer questions about the project. The community members who stopped to talk to her showed their excitement by providing signatures, letters of support and willingness to volunteer on the project. We submitted these to the San Francisco Department of Public Works, and we are thrilled to announce that the proposal has been approved and we will begin work on the pollinator garden at Market & Dolores this summer!
The design is done, with low water, pollinator friendly plants carefully chosen to bloom in an unbroken relay all year long. The next step is to tear up the old turf and lay down sheet mulch. Sheet mulch is a permaculture technique to build soils rich in organic matter and control extremely weedy areas. Layers of nitrogen and carbon rich materials are spread over the soil, breaking down naturally over time and creating nutritious soil without the addition of commercial fertilizers. It is also a natural way to eradicate weeds, vital at a site like this where the turf has been established for decades and filled the soil with its seeds. The sheet mulch will sit for six months to suppress any lingering grass seed and condition the soil to receive the new plants in December. Several community members have generously offered to help prepare the median for planting. Prado Group will fund the turf removal, BayView Green Waste will provide the mulch, and Whole Foods will donate cardboard for the mulching and dedicate one of their quarterly 5% days to fund the purchase of boulders, signage, and some low protection for the area.
But there is still more to do! In August, we will apply for an SF Community Challenge Grant to cover the cost of plants. Fingers crossed by October we will receive the grant to purchase all the plants that we need.
We’re starting small, with the first block of Dolores at Market Street, but we’re dreaming big!!! We imagine the barren strips that run the rest of Dolores’ length frothing with plants and pollinators, a network of gardens wriggling its way over and through the San Francisco hills to wash the streets in sweet scents and shifting colors. We want this pollinator boulevard to become San Francisco’s pollinator neighborhood, connected to the new pollinator garden at Dolores Park and to all the school and church gardens along Dolores. We’d love your help – please feel free to contact us if you would like more information, or to be a part of this project!