Monthly Archives: February 2013

Did you miss the previous installment of this series? You can also jump back to the beginning of the story.


By  the end of September 2012, the front of the house is still shaded by the big silk tree. Not too many big changes here, but let’s just have a quick look around.


daisy bush corner: grass removed, strawberries and violets remain

Maybe the most obvious change in the front yard is the daisy bush corner, just to the left of the walkway to the front door. Here, most of the grasses have been delicately removed, leaving behind some bare ground and a mixture of violets and decorative strawberries. The daisy bushes have also been pruned using the undercut method, revealing nicely shaped lower stems.

The ground beneath the bushes is still loaded with grass seeds, but as time passes the inevitable sprouting grasses will be removed to give the violets and strawberries a chance to take over. The daisy bushes are scheduled for “lowering” – a series of prunes that reduce their height without making them look unnatural. Can it be done? We’ll find out after a few more episodes in this story.


To the left of the daisy bushes, the front end of the fake stream is revealed. Here, a nasty artificial bender board barrier buts up against the sidewalk, held in place by more of those horrible vertical spikes of steel rebar. Behind the flowering purple daisy are some loose chunks of slate, remnants of a former “artistic” wall of such stones, forming the back side of the now-overgrown “stream.” You can’t see it, but the “streambed” is loaded with dozens of rounded river rocks. All of this — the bender board, rebar spikes, river rocks, and slate stones, will be removed in good time.

However, so far there’s not much change in the front. We’ve actually been much busier in back, so let’s go have a look!


back yard: massive removal of vegetation, gravel, and bricks

Our first glance of the back area reveals that much has changed. The back wall of the house (at left above) is now completely exposed after the removal of the huge potato vine, whose single stump is just visible beyond the lid of the compost bin. Beyond that, a green tarp protects the camellia bush from paint drippings as the eaves are being re-coated.

Leaning against the neighbor’s garage wall are several white lattice trellises, no longer needed and temporarily stored here, as their vines have been removed. Also present are several orange buckets filled with gravel sifted from the ground all over the back yard. We’re not sure what to do with the gravel yet, but it represents a resource.

Over on the right side, the old patio stones are still in place, surrounded by a rectangular wooden barrier. All of this will be removed.


Turning our gaze a little to the right, only the tall tomato vines, still producing lots of tasty late September fruit, remain against the back fence. Even the tomatoes will go once the first frost kills them.


Looking even further to the right, the garage wall stands in full sun after the removal of the big old pluot tree, whose branches were literally splintering with fungus infection. Goodbye, old tree.


Elsewhere in the back area, all of these bricks were removed from the ground all around the back yard. Like the buckets of gravel, these bricks no longer serve an immediate purpose, but they represent a potentially useful resource. Properly arranged, bricks can make great critter shelters.

At the left, a peaceful stone Buddha guards the pile of bricks.

Next: a big cleanup, front and back!

After another unexpectedly extended break from blogging, we are back with the conclusion of the Great Big Mushroom walk that happened after a very wet storm last December. Enjoy!

( You can also check out the previous installment of this story, or pop back to the first post in the series.)

At long last, the journey nearing its end, there appeared a grove of pine trees.


Among the english ivy lurked one of the most curious mushrooms of all. Purple-black, brain-like knots of convoluted flesh, perched on industrial corrugated towers.

This is almost certainly the fluted black helvella (Helvella lacunosa) or one of its closely related cousins. All of these are edible and actually quite excellent, but here’s the catch: members of a closely related group called false morels (Gyromitra spp.) look very similar and can be quite poisonous. They even grow in almost exactly the same places, at the same times of year.

In this case, the corrugated stems and the almost purple-black caps are pretty good identifiers of the edible H. lacunosa. But beware! Gyromitra can be deadly. If you are not an accomplished mycologist, collecting wild fungi to eat can be a deadly diversion. Don’t!


It’s quite clear that these black-capped mini-brain fungi are intimately associated with the trees. Their underground hyphae mingle with the trees’ roots, exchanging materials of mutual benefit, including but not limited to minerals and certain special molecules from the fungus, and sugars and vitamins from the plants.


Also among the ivy, two slippery-slidey, ooey gooey yellow melters with identical circular pocks. Did some hungry critter make those holes?


A composition of brown and green among yellow gingko leaves.


If I hadn’t looked back I would not have noticed the massive humped cluster of brown-shouldered mega-shrooms (almost certainly not their real name!).

What a presentation! Pushing up the pine needles, pushing against each other. So full of life!

By now I was really ready to get home. Fortunately, home was just two blocks away. I didn’t expect to see many more fungi. But right there, mere meters from home, was this cute little scene of ivy and two kinds of fungi.


Within a few hours, this tiny scene was gone forever. Days later, all the mushrooms shown in this series of posts had decayed into unrecognizeable blobs, or into nothing visible at all. Ephemeral beauties!