• Sutro Stewards

Progress Report: Rain, Rain Rain Garden

Updated: 4 days ago

By: Kelly Dodge


Since 2016, Sutro Stewards has received generous funding from the City of San Francisco's Community Challenge Grant (CCG). This grant focuses on getting funds to groups, schools, businesses and organizations who want to beautify their neighborhoods. Our CCG projects have included the Clarendon Trailhead and Trail Beautification and the Sutro Nursery Rainwater Catchment System. Over the years, these two projects have seen incredible change. Transforming from invasive ridden landscapes to usable and, soon to be, native plant dominated spaces. This year, despite COVID related impacts, we have gotten even more work done. And we are so excited to share with you all of our progress!


Along Clarendon Avenue at the corner of Christopher Drive, you'll find the Clarendon Trailhead. A granite seating area now nestled into the landscape that once looked forgotten. Over the summer, our trails team worked hard with a few volunteers to place the last of the granite blocks. The once discarded rock from a 19th century hospital building are now benches, offering a space of rest and (socially distanced) connection. In the upcoming months, a new wayfinding kiosk will be constructed in partnership with UCSF and Inkdwell. Soon the kiosk will host maps, bulletins and beautiful artwork to tell the story of Mount Sutro and guide you through your adventure.


But the one thing missing from the trailhead are the native plants! Earlier in this year, one could find almost nothing but invasive species growing at the trailhead. In order for us to be able to install any native plants here, we would first need to clear out as much of these invasives as possible. With the help of UCSF and volunteers, we brought in a steamer to kill weeds, dug out any remaining root systems and finally placed large tarps to tackle the invasive species seed bank. Once we remove the tarps, we will be ready to start planting all of the natives that have been growing in our nursery. From bare dirt, we aim to create a robust coastal shrub habitat that will foster a biodiverse selection of flowering native plants and support wildlife. We are excited to see the impacts of using multiple invasive species control techniques on the long term success of our native plants here.


Traveling further along Clarendon Trail, you may notice that the nastirum, ivy and blackberry dominated slopes take a sudden turn into a diverse garden. Below our nursery, you’ll find a carefully tended, native plant respite that features flourishing blue rush, flowering Western columbine and fragrant yerba buena, to just name a few. Back in 2016, we used CCG funds to establish our first rain garden, a system to capture rainwater runoff from nursery structures and redirect it back into the ground via native plants. This space has become a showcase of how we can foster a biodiverse, native understory even with a Eucalyptus canopy, while simultaneously lessening our impact on Mount Sutro.


In true Sutro Stewards fashion, we are expanding our current (and may we say successful) rain catchment system by increasing our capacity to collect rainwater and make even more space for our native plant friends. Back before September, the slope adjacent to our rain garden hosted nothing but invasive cape ivy and english ivy, with a few California blackberry individuals struggling under the mat of invasive foliage. With the help of a few dedicated volunteers and 42 hours of work later, we unearthed and removed the network of stubborn ivy roots and cleaned up any invasives that dared to grow in the current rain garden. Not an easy task but our hard work paid off as you may have noticed the sharp contrast of the bare slope recently.


But removing those pesky invasives was only the first step of our project. With the rains slowly picking up in San Francisco, we knew that time is of the essence to get as many native plants in the ground as possible. Planting on Mount Sutro coincides with the rainy season because the extra water helps the plants establish and reduces the shock of moving from their comfy nursery lives to the “real world” of surviving in the open space. With just 2 staff, myself and Ildiko, and our newest intern, Luc, we got down in the dirt and installed almost 150 plants. In just one work day! Species that you can now see dotting the once bare hillside include osoberry, sticky monkey flower, scarlet monkey flower, seep monkey flower, nutka reedgrass, yarrow, wood strawberry and juncus. We handpicked these species because of their water loving tendencies and root systems that will help stabilize the slope, all of which are necessities for this site. Many of these plants are still relatively small but we cannot wait to see them take off and grow into the fully mature garden connecting to and expanding the habitat of our 2016 rain garden.


On your walks of Mount Sutro, be sure to come check out the progress of our hard work along the Clarendon Trail. You’ll be able to enjoy our new seating area as we wrap up the finishing touches of our first, official trailhead. You will also be able to watch the progress of our plantings and know that the hard work of habitat restoration really does pay off.

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© 2018 Sutro Stewards

Sutro Stewards is a project of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, a 501(c)3 California nonprofit public benefit corporation.