Noe Valley Voice October 2009

Last summer, Ryan Joe cleared weeds and built planter boxes for the Noe Valley Library garden as part of his work toward an Eagle Scout badge.

Garden Group Scouts Out Help From Volunteers

By Corrie M. Anders

Ordinarily, this is the time of year when most Noe Valley gardeners would be shucking their leather-palm gloves, stashing the shears in the tool shed, and settling back to await next spring's call to plant.

That's hardly the case at the Noe Valley-Sally Brunn Branch Library.

One weekend last month, a cadre of stooped volunteers spent several hours weeding, planting, and laying the base for a gravel garden pathway outside the library at 451 Jersey Street.

Their sweat labor was the latest phase in a yearlong effort to transform several patches of abandoned terrain in the library's back yard into a verdant oasis for birds and bees and, of course, humans.

The garden, which went to seed after the branch was closed in February 2006 for two years of seismic renovations, is 75 percent complete. The work will continue through the end of the year.

One of the volunteer gardeners, Lisa Erdos, was surprised when she first saw the outdoor space late last year.

"The entire area was full of weeds," she said. "T here were three redwood tables that looked ancient, and there were some old planter boxes that were rotten and pretty disheveled."

The notion of redoing the landscaping originally cropped up in November, when two stalwart friends of the library, 24th Street resident Eleanore Gerhardt and Kim Drew of Duncan Street, pulled together an ad hoc group of professional and neophyte gardeners. They included Chris Weiss, a landscape architect, who drew up design and architectural plans; Jonathan Silverman, who has a background in landscape construction; master gardener Barbara Cohrssen; gardener Tuck Johnson, and Erdos, who took up gardening after losing her job of 30 years.

The group, calling itself the Noe Valley Library Garden Group, got busy. So far, the volunteers have filled the library's east and west yards with more than nine dozen plants of drought-tolerant flowers, dwarf fruit trees, ornamental plants, herbs, and vegetables.

Much of the fresh foliage resides in two raised planter boxes that were built by Boy Scouts from Noe Valley and Japantown. The scouts also constructed picnic-style tables and benches.

"I was really impressed with the Boy Scouts," said library branch manager Alice McCloud. The work counted towards the teens' leadership requirements to become Eagle Scouts, the club's highest rank.

Scout Ryan Joe of Japantown's Troop 12 in April took on the project of clearing weeds from the overgrown grounds and building a 9-by-12-foot planter box. On a different assignment, troopmate Connor Wong helped build three redwood tables and two new redwood benches.

The civic project also attracted Castro Street teenager Brian Furney, a scout with Troop 88 in the Forest Hill neighborhood and a senior at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School. A Noe Valley native, Furney has been going to the branch library for as long as he can remember.

"I knew the library was doing some renovations, and so I stopped by one day," said Furney, 17. A staffer directed him to the garden club.

Furney had no construct ion skills. But he pulled together six fellow scouts, several adults, and built an L-shaped, 16-by-8 planter box over two days in July.

Because of budget cuts, the library branch had not been able to help finance the garden restoration. Furney raised funds on his own. For several hours on July 4 weekend, he manned a table at the 24th Street Farmers Market, seeking donations to purchase supplies. At the end, he'd collected $379 to pay for wood, bolts, screws, and other materials.

"I was very surprised, very pleasantly surprised," he said about the donations. "It was pretty amazing."

The city's Recreation and Park Department has also been supportive, said Drew. "They've allowed us to go into the city nursery in Golden Gate Park and to have our pick of plants," she said. The donations "saved us having to do any significant fundraising."

Last spring, garden clubbers picked up 75 plants, mostly shrubs and trees. And "just last month, we went over and picked out another 40 or 50 plants," said Drew.

Silverman, a naturalist and an organic farmer, provided pots of kale, beets, lettuce, and other cool-season vegetables, which the group planted last month. But no one is quite sure who is going to harvest or enjoy the vegetables.

"The actual plan wasn't to put vegetables there," said Drew. "The goal for the garden was really to have it be drought-tolerant, low maintenance, low water, low everything so that it's beautiful, it's native, and it attracts birds and bees--but does not require a big effort to keep it up."

While not complete, the library deck and garden space is open to the public. Visitors, however, should use caution because the wooden fence along the south wall is unstable and guarded with yellow tape.

"It's really in bad shape, an eyesore, and a safety hazard," said Drew. Both the library and the rec department know about it and are "very eager to fix it as well, but it's a matter of finding the budget to fix it."

Over the next two months, the garden club volunteers plan to continue their work, and finish the gravel pathway.

As the project nears completion, Gerhardt remembered the garden from many years ago when "everyone had a little plot...they could grow whatever they wanted and take care of it."

But it was "kind of a mishmash back there," she said. The new, professionally designed garden will have "a nicer feel to it."

The club plans to utilize volunteers to maintain the renovated grounds, and is still looking for volunteers to sign up for certain days to weed and water. The group also is accepting financial contributions. Checks can be made out to "Friends of the Library," with "Noe Valley Library Garden Project" written in the note section. For more information, contact Lisa Erdos at or Kim Drew at