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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dean of San Francisco Gardeners: You Call This a Drought? I'll Show You a Drought!

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge San Francisco's native plants, like the Raven's Manzanita, are old hands at coping with the region's mercurial weather - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • San Francisco's native plants, like the Raven's Manzanita, are old hands at coping with the region's mercurial weather
One of the joys of speaking with folks whose institutional memories stretch back to the days when the Canaanites roamed the earth is being told -- repeatedly --  how much tougher things were back then. Conversely, it's truly horrifying when such a person says, "I can't remember things being this bad" -- yet, happily, for this story, we'll dwell on the former.

Jake Sigg has been digging, rooting, and planting in San Francisco's soil for 52 years and he assures us that, yes, the city and state have gone through far nastier drought seasons than the one we're currently sloshing through. You may not remember the month-by-month breakdown of the great drought of '76. But Sigg does.

"That winter really was much harsher than this one. There hadn't been a lot of rain in December but, come early January, it just stopped," recalls Sigg, 81, a gardener in Golden Gate and McLaren Parks from 1957-1990 who has volunteered for the Rec & Parks Department since. "In January and February, no rain at all fell. And it was hot. It actually got into the 70s and even the low 80s one day when it was supposed to be the coolest time of the year when the bulk of the rain falls. I thought that was, you know, the end for a lot of plants. But they seem to have survived, somehow."

Sigg predicts that the area's native plants will weather this storm (or lack thereof). Bay Area native plants are hard-wired to deal with to the binge-and-purge precipitation of Mediterranean climates, as are many of the non-native species that have adapted to live here. As for agriculture, he replies that, "it's a no-brainer; they're going to suffer badly." Much of the state's already depleted reservoir capacity will go to bail out our crop producers, he predicts.

The gardener also notes that the resiliency bred into native plants through countless generations of dealing with California's mercurial weather may soon be tested by the ramifications of global warming. As to what may happen and when, he offers no predictions: "I don't go there."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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