In our Mediterranean climate, the seasons reverse

By Lauren Lewis The tree losing its leaves is arguably the most recognizable image of autumn. In temperate areas of the world, like North America, the most common reason that trees lose their leaves, a process called abscission, is to protect themselves from cold damage. The plant senses a decrease in daylight hours, and responds by withdrawing nutrients from leaves for storage (the withdrawal…

The garden smells we love are plant protectors

By Lauren Lewis If you visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden on a hot day like we’ve been having recently, your nose may well have a more interesting experience than it would on a normal foggy day. That’s because most plants are constantly sending out odiferous volatile compounds (essentially chemicals), and warm air allows those volatiles to move around more and intensify. Some are…

The myth of California wilderness

By Lauren Lewis The concept of “Small Spots in a Big World” is about putting our outdoor spaces in the context of space and time, in order to understand and appreciate them better, and consequently interact with them better. This post focuses on the context of time, on the millennial scale, and the way that plants and people have interacted intimately on the land…

In summer, even the veggies are fruits

By Lauren Lewis Even in a place like California, with year-round food production and farmers markets, farmers depend on bustling summer markets to see them through the leaner winter months. Some of the difference in market attendance is attributable to weather that keeps people away in the winter, but a lot of the difference is certainly due to the produce selection at a summer…

To support public health and education: grow trees

By Lauren Lewis When you stumble upon a street where the sidewalk trees are so big they form a full canopy over the road, it just feels good. (I’m picturing 24th Street in the Mission as an example, from Mission to Potrero.) Something about the completeness of the shade, or the feeling of outdoor enclosure, is rare and lovely in an urban setting. Because…

Striving for ant-human mutualism

By Lauren Lewis The concept of ecosystem services gained recognition and common use among ecologists and policy makers only within the last 20 years or so. Ecosystems services are the benefits that humans collectively receive from the functioning of ecosystems. It’s the natural processes happening around us that we don’t control but that make the world as we find it. There are many examples…

Less-is-more Gardening for the Birds

By Lauren Lewis When it comes to active garden maintenance, the Small Spot crew almost always argues that less is more. We don’t say less is more out of laziness, but rather out of our understanding of the garden practices that can create beauty and sanctuary while simultaneously allowing wild ecological relationships to thrive. The goal of supporting bird life in the garden provides…

Weeds as Mindset

By Lauren Lewis A weed is simply a plant growing where it is not wanted. But there’s nothing inherently ugly or unpleasant about garden weeds as a category; in fact many are quite lovely, and not so different from their relatives that we plant on purpose. Weeds are only unwanted because their impressive growth characteristics allow them to spread quickly in places they haven’t…

The literal power of flowers

By Lauren Lewis Flowers are the garden’s showstoppers. Even the least botanically-inclined can appreciate their color and fragrance, and for Valentine’s Day they’re a near requirement as a sign of your love. For the plant itself, the flower allows for reproduction. Most flowers contain both pollen (the male contribution to reproduction) and ovules (like eggs) that accept pollen and turn into seeds. The colorful…

Our gardens as part of the urban landscape

By Lauren Lewis Cities exist in their particular locations because at the time of their formation the location itself offered something vital for their earliest inhabitants. Space to build shelter on, trees to build with, wildlife to eat, and above all: water. At a city’s inception city dwellers depended on these features of their environment for their lives and livelihoods, and if the features…