Summer, 2009


For years, Mary Ann Robinson looked out from her Port Costa home at the weed-choked vacant lot across the street in dismay. "It was a mess, she said. "It was nothing but thistles and tall grass." Except for a few neighborhood cleanups, the vacant lot remained an annual eyesore and a fire hazard to boot.

Today, Mary Ann’s former bleak landscape is a beautiful rose garden, red and white and pink and orange, a colorful sight to behold from Canyon Lake Drive. "We started clearing the lot in 1980. We chopped down weeds and filled in low spots with dirt and started planting." Now, roses abound, with such unique names as Ink Spots, Tower of Roses, Perfect Moment, Bewitched, Betty Boop, Blue Girl and Frankly Scarlet. "If you want a good one, get a Betty Boop," said Mary Ann. "The flowers last a long time."

Some of the roses have been planted in memory of departed friends, neighbors and relatives, she explained. "There are even a couple in honor of departed dogs."

The rose garden is watered with a drip system, and is surrounded by a deer fence. "The deer were wiping me out," said Mary Ann, "they were leaving me with nothing but stems." Here and there little critters made of stone peer out from the foliage – a racoon, a frog, an owl, squirrel, a rabbit or bear, a skunk and even a pig. "We had a deer, but somebody took it," she lamented.

Providing welcome shade nearby are several stately 50-foot pine trees, planted years ago as $2.99 seedlings from Safeway. Complementing the rose garden, a concrete foundation once planned for a firehouse now serves as a giant planter box.

Mary Ann credits her brother-in-law, Ricky, for putting in hours and hours to help tend the garden. "It’s a lot of work," she said, "but it’s worth it. The roses are very pretty, and everybody enjoys them."


Spring, 2009

Photos: Lewis Stewart

Jen Copeland tends to plants in the Crockett greenhouse


Waste not, want not, the old saying goes. In view of a looming statewide water shortage, the timeless adage takes on renewed significance. In spite of recent rains that have turned the hills a brilliant green, California is experiencing an exceptionally dry year. As a result, businesses and manufacturers, golf courses, refineries, power plants and residential customers alike are being asked to curtail water use by as much as 20 percent. If voluntary conservation does not work, say state and local water agencies, mandatory measures will follow.

When every drop counts, what can be done on the home front? Common sense water-saving practices, like taking shorter showers and fixing leaky faucets and not planting big thirsty lawns will help. If prudent conservation reduces the amount of water available from your household tap, will it turn your yard and garden into a bleak, arid landscape?

The answer to that question can be found in Crockett, where an island of green is located amid an industrial setting at the foot of Port Street, down by the waterfront, where traffic rumbles overhead on the Carquinez and Al Zampa bridges. There, on a long, narrow plot of land, CREEC raises hundreds of different kinds of drought-tolerant plants, shrubs and trees native to California, grown in a spacious greenhouse and demonstration garden in large and small pots and raised beds of rich soil.

The Carquinez Regional Environmental Education Center known as CREEC was founded a dozen years ago for the propagation of the Monarch butterfly, native to the area and once found here in abundance. Starting with milkweed, the meal of choice for caterpillars, CREEC

branched out to include a variety of colorful flora – buttercup, golden and white yarrow, yampah, cow parsnip, lupine, and historic crimson roses raised from cuttings from China dating back thousands of years. Larger plants and trees include ceanothus, toyon, madrone, buckeyes, oaks, bay laurels and magnolias, many ready to go in the ground.

Greenhouse manager Jen Copeland tends to the diverse horticultural chores of the garden, sowing seeds, planting, trimming, watering and opening the garden for water-wise customers to visit, peruse and buy. "We have a climate here similar to the Mediterranean," she says. "We have the same rainy season, with cool temperate summers. Most of the plants we grow here are easily adaptable. They take a little water to get started, but once they’re established you can let them grow by themselves."

Kathy Kearns was among the first of many Crockett volunteers who pioneered CREEC’s startup. "We are so lucky to have a group of people doing this right here in our back yard," she says. "It has great potential as a local nursery. It makes much more sense to grow native plants that don’t require lots of water and special care." Among Kathy’s colleagues in carrying on CREEC’s work over the years are Pat Glover, Jay Gunkleman, David Hicks, Kay Smith, Troy McGregor, John Vetter, Darryl Simms, Sandra Dare, Heidi Petty and Dr. Dean Kelch. Dr. Kelch, a botanist, leads field trips from Crockett Hills Regional Park to Mt. Diablo State Park to collect seeds and cuttings. "We have a great opportunity here for vocational education for local youth and for classes in water-wise gardening," he says. Jen Copeland agrees. "You can redesign your garden to be water-wise and not lose the beauty and joy, making it even better. Restoration gardening, that’s what we do. Nature is a wonderful place to be. No kidding – you come out of it feeling so good."

CREEC is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or by appointment any day of the week by calling (510) 787-3282. CREEC is supported by the Crockett Community Foundation, Contra Costa County Watershed Program and an annual art show fund-raiser, Scene on the Strait, at Martinez Shoreline Park.



In celebration of Earth Day, CREEC extends an invitation to the "April Showers Bring May Flowers Rain Dance" on Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants are invited to come as an animal, insect, bird, fish, ocean mammal, or reptile for the rain dance. Refreshments will be available. Location: CREEC in Crockett, end of Port Street, left on Dowrelio Drive (follow the arrow). Info or leave message: (510) 787-3282.


Winter, 2009


Marking completion of the resurfacing project at the Port Costa School playground, painters stripe the new basketball court and handicap parking zone (background, next to building). The work was performed by Bruce Enterprises of Novato. For more details of the playground project, please see article below.



The long-delayed project to repair the Port Costa School playground has officially been closed out with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration). It all started in a driving rainstorm on December 31, 2005, when debris – tree limbs, sheet metal, plastic buckets and styrofoam floats – jammed the culvert beneath the Port Costa School, forcing three feet of water up into the building, buckling the floor and blasting geysers of water through holes in the pavement outside.

Shortly thereafter, the Port Costa Conservation Society applied to FEMA for assistance in remedying the disaster-prone situation, which created the second major flood in ten years. A FEMA-approved mitigation project resulted, which consisted of digging up the old storm drain and re-routing a new, larger one in front of the school.

Unfortunately, construction activity tore up the playground so badly it was no longer safe for children, and the gate was closed.

A request was then made to FEMA for repair and restoration of the playground. After about two years, FEMA came through with its approval. In September, the old asphalt was ground up and mixed with gravel to form a new base, topped off with three inches of new asphalt. A 20-inch wide planting strip along the Reservoir Street fence line and earthen borders on both sides of the school now provide some 500 square feet of space for volunteers to plant flowers and ground cover. A new water tap has also been installed at the back fence.

Additionally, the play equipment area has been dramatically improved, thanks to a $54,000 grant from the Crockett Community Foundation (CCF). The tanbark area enclosing the swings, slide and jungle gym has been enlarged, flanked by new crushed-rock walkways. The sidewalk has been replaced on its original course, leading from the front gate, around the flagpole to the center of the front steps of the school. New striping of the basketball court and handicap parking areas were also funded by the CCF grant.