Volunteers at Work

Last week, volunteers Fran and Chris pointed out that when we are working in the native garden, many people pass by us without a second glance in our direction; they mistake us for park staff doing our job maintaining the native garden.

It is true that we get a lot of support from park staff — tools, mulch, logs, water lines, encouragement — but the work of planting, mulching, weeding, pruning, and watering is done by volunteers, by people like you and me.

Fran and Chris suggested we put up a sign that informs passers by who we are and what we are doing. Here is what we came up with:


So the next time you visit the park on a Saturday morning and see this sign near the native garden, look for volunteers nearby. Stop and say hello. And if the spirit moves you, roll up your sleeves and give us a hand.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maintenance and Planting

Thanks to a surplus from a city restoration project, Lake Cunningham Park has received a batch of native plants collected and propagated from a local watershed. On Thursday, December 24, 2015, 12 toyons were planted on Tully Road between White Road and Glen Angus Way in the bed adjoining the park fence. It rained off and on all morning, and the ground was nicely moist. The plants are off to a good start. In about 3 years, they will create a colorful, water-wise, and low-maintenance frontage for the park.


12 more toyons (like the one in the left foreground) were planted along Tully Road

On Saturday, December 26, 2015, five volunteers performed a variety of tasks in the native garden. Their tasks will give you a good idea of what is involved with maintaining a large native garden in a public park.

1. Dead stems of California aster, narrow-leaved milkweed, yellow nutsedge, and soap lily were removed. This is not strictly necessary from a habitat point of view (no one does this in natural areas), but this makes the garden neat and appealing to its human visitors. When humans like what they see, they are more likely to support it and volunteer for it.

2. Dead stalks of elegant clarkia were removed with care, without disturbing the seedlings germinating below. These will form a tall stand of pink flowers in late April and May, loved by native bees.

3. A dead coyote bush was cut down and its branches collected and piled up into a brushpile. Again, this was not necessary for habitat value;  we do this to make the garden look nice to human visitors. We do our best to minimize the impact to wildlife. The brushpile becomes a welcoming place for insects and birds seeking shelter.

4. Grasses in front of a stand of California buckwheat were removed to allow the buckwheat to expand.

5. A particularly large stand of coyote bush was growing close to the lakeside path. Three volunteers pruned it up and away from the path and to promote visibility on all sides of the shrub.

6.  2 box elder saplings made available by the City of San Jose were planted near the lake shore. They were planted among the existing coyote bushes where they will be safe from trampling or vandalism. When they grow to their full size, they will shade out the coyote bush, causing it to decline and eventually die. This is how plant succession happens in nature. Coyote bush is a pioneer plant, the first to colonize any open space; it plays an important role as a nursery for young native trees which will eventually replace it.

We observed many robins feeding on toyon berries on sycamore hill. Fran’s comment rang true: “If you plant it, they will come!”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Independence High Red Cross Club Mulches Picnic Area Bed

On Saturday, December 12, a small but incredibly effective team from Independence High School mulched the bed adjacent to the picnic area at the southern end of the lake.

Clinton Nguyen, board member of the American Red Cross Club, his friend Ju, and his father John flattened a high hill of woodchips and spread them evenly over the bed. They took care not to damage the native plants that had already been planted there.

One of the most aggressive weeds in this area is Russian knapweed, an invasive plant that dominates parts of Lake Cunningham Park, which is its only known occurrence in Santa Clara County. It comes up even through mulch, but is a lot easier to pull. However, it seems to weaken in deep shade. So our approach is three-pronged: mulch, pull, and shade it out with fast-growing groundcovers and shrubs.



Arvind and Clinton Nguyen from Independence High Red Cross Club on a bed of mulch


Other volunteers (Ashok, Susan, Xin) worked on a variety of tasks:

1. Planting 20 buckeye seeds along the main road between the Tully entrance and the native garden parking lot. Each is marked with a white flag so it is easy to see while weeds are being whacked.

2. Pruning up a large coyote bush so it looks aesthetically pleasing and promotes more visibility.

3. Pruning ceanothus and buckwheat off the accessible path.

It was a beautiful, brisk day to be working outdoors. The garden was full of birds feasting on the toyon berries. Thanks to all for a great workday.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tully Road Planting

In 2006, Lake Cunningham Volunteers initiated a project to reduce the use of herbicides for weed control in the frontage bed along Tully Road, and to landscape the area with water-wise, habitat-wise, low maintenance California native plants.
In the summer of 2006, with help from San Jose Conservation Corps, the area between White Road and the Tully entrance to the park was mulched with newspapers and cardboard below a thick layer of woodchips. Based on a design by Ashok Jethanandani, and funded by San Jose Beautiful, volunteers planted the area with a variety of native plants chosen for drought tolerance, low maintenance, and year-round interest.

In 2006, the bed facing Tully Road was mulched and planted with native plants

Nine years later, in 2015, the plants have matured to form a picturesque border around the southern rim of the park.

Toyon berries bring holiday color to Tully Road

Most plants are now established and on their own, but the area between White Road and Glen Angus Way remains bare.
Today, Saturday, December 19, 2015, neighborhood volunteers planted 10 additional plants in this area:
    1x Ceanothus ‘Joyce Coulter’
    2x Salvia leucophylla ‘Pt Sal’
    6x Eriogonum fasciculatum
    1x Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’
After planting, the young plants were watered deeply. 
Neighbor Terry Gotcher donated 5 bags of good quality woodchip mulch, and it was used in the high visibility bed at the stop light at Glen Angus Way.

Volunteers spreading mulch around a Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’

We also picked up random trash that had accumulated around plants.
More plants for this area are in the pipeline, and will be planted as soon as they arrive. Thanks to all for a great workday.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Native Garden Is Thriving

Have you visited Lake Cunningham Park recently? Have you walked by the Native Garden? I hope you do, because you are going to like what you see.

Even after the long 5-year drought, the Native Garden at Lake Cunningham Park is thriving. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of dedicated volunteers, the garden has been tended, young plants watered, invasive plants removed, and mulch added where needed.

In October, the zauschneria bed was full of red trumpet-like flowers, and the California buckwheat’s white flowers were turning brown.


Two months later, in December, the festive toyon berries are the star attraction. Song birds are darting into the shrubs and gorging on the red fruit.


This El Nino year is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to get new plants established with Mother Nature’s watering help. The invasives too are germinating, so there is a need for timely mulching and weeding. If you can help, please sign up through Volunteer Match by clicking here. We work Saturday and Sunday mornings 9am-noon. All are welcome. If you like being outdoors among native plants and birds, with a view of the lake and the foothills, you will enjoy volunteering here.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment