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Lessons from the Gardens of San Francisco


Greetings from California, or at least just off the (red-eye) flight from there.  I was there for the 6th annual Gardenblogger Fling, held in SF for the first time.  Having not been there since the ’60s (remember Haight-Ashbury?) I went a day early to be a total tourist, as you can tell from my photo of the iconic Lombard Street, with its switchbacks filled with hydrangeas.  I learned that it’s all cared for by a resident of the street, a burned-out banker-turned-gardener who’s paid $1,000 month plus free housing to maintain the gardens.

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The two scenes above tell me that it doesn’t take much space on the ground to create drama and beauty – just go up.  Also, I wish we could grow either Italian cypress or bougainvilleas; preferably, both.


Now for some private gardens that allowed the 75 of us to snoop around and photograph like crazy.  Above and below, the small courtyard garden in the notorious Tenderloin district, created for the enjoyment of the surrounding condo owners.   The gardener (below with his helper) turns discarded furniture and assorted objects into garden ornaments.

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He also makes great use of assorted flat objects to create this fun path.  Who says we have to stick with just one look in hardscape?


Above and below, an inspiring garden in Richmond, CA, overlooking the ocean.  The owners of the home center right bought the property between it and the ocean so that their view would never be lost to development, and then hired a fabulous designer to “just make it gorgeous,” and indeed it was so.  Accessible throughout via a winding sidewalk, the whole garden is ADA-compliant, too.


Lessons from the detail above?  Besides “Pick wealthy neighbors with good taste?” That purple and chartreuse are great together.


Above and below are scenes from the Silicon Valley garden of a very serious gardener, who happens to be president of the Pacific Horticulture Society.   The photo above captures two things we can even do here in the Mid-Atlantic:  use large, even empty pots for effect, and grow a Purple Smokebush, seen here blooming in silvery pink.  That’s one of the very few plants I saw in California gardens that grow here, and yes, ours can look as good as this one.

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Above, one enters the back yard through a curtain wall of -some plant I can’t identify – but soon comes out into the sun and this inviting and gloriously planted pool.


Just for fun, I snapped photos of the house and garden (sic) of the house directly across the street from the fabulous one we just saw.  Sheared, too-tall evergreen hedges and dried-in-the-sun turfgrass – ugh!


Next, we visited the headquarters of Sunset Magazine, which is THE publication for gardeners west of the Rockies.  Their demonstration gardens have lots to teach visitors, like the sign here saying “Treat trellis as art.”  Very inviting!

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More good ideas from Sunset include an inviting seating area with a colorful shade structure, and examples of vertical gardening.


Finally, a large public garden, the grand Filioli estate, south of the city.  My take-away from this visit is that knot gardens like the one above can be lush and full and not formal at all.  Just choose the right plants and keep those shearers in the garden shed.

Photos and text by Susan Harris.


Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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