A small space held together by moss-covered bricks, and filled with an array of green plants – sculpted tufts of Buxus, asparagus fern, Italian cypress, liriope. Very classic, sure, but this relatively simple design is catapulted into the realm of “way more interesting” by the simple addition of a ceramic ball (no, it’s not a giant puffball mushroom). This unadorned sphere adds a modern, sculptural dimension to a timeless garden palette.
A reminder that sometimes what is missing from a design isn’t another plant in another color, texture, or cultivar, but rather, an inanimate artifact to complement and enhance the living elements.
Though Small Spot Gardens is all about finding an ingenious use of even the tiniest patches of soil, not all of us have a garden-able plot in which to grow flowers or food. But solutions aren’t always so obvious, or sometimes they are just in such plain sight as to go wholly unnoticed. For example, if we have a house, then we have a wall, usually several of them. As this home demonstrates, the mantra of urban sustainability –think up, rather than out – can lead to an inventive and spectacular design. With all the sun from this south-facing wall, these multi-colored aeoniums and other succulents are destined to turn an otherwise bland beige wall into a vertical art form. Imagine!: According to the local nonprofit SPUR, San Francisco has over 120,000 buildings. There is a huge amount of potential here.
Re-purposing decommissioned porcelain from bathrooms for use as garden planters is undoubtedly not everyone’s style. Sometimes the attempts at funkiness and kitsch, once executed, can be a little too, well, trashy and haphazard. However, this aesthetic can serve many practical purposes. In a city where theft is a constant issue (sometimes even ceramic gnomes can’t protect a junkyard garden!), toilet- and bathtub-planters present a hefty challenge to potential potted plant thieves. And of course, diverting housing materials from a slow death in a landfill is always a huge bonus. In terms of design, this Inner Richmond garden makes a small rectangle look thoughtfully put together, employing different heights and a complementary scheme of colors and textures to create a coordinated flow, almost like a still life painting. And if you plant a cactus in a old toilet, rest assured no passer-bys will attempt to use it!
This garden is on the north side of a house high up in Twin Peaks. It’s a fairly sizeable front yard for the area and instead of lawn or hardscape they filled it with a great selection of pink and green shade-tolerant plants like pieris, ferns, loropetalum, sedums and aeonium.
This entryway has a nice variety of textures but a pretty simple color palette of yellows and greens that look great against the buff background.
With smaller gardening spaces, we tend to feel limited, like we have to cram it with every plant that grabs our eye at the nursery that morning. Of course, sticking to just one or two species can require a difficult level of restraint. But these two junipers possess a striking architecture, with enough difference in height and form, as well as varying shades of green, to create a powerful design. The addition of the offset rocks and gravel bed contributes to the meditative character. This small spot in the Richmond is a wonderful reminder that clichés are often true: Sometimes less is more.
Sword-like leaves, an aeonium’s towering rosette, a cacti evoking visions of the desert Southwest: Check out the diversity of species and form here. It’s just a quick strip of soil, a plantable space that could be easily overlooked. The variety in height makes each of these plants pop — like succulent sculptures up against the wall — even though they’re all essentially the same color. And since all these plants are experts at storing water, the resource use and maintenance is about as low as it can get.