Steep Hill Ahead? No problem!

The ancient gardening art of terracing has been used all over the world for taming hillsides while simultaneously respecting their, shall we say, “hill-ness”. A steep asphalt street in Noe Valley is no exception. One of the best sidewalk gardens in San Francisco, this one uses modern-looking metal boxes, which are both durable and develop an attractive rust patina. The grey-green and golden grasses, wine-colored aeoniums, and bright red kangaroo paw offer complementary hues as well as diverse textures. And an added benefit? The small gardens are something to stop and check out while huffing and puffing one’s way up the hill!


Small ‘n’ Selective

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.

Mini Desert

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.

One of many horizontal fences

I really like fences that run horizontally instead of vertically.  I’m sure there’s a optical illusion-like reason that they appeal to me (like they make a space look bigger?) or maybe they just seem sleeker.  In any case I plan to take a lot of pictures of the ones I  see around San Francisco.

Here’s the first (found in upper Noe Valley):

More sidewalk garden barriers

Here are several more ways to protect a sidewalk garden…


It’s not good to have soil surrounding a tree trunk like that but the walls of the box seem nice and sturdy.  And I like the horizontal slats.


A simple wood edge is okay if the main goal is to keep your mulch enclosed.  It won’t protect delicate plants but keeping the wood in contact with the ground seems to give the border enough support to withstand regular sidewalk traffic.  I’ve seen other wood barriers raised up on posts and they get damaged quickly.
I’m really surprised this one is still standing.  It doesn’t seem strong at all … we’ll see what happens in a couple months.

Urbanite wall in Lafayette, CA

This is one of the best urbanite walls I’ve seen.  Turning some of the pieces on end so the flat, large side is visible was a nice choice.  Most of the time the pieces are just stacked and it looks fine but this version looks more like a stone wall.


Rope sidewalk garden barrier

Planting in a city sidewalk is a noble endeavor but almost always a gamble. Between the car doors, peeing dogs, and rambling drunks, these plants endure a constantly threatened existence. Protective sidewalk barriers are often flimsy and get beat up quickly. But build one out of half-inch thick rope and four pieces of rebar, and you have a sturdy, inexpensive, and easy solution. Even better, the plants remain in full view and the design complements the small square landscape.