Garden Party

Before

Everyone in the City is so busy 24/7, right? We can barely “make time” to see friends, much less to, say, totally re-do a medium-sized backyard in a mere day. See where the permaculture adage, “The problem is the solution” might come in handy here? A garden party!

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In this case, Elisa’s friends had recently bought a house near Duboce Park. After doing some necessary prep work – mowing and mulching, mainly – the day before, they invited about 20 people over to build and beautify their new outdoor space.

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There was a project for everyone, from laying ground cloth and painting outdoor furniture to planting and spreading a lovely layer of shredded bark.

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The transformation was quick, fun, and dramatic. Stock a cooler of refreshing beverages, grab some tools, and call your friends.

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File under: Cool Things To Do with Sticks

One time I found a burgundy-colored Manzanita branch lying on the corner of Page and Clayton in the upper Haight. I nailed it to my wall, hung dozens of pairs of earrings on its delicate branchlets, and inadvertently created the most commented-upon piece of functional art in my room for the next three years. The lesson here? Sticks and branches have a ton of character, as both these towel hangers and this arbor will attest.

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They’re simple, striking, and free, and can create a structure in itself (the arbor) or liven up a wall with texture and dimension (the hangers). Note the tiny lights woven throughout the arbor, creating a whimsical nighttime sculpture.

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Modern Support

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These sturdy black columns were made by pouring concrete into columnar forms. Though these ones are part of a building in Potrero Hill, it’s not hard to imagine them as supports for a modern-styled arbor or trellis in a garden needing some verticality. Or, similarly, in a small grouping as a sculpture; add water flowing up the center and tumbling down the sides for a fountain. Simple and supportive, but with a big statement.

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Jeepers!

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How could you not want to sit in this chair? It’s a worthy addition to a funky, artsy garden, hand-constructed from reclaimed metal parts and with a grill from a Jeep giving it a quirky personality (assuming a chair can be said to have a personality). This piece was found at Renga Arts, http://www.rengaarts.com/, a gallery in Somona specializing in art made from recycled and reclaimed materials.

Part II: Mexico City, Muy Moderna

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Lines and edges, and more lines and edges. Mexico City’s dry landscape and reliance on water conserving plants like agaves and cacti present a sleek, minimalist vibe by default. These agaves popping out of holes cut into a deck create a miniature desert forest in the middle of an apartment complex. Much more dynamic than just a wooden platform!

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The addition of bright wood to this grey and chartreuse building lends an organic touch, softening the lines. The three tiers of different plants showcase the varying forms and shapes of each species. When designing, it’s easy to want to mix plants together – one here, another there, and still another in between – for variation. But we often forget what this image shows, that using one species at a time creates a solid, powerful statement.

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Part I: Gardens Everywhere in Old-School Mexico City

For New Years 2013, Elisa found herself celebrating in Mexico City. Though she may have had a short break from gardening, once one starts paying attention to plants, it’s impossible not to notice them in the landscape, and Elisa snapped photos throughout the city. All of these small spot gardening ideas could be easily executed in San Francisco

 

Part I: Gardens Everywhere in Old-School Mexico City
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The steely curly-cues of wrought-iron bars are ubiquitous on windows in Latin America. Here, the limited space is maximized not only on the windowsill behind the bars, but by hanging terra cotta pots outside of them, as well. The unidentified grassy plant’s airy, cascading form provides a soft contrast to solidity of the iron, a worthy juxtaposition in both the physical and the poetic.

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Another smart use of space in one of the most populous cities in the world (Mexico City ranks 7th or 8th, depending on the list), again takes advantage of that window ledge. It’s hard not to love this image – four agaves shooting upward like spiked hair, absorbing the heat re-radiating from the wall.

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Here’s a typical urban Mexican garden. Height and drama from the multi-trunked cacti in the center demonstrates good use of the vertical dimension when the horizontal space is limited. The “just stuck my leaf in an electrical socket” palms are a nice combo with the stubborn linearity of the cacti.

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And, perhaps the ultimate use of a small space: Look carefully — this baby aloe is planted in a plastic bottle and strapped to the frame of a food cart. Gardens, everywhere, indeed.

Branching Out

It’s hard to find a more perfect material for creating outdoor structures than branches. They’re inexpensive, if not free. They complement the landscape, especially if you’re going for a woodsy vibe. They’re 100 percent organic, and will eventually return seamlessly to the earth from whence they came.

The only trick is finding a source and knowing some patience might be involved. Small Spot Gardens tends to use Bayview Greenwaste; if an arborist is working in the neighborhood, it’s like a tree treasure trove.