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.

The Giving Tree, Revisited

A throne fit for a forest queen! This stump-turned-chair from the northern woods of Ashland, Oregon is lovely example of how death can be given new life. Have to cut down a tree in your yard or garden? Is it in a good spot for contemplation, conversation, chillin’? Consider this au natural, totally local and 100 percent organic garden furniture. This is an especially great idea if you have little kids (remember building forts?). But young or old, wouldn’t we all like to be cuddled by the heart of a mighty tree?

Just Pebble It

Ugly concrete floors and patios often, unfortunately, go with the territory of a garden. And though it’s usually feasible to break it up and haul it away (or, of course, re-use the urbanite in some creative way on-site), this extra labor isn’t always appealing. So consider this simple, attractive solution by simply by covering it with pebbles and adding a couple of pavers. This is an example from a tiny courtyard, but the same quick-fix could be applied in an outdoor space by adding edging to contain the pebbles.

Spoon Sound

It’s fun to re-appropriate common objects for an artistic and functional use within the landscape, but what about in the soundscape? Check out this fountain made of hundreds of spoons at Spoonbar in Sonoma County’s Healdsburg. It’s a domino affect and lesson in physics, with silverware: water trickles down each spoon, causing it to tilt and drop water on the spoon below. And on, and on. There’s probably a Zen koan in there somewhere, too, but at the very least, it’s delicate sound and a striking design.

Reclaimed Containers

Using reclaimed wood is another way of incorporating an ethic of no-waste into your garden. The look of planter boxes built from reused wood can span the spectrum from super rustic to more chic and sleek.

One of our favorite places, Building Resources — San Francisco’s treasure trove of reused construction materials – made this box of old doors. This, obviously, falls under the “super rustic” category. Keep in mind that using large pieces of wood, just as they are, can be a good strategy because it means assembling the box is a relatively quick and simple project. Needless to say, there are tons of old doors out there that can be diverted from the landfill and creatively reused.

In a more stylish garden, it’s typically best to have only one or two really rustic elements — more than that begins to transform the design into something haphazard and messy (which is the antithesis of stylish, unless you’re into that “carefully-cultivated messy look”, of course!). Reclaimed wood still has a valid place in sleeker gardens, however.  For example, Elisa sanded and stained slender pieces of reused wood to make these container covers. The thinner wood would rot quickly if soil was placed directly in them, so instead the plants are kept in the plastic pots and just set inside the wooden boxes. The boxes are a perfect disguise: You can’t even see the ugly plastic containers.