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.

Wild Wood

Using untreated, naturally-worn wood in the garden can offer a sense of warmth and a seamless integration into the surrounding landscape. This is almost a no-brainer, considering wood-as-a-building-material was once wood-the-body-of-a-tree.

At Merritt College’s permaculture garden in Oakland, an herb spiral is shaped by short, uneven pillars. The wooden outline can also double as seats while the gardeners pick their thyme and oregano!

This is a wild grape vine that Elisa’s parents placed in a blank spot in their home. The twisty nature of this plant in inherently sculptural; it’s not hard to imagine using a dead, woody vine as a trellis for a more delicate plant, such as peas in a veggie garden.

And check out this simple way to create a fun, different-looking path. Simply cutting one- or two-inch pieces of log, then filling in the gaps with sand. Very pretty and woodsy (and easy and cheap!).



A Concrete Matter

In the ever-expanding world of re-used materials, “urbanite” is a cool sounding word that refers, simply, to broken up concrete. Pieces of what was once flat, smooth sidewalk can now, once deconstructed, be stacked like bricks to create a vertical wall or foundation. This example of reuse is pretty significant, considering concrete is an incredibly energy intensive product to make.  Plus, I must admit, it’s quite theraputic to smash a sidewalk to pieces with a sledgehammer. Here are a couple examples of urbanite in action:


Paired with redwood, this is a sidewall of veggie boxes Elisa built in a backyard in Laurel Heights. This was reused onsite, having been torn up from an old path in the previously neglected space.

These retaining walls are part of the landscaping at a hotel in Boonville, Mendocino County. Notice how the stacked pieces of urbanite are re-enforced with wire mesh, essentially blending in and preventing any wayward slippage.


Totally Metal

Like wood and other building materials, metal is a resource that is discarded en masse but can be easily, cheaply, and creatively rescued from the landfill and put to good use. It is another texture that can be incorporated in garden design to either to complement or contrast with the more organic elements (aka, the plants!). Metal is at once both artistic and functional.

These simple wooden benches at the Boonville Hotel in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley have bases made of recycled twisted rebar. Anyone who’s ever tripped around a construction site knows rebar isn’t in short supply, and the possibilities with this bendy material (trellis, stakes, furniture, embellishments) are nearly infinite.

Elisa designed and constructed this trellis in the Mission district using reclaimed metal found at the local treasure trove of reclaimed materials, Building Resources. Check out the tiny mosses and flowers planted along the horizontal pieces, as well as the larger plants given a habitat in reused metal ducts.  In the same half-inside, half-outside garden she used an assortment of recycled materials to create a plant display over an old fountain base:

A fire-engine red sculpture made from, obviously, old garden tools (as seen in Sausalito, artist unknown). An artistic addition for a funky garden, perhaps?







Big (Bright) Bang, part II

More color!

This wine barrel embodies simplicity and purpose: painting the metal bands yellow to accent the yellow flowers of the thunbergia vine took about fifteen minutes yet has a significant impact on the design.  It’ll be great when the vine covers the back wall …

A favorite spot in the Mission: Choosing an understated shade of green for the structure (which actually houses a pool table — cool!) lets the predominant colors of the garden – bright pink, purple, and yellow – seem all the more wild and vivid.

Selecting such a bright — almost florescent, really — green for the rear wall not only provides a cheerful backdrop for the plants but also offers a needed contrast to the earthy tones of the hardscaping: the grey tones of the pebble path, the wooden deck, and the worn bricks.  And for the grand color finale, check out this combo:



Big (Bright) Bang

If you keep up with our posts, you’ve probably noticed that gardening in urban spaces can require a bit of resourcefulness: work with whatcha got.  In a boring space adding color can dramatically change existing walls (and boxes, containers, decks, etc) fast.  And luckily paint is pretty cheap and easy to deal with.  Paying attention to the visual realm of color choice can make the difference between a pretty garden and an insanely gorgeous, fun, and impressive outdoor sanctuary.

In general, the idea is that brightly painted walls show off plants, while bright accents work to make flower colors pop. And of course, in San Francisco’s notoriously foggy clime, the extra brightness can contribute a lot. Here are some of our favorite examples of this “big bang, few bucks” strategy:

Though giving this planter box a coat of spring green certainly matches the bamboo nicely, it’s bigger value is in the contrast with the adjacent box and bench (made from reclaimed wood). The solid, bright hue sets off the natural beauty of the wood grain.

This tiny spot near San Francisco City College was so eye-catching we had to brake to a halt and reverse the Small Spot Gardens truck to capture it. The royal purple of the princess bush blossoms contrast perfectly with the bold gold and tangerine colors of the building (remember that color wheel from junior high art class?). The variegated, broad  leaves of the Cana and the California poppies tumbling over the dusty red wall are a nice touch, as well.

The dark periwinkle of this Ceanothus — one of California’s premier native plant genuses — is all the more striking against a pink-red wall.

In the back garden of Dynamo Donuts, painting the fence a muted yellow allows pink and orange blossoms to stand out in the foreground, while also subtly tying in the yellow edge of the sword-like agave leaves.

To Be Continued …

A Winning Wall

We here at Small Spot Gardens always have our eyes on fences and walls. How to re-create these ubiquitous and usually boring structures into something with a little more life? This wooden wall incorporates a few elements that make it more worthy than the average barricade. The gently undulating curve at the top is unexpected and well done – curving the edges allows for a more organic feel. This pairs nicely with the different lengths of wood, as well as the different tones and pretty knots within the wood. Finally, the planter box is both prominent yet unassuming, which offers a tasteful touch yet doesn’t dominate the simple structure. –Katie

Old Windows + The Outer Sunset = Happy Plants

In permaculture, there’s a principal that goes something like, “The problem is the solution”. This little greenhouse pretty much typifies that concept. The “problem” here being the Outer Sunset’s characteristically foggy clime. There are some far out gardens in this neighborhood, for sure. But the grey is prohibitive to many would-be gardeners. The “problem”, Part II: Our landfills are clogged with construction materials. Luckily, there’s a creatively executed solution: Build a greenhouse out of old windows! It seems so simple, right?

This hidden gem stands behind The General Store, a little hipster boutique on Judah between 45thand 46th avenue, next to Trouble Coffee, Outerlands, and perhaps the most lovely, organic parklet in all of San Francisco. Greenhouses are magic, transforming a small, often harsh space into a productive haven. This one, designed and built by Sausalito-based artist Jesse Schlesinger is so damn cute and resourceful, as well. Go check it out and get inspired like we are. –Katie

Remembering Repetition

There may be more types of hardscaping materials in this garden than actual species of plants. Wood, concrete, gravel, metal, tiles, and glass. Yet the colors repeat – the sienna of the wood and metal, and the grey-white of the gravel, glass, and concrete – making the design cohesive rather than seeming scattered. With a limited color palette of mostly light or grey-green plants, this repetition results in a clean, pretty space. The bold lines of the fence, the metal, and the grasses and agave are a simple and strong compliment to the plants gently cascading over the retaining walls.