Huh, what?

That’s right, Small Spot Gardens has an experiments page.  We’re not talking about scientific experiments – more like design experiments and kind of, uh, nutty gardening.  We read a lot about ecosystems, biology, soil, insects, nutrient cycles, etc and it’s fun to attempt to incorporate those ideas into spaces that people will actually respond to and enjoy.

Most gardens aren’t left to their own devices because they’re seen as decoration.  That’s cool – they can still be healthy places.  They do take an awful lot of work though.  And even organic ones aren’t really allowed to mimic nature most of the time.  What would happen if we let them go a little wild?  What if we follow their lead instead?  In a city, can we handle and enjoy some botanical craziness?  Can we learn from it?  Do we need it?

Some people think there’s a thing called Nature Deficit Disorder.  Scientists may someday strongly concur but we have a hunch it’s real even without solid proof (because we’re mushy, tree-hugging romantics).  We think people are probably happier and healthier when they have access to nature, but wild areas in the traditional sense are hard to find in a city.

We might have to look for it in the hidden nooks and crannies.  The vacant lots, untended hillsides, lightly managed parks, abandoned roadsides.  We’ve got so much man-made stuff around us that it’s easy to forget there’s a whole natural world doing its thing in our midst.  Despite all the obstacles we’ve put in their way, city plants, birds, animals and insects still thrive without our help.  We need plants and animals to carry on for some really practical reasons, but our minds might also need the fascinating distraction of nature that’s out of our immediate control.  As more of the world’s population congregates in built up metropolises, unkempt areas might become incredibly important for our collective mental health.  We might have to take advantage of every small spot.

So we’re experimenting.  Can vacant, untended lots be enjoyable?  Can we appreciate gardens that mimic nature, with all the browns and grays?  Can we learn to be okay with dead flowers, broken leaves and chewed up bits?  Can we start to see weeds as heroic survivors?  What can we do to make wild urban areas more approachable for the average person?  (Okay, maybe not the average person.  Maybe just the slightly less geeky person.)

For our first step, we’re just observing what’s out there in areas that no one seems to be paying attention to.  We’ll be taking pictures and filtering the #$%@& out of them to see the contrasts, colors, shapes etc that will pay a role in our experimental designs.

Experiment 1: Vacant lots and abandon corners

Small Spot Gardens is really into plants – especially how they manage to survive and thrive in harsh conditions.  In fact, a huge amount of our time is spent trying to remove plants that our clients dislike.  There are some impressively tough and persistent weeds out there.

But could these ‘weeds’ just be misunderstood?  In a way they’re kind of heroic.  Popping up in concrete cracks and abandon lots with no tending, no sowing, and, lately in California, very little water.  They may not look like traditional garden plants but could we think of them as beautiful?  Could we see them in a different light?  After all, they’re fixing carbon, capturing stormwater, supporting soil health and contributing to our bizarre urban ecosystem.  Maybe they’re even helping clean our soil, air and groundwater by removing and processing pollutants.

We’re impressed with their tenacity so we’ve decided to pay more attention, to try to get along with them a little better.  We’ll be learning what they do when we’re not watching and hope to find ways to make them more accepted.  Beauty, eye of the beholder, and all that.


Experiment 2: Super SF Native(ish)

One of the pesky things about nature is that it’s not always green and fresh.  Plants die.  People hate that but it’s true.  San Franciscans really hate it because it never gets cold here so why would you ever put up with a non-green garden?

But brown and gray happen and they can be pretty too.  Kind of dramatic.  And gray and brown take a lot less water than green does…

Native CA gardens are awesome – they take less water, they provide food and habitat for local fauna.  But sometimes they still look like traditional gardens.  Totally fine.  What if we embrace wind-blown, coastal chaparral sparseness though?  Can we like the browns and grays?  (I honestly don’t know if these are native plants.  I took these pictures at Heron Head Park and San Bruno Mountain.  I’ve read that California hills were once green all year because of the perennial grasses.  No idea if that’s true or not.  I still liked taking the pictures)

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