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.

On the [Planted] Road: Notes from Austin

A couple of months ago Elisa visited Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. Of course, amidst all the music, her eyes wandered toward creative uses of plants in small spaces. The following few posts contain a sampling of what she saw. –Katie

Contain Yourself! This is a Public Place…..


Arranging plants in containers is an easy way add more diversity to garden design. You can play with differences in height, variations in the materials and color of the container, or the idea of an instant mini-garden created by the boundaries of a pot. The rust-colored steel containers in this sidewalk strip allow the eye to pleasingly bounce through the small landscape. Moreover, sturdy containers help protect the plants. And note the plant selection as well: Succulents are great for sidewalk gardens because they hold their form and don’t require much water at all. (Contrast this to a common problem in San Francisco, in which neighbors get excited about installing and initially undertaking a sidewalk beautification project, but sometimes neglect to maintain it, leading to an overgrown mess and a magnet for trash.)


These hexagonal pillars add an artistic, sculptural element, with succulents poking out the sides like the drought-tolerant version of strawberries tumbling out of a strawberry pot. The shock of sword-like leaves crowning the top is a cool addition, as well.


These two matching but differently sized pots are a perfect example of paying attention to height to make a simple corner more interesting. With the succulents planted in the ground around them, it draws the eye to three levels, offering a sense of balance.


A Succulent Proposition

Recently, all sorts of inventive garden accoutrements have come out with the purpose of incorporating foliage into the vertical hardscape. Those fabric “pockets” that act as living awnings are probably the most familiar. But this design – on the wall at Folsom Street’s Stable Café, and built by Lila B. – wins the prize for the most artistic, practical, and recycled. The salvaged, multi-colored shutters now no longer serve to let in or block out the light, only to support succulents. These plants are famously drought-tolerant and low maintenance, perfect for rooting down in narrow spaces. Between the repurposed window covers and hardy hanging-on succulents, this installation is a testament to survival.

Best of Both Worlds: Desert by the Beach

When people think of succulents, they often envision the scorching, sandy environment of the desert southwest. This garden, on the other hand, is adjacent to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, famous for its swath of fog and salty air. Though it utilizes almost 100 percent succulents, from agaves and aeoniums to fan aloes and cotyledons, nothing about this design really evokes images of New Mexico or rattlesnakes, to me at least.

Perhaps it’s the addition of warm, dark wood, or the sculptural brush strokes of the cypress trees, which also serve to offer a touch of deep evergreen amidst the cool blues, silvers, and corals of the succulents.

There is also no sense of harshness here – the plants spill out, inviting, from the between the rock edges, and the diversity of form is complementary and inclusive. (and note the urbanite wall and the sleek horizontal fence!)

Up Against the Wall

Though Small Spot Gardens is all about finding an ingenious use of even the tiniest patches of soil, not all of us have a garden-able plot in which to grow flowers or food. But solutions aren’t always so obvious, or sometimes they are just in such plain sight as to go wholly unnoticed. For example, if we have a house, then we have a wall, usually several of them. As this home demonstrates, the mantra of urban sustainability –think up, rather than out – can lead to an inventive and spectacular design. With all the sun from this south-facing wall, these multi-colored aeoniums and other succulents are destined to turn an otherwise bland beige wall into a vertical art form. Imagine!: According to the local nonprofit SPUR, San Francisco has over 120,000 buildings. There is a huge amount of potential here.

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.