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 …

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.

Pink and green shade garden

This garden is on the north side of a house high up in Twin Peaks.  It’s a fairly sizeable front yard for the area and instead of lawn or hardscape they filled it with a great selection of pink and green shade-tolerant plants like pieris, ferns, loropetalum, sedums and aeonium.

Just yellow and green

This entryway has a nice variety of textures but a pretty simple color palette of yellows and greens that look great against the buff background.

Multiple Issues, One Solution

Is it possible to create a sense of privacy living on a busy San Francisco street? How can you successfully grow plants amidst a daily afternoon windstorm? What if you love the look of a Marin County meadow but are committed to City living? The answer is found in just a few planter boxes.

Separation between home and outside is achieved with a few clumps of juncus, a grass-like plant known as a “rush”. With its rounded blades, juncus also offers an organic and pretty windbreak, bending with the fog rather than getting tattered as would a more fragile species. Between natives like blue fescue and Pacific iris, and culinary favorites such as rosemary and lavender, the look is natural and subtle. It conjures visions of a wildflower-studded meadow, and causes the owner, who travels up north for the good surf, to dub the design a “Bolinas-themed garden”. Add the happy faces of orange pansies and the crepe-paper petals of Iceland poppies (plus some California poppy seeds in the soil, awaiting summer) for fun splashes of color.

Holding the entire Bolinas-themed garden together are planter boxes made by Small Spot Gardens from reclaimed redwood and cedar from Building Resources, a non-profit organization located in Bayview that’s dedicated to reusing materials in the built environment.

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.