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.


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

Promoting Beauty while Eliminating Waste

Having to go to the bathroom in the midst of a shopping day in San Francisco can be a frustrating hassle, often necessitating buying the cheapest thing on a café menu to be allowed to use the facilities, or weighing the grossness of the public stall against the pressure in your bladder. Contrast this scenario with the “coolest public bathrooms in the world”, which happen to be in Austin.

The structure is a spiral shaped by various sizes of metal rectangles — some taller, some shorter – that are spaced further apart from each other at the entrance to the bathroom (and the tail end of the spiral) and get increasingly closer together until they form a solid wall around the toilet in the center.  This design could be used in other scenarios, too, where privacy is the issue, such as around a backyard hot tub or half a spiral around a seating or changing area. The possibilities are dizzying.

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.

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.

Urbanite wall in Lafayette, CA

This is one of the best urbanite walls I’ve seen.  Turning some of the pieces on end so the flat, large side is visible was a nice choice.  Most of the time the pieces are just stacked and it looks fine but this version looks more like a stone wall.


“Stone” wall

This is a concrete wall in the SF Botanical Garden made to look like ancient layers of stone by lining the inside of a form with tinfoil and pouring multiple layers of concrete, each with a different texture and color.

Very cool way to add interest to what otherwise could have been a boring garden wall.