driveby garden: Baker Street, San Francisco

For those who plan to attend the garden blogger meetup in San Francisco this year, known as the Garden Bloggers Fling, here’s a tiny glimpse of what the City offers mid January. And if you haven’t decided to attend yet, just imagine what June will be like.

The grand houses and dowager apartment buildings of the Marina District are set back just a few feet from the sidewalk. On Baker Street, there is the rare urban garden-making opportunity in those narrow, rectangular beds bordering driveways and front door walkways. Varying in size, these photographed below are relatively large, maybe 5 X 4 feet in size, running perpendicular to the sidewalk. Most of these spaces are planted simply, grassed or paved over, but someone grabbed the reins and went absolutely wild in maybe three or four of those rectangles, and in the adjacent parkways too.

What first slowed my pace from quite a distance were the spires of this brilliant, lemony bulbinella leaning into the sidewalk:



Bulbinella nutans? This bulbinella’s leaves were strappy and wide, not grassy.


Up close, the extravagance of the planting brought me to a full stop.
And closer inspection revealed that two rectangles had been planted almost in mirror symmetry.


The two Agave americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’ were the tip-off.
But there were also twin Mediterranean Fan Palms, one each in the center of these two rectangles, and the same plants were repeated in varying combinations.


The symmetry wasn’t pushed to an extreme, but the overall shapes and sizes were congruent with the neighboring beds.
Massed aeoniums were planted alongside one agave, a crassula alongside the other.
Both dark and green aeoniums were repeated extensively throughout.


The blue fronds of one of the young fan palms can be seen here, along with various aeoniums and dyckia. In the distance, a yellow phormium anchors another rectangle, possibly Phormium ‘Yellow Wave.’


The beds were built up and rimmed with stones encrusted with sempervivums and baby tears.


The bed with the yellow phormium, bulbinella, yucca (filamentosa?) almost buried under the phormium, Agave bracteosa, echeverias, with the dried, aged blooms of a hydrangea nearer the house. The large grassy clumps in front of the phormium may be aloes. Amazingly enough, I think there may have been some beschorneria in here too. It’s hard to say how old the plantings are, but another small garden could easily be made from the abundance of plants without leaving noticeable gaps. In the Bay Area, a succulent garden can quickly leap from the initial, spare, well-spaced plantings to the lushness of these little gardens.


The palms in particular will definitely be needing more elbow room.

baker street sf

But at this moment in time, the proportions still hold up. Succulents are the perfect place holders here, easily thinned out to allow more room when necessary — well, maybe not so much the dyckia, seen here next to one of the medio-picta agaves. I don’t dare thin the enormous clump of dyckia in my front garden. It is far more formidable a plant than any agave where flesh wounds are concerned.


The phormium repeated in the parkway with what looks like Kalanchoe grandiflora.
Euphorbia characias wulfeniii has seeded among the plantings too.


I’m pretty sure this is a beschorneria in the parkway, also known as the Mexican lily, which all have spectacular flower spikes that dangle intricate lockets of blooms.


Another plant repeated in different combinations was the squid agave, Agave bracteosa, here among baby tears, variegated yucca nearby.


Lush, strappy parkway.

What a pleasure it was to stroll along this undulating sequence of intense planting built up of rosettes and variations on strappy, spiky leaves. And you can’t miss it, should you attend the Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s directly across from here:


The Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium, though I understand the Exploratorium is moving elsewhere soon.

Magnolia stellata 1/12/13 Legion of Honor

Magnolia stellata in bloom January 2013, Palace of Fine Arts

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8 Responses to driveby garden: Baker Street, San Francisco

  1. Beautiful Denise, thank you for taking so many photos! I came very close to moving to SF once years ago. While I would be in succulent heaven I probably wouldn’t have ever been able to own a home!

    So are you planning on attending the SF Fling? (hope so)

  2. Kris P says:

    These pictures are an object lesson in not allowing a small space constrain your gardening aspirations. Thanks for sharing them.

  3. kathy says:

    I keep telling myself I need to get down to the Palace of Fine Arts to take some photos, but the awfice schedule intrudes. What a great little garden you found there !

  4. Denise says:

    Loree, I once lived in a large closet in SF and eventually had my own apartment for a short while. Yes, I want to go!
    Kris, yes, very little constraint and it really livened up the sidewalk.
    Kathy, the City has loads of great little gardens, around every corner just about. Hoping to see you there.

  5. Hoov says:

    The plant might be Bulbine latifolia, which I just killed–it needs water over the summer, and I didn’t give it any. 🙁

    I’m hoping to attend Fling as well. Lovely gardens–sometimes a small space is an advantage, not a disadvantage.

  6. Louis says:

    Absolutely stunning. I love those plant combinations. The agave medio picta alba is one of my favourites.

  7. Sue says:

    Wow! I keep looking at these pictures over and over. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. The GB Fling sounds like fun but isn’t it a week or two before IU10? Doubt I could swing both.

  8. Pam/Digging says:

    What a treat this post is. I’m ready to Fling right this moment — but you say June will be even better? Well, I suppose I must wait. This is quite the jewel box garden. Many of those plants grow to enormous proportions here in Austin, but it’s charming to see them at this size tucked all together. I do hope you’ll attend the Fling, and Hoov too. I’d love to meet you both!

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