Gardening with an Excelsior Accent
If you are interested in showing us your own garden please contact Robert Katz.
Bill gardens in the central Excelsior with a rear yard that faces east and receives extensive year round sun. Bill was raised in the north bay, on a farm with an orchard that has now largely been converted into suburban housing tracts. His love of plants, particularly trees, began at an early age and over the thirty years he has lived in the Excelsior, his backyard has been intensively gardened and transformed into a unique, quirky and art filled shady glen with several water features. Plants pictured in the yard include a large redwood (not for the faint of heart urban gardener), birch, bamboo, begonia, japanese maple, roses, ferns, hostas, foxglove, and many others. Garden walls, light wells and the front sidewalk have not escaped his attention. While our garden staff is decidely weak on interior decor, we could not help but be transfixed by the changes that Bill has made to a decidely common 1920's stucco home and since the interior is so integrated with the garden, we felt inclusion of some interior photos would not be inappropriate.
On an early September day we visited the beautiful Excelsior garden of Melquiades and Imelda. The prior week had been hot and the wonderful dahlia collection was slightly past its peak but still vibrant. The side/front garden we photographed has a southwest orientation. This is the first garden we've photographed which consists largely of potted plants. In warm weather potted plans can require frequent watering and this time of year you can see the gardeners on a pretty much daily basis tending to their collection. If you walk to Bart down Silver, ride the 44, live near lower Silver, or happen by for any other reason, enjoy the color fully visible from the street, so generously provided by these neighbors. Rear yards can provide tranquility and all kinds of other benefits, but front yard gardens and street plantings are a gift to all who pass by. If you find these dahlias appealing, you might want to check out the extensive dahlia collection in Golden Gate Park located to the east of the Conservatory of Flowers.
On a recent early spring day the gardening staff of EDIA visited the garden of Matt and Candi. While we were scheduled to visit the garden our gracious hosts had a difficult time prying us from their wondrous and extremely unusual, for our district, home. Their house was constructed late for our neighborhood, which was largely built out in the decades immediately after 1906. It radiates a postwar openness, abundance and optimism. Matt and Candi have respected this spirit which permeates the backyard garden where Beverly Hills meets San Francisco with a touch of the Midwest: apples, rhubarb, gazania, pride of madeira, blueberries and cabbage set amidst a lawn bordered by palms. They have a huge (by San Francisco standards) southwest facing lot and being adjacent to a park, have unusual gardening opportunities and problems. Matt has constructed raised beds to deal with gophers, a fairly unique problem for most San Francisco gardeners. Check out the last in the series for pictures of Matt and Candi's approach to building a gopher proof raised bed. A redwood frame, a barrier material that drains well, then filling the bed with good top soil. We'll check in the fall to see how these measures work. Our staff experience indicates that most anything short of armored steel is tentative. They raise an eclectic mixture of vegetables, herbs, fruits and ornamentals. Our staff gardeners have a fair knowledge of local edibles but our fondness for common plant names as opposed to scientific ones and our distinct limitations when it comes to ornamentals might suggest that you not mortgage your garden's future to the names attached to photos provided by our photographers. Our thanks to Candi and Matt for opening their beautiful back, side and front yards to our cameras. While we were mildly disappointed by the failure of Frank and Ava to appear, martinis in hand, prior to the close of our visit, we came away with the distinct impression that this is a really cool place and wondered whether our long held Victorian/Edwardian/Craftsman inclinations might require major revision. We also would also like to thank Matt for the time and energy he invests in caring for the public park areas near home.
Paige's backyard garden has a good southern exposure with all year sun. It is fairly open to the south and west. In the course of a recent house renovation, the yard was torn up and Paige and spouse had the exciting and initimidating choice of what to do with a tabula rasa, a largely blank slate of open space. Although raised on a farm, she has not personally been a gardener and in her hour of need turned to a pro, Jude Hawley (wildsagegardens@hotmail). The resulting garden is strong on herbs, including rosemary, thyme, sage, and lavender,and other water thrifty, low growing plants with a nod towards natives, such as penstemon, mimulus, and blue-eyed grass. There is a water feature and a strong component of thought out design. At the time of our August visit, the garden was strong on texture and aroma with gentle gradations of colour. The blooms of abutilon stood out beneath a darkening and gray sky. Paths are carefully layed out and soils heavily amended and mulched. The garden is already lush and densely occupies the space. Thank you Paige for allowing us into this wonderful, contemplative space.
Gary Monteleone is a lifelong resident of the Excelsior and a long term gardener. He comes from a gardening tradition having learned many of his cultural practices from his father. Ultimately much of his style of gardening probably derives from traditions of parts of rural Italy particularly his choices in vegetable crops and his practice of seed saving from the open pollinated varieties he generally grows. These traditions have been well adopted over the years to our particular Excelsior conditions. Gary grows chard in abundance throughout much of our year, as well as spinach, peas, lettuce, parsley, rosemary and other herbs. In the warmer months he plants squash, tomatoes and tomatillos, frequently experimenting with different varieties of tomatoes, also generally open pollinated. His focus is on “heritage”, older varieties. As is seemingly the case with many confirmed gardeners, Gary is also constantly experimenting, this year having planted bok choy. These seemed to have bolted prematurely and he likely will experiment with different planting times. In his front and backyard Gary tends roses, camellias, rhododendrons, apples, “drumsticks”, passiflora, calendula, lilies, snapdragons and many other flowering plants. His growing site has good southern exposure with full sun and wind exposure, and is predominately of a sandy soil liberally amended annually with manure. Our thanks to Gary Monteleone for showing us his beautiful artisan garden. The link above will take you to photos of the garden.
An eclectic mix of water thrifty natives, vegetables, herbs and edible fruit with a nod to San Francisco horticultural history. Symptomatic of bad experiences with PUC water policies in drought years. A frugal yard also manifested in clothes lines. Live oak, redwood, douglas fir, and bay keep the neighbors on edge. Not recommended for those with fear of heights or unwillingness to prune aggressively. Princess flower and Joseph's coat rose for fans of local tradition. A garden space in irredeemable disarray.
Want to learn more about gardening? Check out Garden for the Environment (free weekend classes).
The OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park is a wonderful local resource with extensive gardens. Find out more about this organization and see some photos at the above website.
We have additional local photos taken by Sonja at the Lower Garden and Upper Gardens at the OMI/Excelsior Living Library & Think Park on a recent mid-July day. Our thanks to Bonnie Ora Sherk for her pivotal role in creating this neighborhood gem and making it available to us. Check out the photos, visit the website and stroll, jog, pedal, skate, or if need be drive your hybrid over to discover the garden and the vision of which it forms a part.