Posted tagged ‘California gardens’

CityGuides II – SF Architecture and Private ‘Public’ Spaces

July 25, 2015

If you read my last post, you know I’m a fan of San Francisco City Guides, a volunteer-run series of wonderful walking tours within the city. When I last visited, in June, I wanted to take their Tales of the Castro tour, but it had been cancelled for Pride Weekend (probably a wise decision given the other events scheduled for the area that weekend).

Instead, I opted for a walk called ‘South of Market Architecture Stroll,’ which promised to focus on architecture and history in and around the Financial District. To my delight, it not only delivered on that promise but also included a look at a number of privately owned ‘public spaces’ (or POPOS, as they’re called in San Francisco).

More about those in a moment. First, however, a look at the Bell Building’s amazing interior space – primarily the lobby, but  quite a show. Located at 140 Montgomery Street, the Bell Building was built in 1925. Parts of its exterior walls on one side of the building still have a bell motif with ‘telephone book’ pages above them.

Bell Building, San Francisco

One side of the Bell Building, at 140 Montgomery Street. Note the ‘telephone pages’ motif at the top, with repeating “bell” symbols at the bottom.

Inside the lobby, the Art Deco motifs are stunning.

At one point, there was discussion of turning the building into condos, which didn’t happen. Today, the primary tenant is Yelp (not all their employees, just some).

Much of the rest of our tour (although not all) involved seeing POPOS, or ‘privately owned public open spaces.‘ Since 1985, San Francisco has required developers constructing projects in defined areas of the city to provide publicly accessible spaces in the form of terraces, parks, atriums, and other spaces for use by the public. These spaces may be inside a building, on top of it, or completely outdoors. Buildings with such spaces are required to post signs (which must be a specified size or larger; apparently initially some building owners used miniscule signage to discourage people from learning about their POPOS!). Like this.

A 'Public Open Space' notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

A ‘Public Open Space’ notice at 101 Second Street in San Francisco. Note that open hours are specified since this is interior space in a building.

Some of the POPOS have food and/or restrooms available (although you may have to look a bit for the latter). Some have quiet spaces away from the bustle of the street, in case you are between appointments or want a place to hang out other than a restaurant or coffee shop.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

A privately-owned but publicly accessible space in the form of an atrium at 101 Second Street. There is a coffee bar under the mezzanine area.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

Tucked away at the back of 55 Second Street is this spacious, large space sometimes used for meetings by City Guides volunteers.

The outdoor spaces are equally impressive, and often include art funded through the city’s “1% Art Program” which requires that large projects in  Downtown and nearby neighborhoods provide public art that equals at least 1% of the total construction cost.

There are so many POPOS that an entire CityGuides walk is devoted to them. You can also find a map online and lots of reviews by city natives of their favorites – just Google “POPOS.” I  hope to see more when I next return to the City By the Bay.

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Garden Shoots will be on vacation for the month of August. See you in September!

An ‘Endemic Creation’ in El Cerrito

March 8, 2013

I enjoy visiting gardens that unsettle my designer’s sensibilities. One of my sons once told me that he thinks of me as a photographer who likes taking images of “beautiful things” (rather than edgy street scenes, etc.) and I guess that’s what my mindset is when I design – somewhat traditional gardens with as much beauty in the design concept as I can pull together. So when we visited a garden on the APLD Conference Tour described in our materials as an “East Bay hillside in a modern vein,” I was delighted that our schedule let us spend some time there so I could take it all in.

Created by Brian Swope, who describes himself as a ‘contrarian designer,’ the back yard garden welcomed us first.

APLD, Brian Swope, El Cerrito garden

The view from this part of the garden includes a vantage point that takes in the neighbors’ house – which belongs to the garden owners’ parents.

Where to start? The sloping site has been brilliantly handled; the gravel “trail” that is visible just beyond the  perforated steel obelisk ( which is lit at night) climbs a hill that is modeled after trails in Marin County, complete with switchbacks.

APLD, Brian Swope, sculpture in the garden, Bay Area gardens

‘Siskyou Blue’ fescue grasses soften the planting area at the foot of the perforated steel obelisk.

The plantings in the garden are predominantly native species, including small buckeye saplings that cast shadows at night against panels set above a retaining wall behind the dining patio.

Brian Swope, APLD, Bay Area Gardens

Buckeye saplings edge the patio area at the top of the steps.

Poured concrete walls, as well as the edging for the planting beds shown above, have been textured with Trex – something that I never would have thought of doing in a million years.

Trex, APLD, Brian Swope, Bay Area gardens

Bed edging, created from concrete forms textured with Trex.

Closer to the house, in a shady site, planting combinations were softer.

Brian Swope, APLD, Bay Area gardens

I loved this combination of ferns, ginger, clover and other shade plants at the edge of the back of the house.

The front yard, installed in a second phase of work, is defined by a previously existing bamboo hedge. Swope chose other large forms – substantial rocks, Corten-steel edging, and gravel – to respond to the bamboo as counterpoints. (For a look at some other Corten steel projects for the garden, click here.)
El Cerrito Garden-8

A variety of shapes and textures, including 'Siskiyou Blue' fescue grass again, define the narrow front garden.

A variety of shapes and textures, including ‘Siskiyou Blue’ fescue grass again, define the narrow front garden.

In a harsh and challenging setting (with a fabulous view of the Bay), Swope and his client have created an inviting, modernist landscape. We felt privileged to visit it – and I knew my designer’s horizons had expanded, more than a little.

Art in the Garden, Bay Area-Style

February 22, 2013

One of the most enjoyable stops on the September 2012 “garden tour” APLD conference was a Bay area garden owned by Gail Giffen and Chris Pisarro in Lafayette, CA. Our tour materials gave this garden the title “Playing for Art’s Sake,” and that felt pretty accurate. The sculpture selections are eclectic and whimsical – from tiny metal marching “ants” at the foot of a large tree draped in a Marcia Donahoe “necklace” of carved wooden spheres, to a “motorcycle creature” hiding in the grasses on the outskirts of the back yard. The garden was designed by Michael Thilgen at Four Dimensions Landscape Company. Pisarro and Giffen, who sits on the Board of the Ruth Bancroft Garden, were incredibly gracious hosts – mimosas and snacks were on hand! I’ll let my photos tell the rest of the story.

Vegetable Gardening with a Master

February 8, 2013

Rosalind Creasy is known nationally and internationally for her inspired landscape designs that use herbs and vegetables ornamentally. So it was a special treat to be given a private tour of her home garden during the APLD conference in the Bay Area last fall. Creasy explained how finding substitutes for more traditional plants (e.g., rosemary shrubs for boxwoods or other low evergreen hedging material) enabled her to win over her neighbors – and at the same time the design world – in her early years working in the garden. Now she lives in a residential neighborhood in the Bay Area with chicken coops in the front yard and edible plants framed within  more traditional settings – patios and arbors, raised planting beds and “parterres” of rosemary.

In our mid-Atlantic region, there is a renewed interest in raising vegetables in our gardens, so having the opportunity to see Creasy’s home garden was an inspiration. (OK, so rosemary shrubs would be a bit of a stretch here. But her encouragement to the designers on our tour to search out heirloom vegetables and think outside the box was wonderful). For more information about Creasy’s books, a link to her blog, and lots of useful advice about vegetable gardening, check out her website.

Lawrence Halprin’s Lucasfilms Campus

December 28, 2012
Lawrence Halprin, LDAC, Lucasfilms

Yoda watches over the entrance to the LDAC offices . (Through the doors behind him, see Darth Vader statues you can!)

It’s time to continue with that APLD conference I attended in a galaxy far, far away  . . . oh, wait, I’m getting confused. It’s because on the first day out on the buses, where should we head for our first stop but the Letterman Digital Arts Center (LDAC), home to the flagship office for the Lucasfilm Companies, housing Lucasfilm and LucasArts and other related companies. As Lucasfilm’s recruiting website puts it, ” It’s where a cutting-edge campus meets an historic military base. It’s where a national park meets the big city.”

Lawrence Halprin, Lucasfilms, LDAC

Located on the grounds of the old Letterman Hospital, the LDAC campus comprises approximately 1000 acres and possesses stunning views, including this one of the Palace of Fine Arts.

Opened in 2005, the LDAC was created with sustainability as a primary goal. Many materials from the demolished hospital buildings were recycled for use in constructing the new buildings, which were designed to be both more energy and water-efficient than conventional buildings. And its grounds, designed by famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, include areas of lawn underneath which sit large parking garages for employees.

I found the area we visited, shown in these photographs, to be a successful balance of open spaces and designed landscape. (Apparently the grounds are open to the public for picnicking, at least on weekends, and are very popular with San Francisco residents.) A “brook” cuts through the central part of the landscape, with moving water whose speed and intensity varies from location to location. One of our tour leaders told us Halprin had been inspired to include this element because his wife was a dancer.

LDAC, Lawrence Halprin

Grasses, perennials, and large boulders line the edges of the waterway on the LDAC campus.

The flowing water feature sits in the center of this part of the campus. The large boulders help balance the presence of the Fine Arts Palace seen in the background.

The flowing water feature sits in the center of this part of the campus. The large boulders help balance the presence of the Fine Arts Palace seen in the background.

At the end of the stream is a medium-sized pool with pergola-like structures on one side. To my eye, they were less successful as elements in the landscape (as were some of the shrubs on site), but the area looked as though it was designed with visitors in mind, perhaps especially families with children.

LDAC, Lawrence Halprin

The pool area at the end of the stream has large stone ledges perfect for sitting on.

Lawrence Halprin, who died in 2009, was an extraordinary landscape architect. To read more about his career, including his work designing the FDR Memorial in Washington DC, visit the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.

Flora Grubb, the Succulent Lover’s Mecca – and My New Garden E-Books

December 15, 2012

I’ve been a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) since 2003. Despite the fact that I’ve won a couple of design awards from this organization and am delighted to be a certified member, until this year I had never attended any of its annual conferences. This year, I vowed, would be different. My son had just moved to the Bay Area and the conference was being organized primarily as an opportunity to tour gardens throughout the area, meeting some of the designers and learning through seeing in person, with written materials delivered via iPad rather than exclusively in lecture settings.

But what really cinched the deal for me was when I learned that the very first event of the tour would be a visit to Flora Grubb Gardens – a dinner reception the night the conference opened. I’ve developed a real love for succulents and consider it somewhat unfair that the most enticing varieties aren’t hardy here. I do have a client with an incredibly wet back yard, save for one area where we have planted lots of creeping sedums and included sempervivums along with other rock-garden plants like Gaura and dianthus. But it’s too cold for agave, and we often find we have to replace the sempervivums in the spring if the winter has been wet.

At Flora Grubb’s store (out a ways from central San Francisco), we ate dinner from food trucks but mostly lusted after the plants, the pots, and the other garden furnishings on display. A bicycle planted with succulents, carnivorous plants in a sink, air plants decorating a freestanding wall, and a vertical wall hanging planted chock full of succulents. I’ll just stop chattering away and let the photos speak for themselves. It was nirvana.

For more information about Flora Grubb, including links to her Web Shop (where I just ordered some great little holiday gifts for clients), click here.

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Speaking of holiday gifts, I’ve just turned two of my Blurb books into e-books if you’re interested in having a virtual copy. Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden can be purchased as an e-book for $4.99 by clicking here, and the Garden Conservancy Open Days book (priced at $3.99) by clicking here. I can attest that they look great on an iPad!

Foothill Contemporary

November 17, 2012

“Foothill Contemporary” was the tag line used to identify another “marquee garden” included on our APLD conference tour in the San Francisco Bay area in September. The description was just about perfect. Designed by Bernard Trainor & Associates, this garden has been featured in any number of magazines and books. Understated in its plantings and simple but impressive use of low-cost hardscape materials (concrete, gravel, and stone), this garden was one of my favorites. I wish the sun had been less glaring, but it was a privilege to visit regardless of how challenging this garden was to photograph.

In planning this post, I came across a wonderful article from a 2007 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine featuring photos of Trainor’s gardens and an interview with him. In it, he speaks about negative spaces and how he strives for simplicity without being a minimalist. To read more about his vision, and to see a photograph of this particular garden at night, click here.


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