A couple of months back, Tony and I had the pleasure of planting a grouping of potted succulents in a formal setting in a courtyard for an HOA (Home Owners’ Association) in the Russian Hill neighborhood. The clients had come into the nursery at Flora Grubb Gardens and worked with our previous assistant manager, Camille (of the Happy Dance in my previous post), to gather some pots and plants for the job, and they hired me to do the planting work.
It was an interesting little microclimate. Russian Hill isn’t the warmest part of town. It’s in the northeast corner of the city, and is so named because it’s where a Russian cemetery had been established in the decades before the Gold Rush, when San Francisco was just a tiny village of a few dozen people on the waterfront, calling the town Yerba Buena. This particular property is four or five floors of condos on top of retail and offices. The courtyard is the roof of the offices, and is a U-shape that faces away from the prevailing winds. That made it warm and cozy in there. Succulents were a great choice. The tenants had a planter bed in this spot, but it kept leaking into an office below. They had it emptied, and topped off with a deck instead. Kids kept scrambling all over it, and the fencing at the back of it is perilously low and presented a risk for them to tumble over, so the solution was to cover it in potted xeric plants, and back it with something tall that would keep them from approaching the edge.
We arranged the pots in a nice, formally symmetrical layout, utilizing the pediments and flat spaces around the end of the courtyard to tie the whole space together. The rest of the courtyard plantings were gravel beds with boxwood hedges and rounded topiary pillars, and some Japanese maples. They had selected an orange sphere to add a modern element to the already-modernized formality of the succulent planters, but we encouraged them to have another group of spheres delivered so that we could continue them down the center of the courtyard to further tie the spaces together. It worked out brilliantly! The spheres mimic the topiary forms along the sides of the courtyard, and the orange in particular helps highlight the orange new-growth tips of the maple in the same bed. It really turned out perfect all around!
The tall plants in the back are Furcraea macdougalii, and the bowls all have Agave ‘Blue Glow’. I love how the agaves’ red-orange edges are picked up by the orange sphere. Different sedums in reds, purples, blue-greys, and greens are in all of the pots, to bring them all together and balance each pot with another. A couple of large Echeveria gibbiflora hybrids flanking the lower pots repeat the rosette form of the agaves. As the sandstone-colored pots age, they take on a hint of purple. That’ll help bring the purple tones of the sedums into balance even more! This was one of my favorite potting jobs we’ve done, despite my “love” of boxwood. I love how clean and crisp the courtyard is. Perfect for a semi-public space.