Installation: Russian Hill Upgrade

Pots of Palms to liven the corners.

The most recent installation I got to undertake by way of a design from Patrick on Flora Grubb Gardens’ design team was a house up on Russian Hill here in SF. It was an installation in two phases: Phase I involved planting some containers on a deck and at the front entrance, and in Phase II I came back a couple of weeks later to plant some window boxes and a vertical garden on the deck using Woolly Pockets.

Russian Hill is in the NE corner of the City, one nob up from Nob Hill. It’s bordered also by North Beach, Pacific Heights, and the Marina. Russian Hill was so named because when the Gold Rush got underway San Francisco (then Yerba Buena) began to expand from a tiny village on a small cove (which has now been replaced by the Financial District). The early settlers came across a small Russian cemetery on top of the hill, and the name stuck. Russian whalers and fur traders had been active up and down the coast well before the Rush was on, and there are several Russian references and points of historic interest in Northern California.

Before: A corner of the deck.

Back to the deck! This house was kinda fun in that its entrance is on one tiny dead-end alley, and it’s garage is accessed from the next tiny alley over. The narrow profile of the building, and its position at the ends of both alleys, makes me suspect it was built within the width of a formerly connected longer alley. The owners upgraded the Edwardian according to the current aesthetic of one big open plan inside. Now they wanted to make their deck more inviting.

The existing citrus, before.

Phase I called for some pots. The only existing plants were a row of forcefully pruned Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’ trees. Nice trick: they are still in their plastic nursery pots, dropped into a space that is covered with wire mesh, and covered with stones. We transplanted their existing Meyer lemon into a larger pot, and brought in two more large pots to hold some palm trees. In one we put a Baby Queen Palm (Chamaedorea plumosa), and the other has a Waggy (Trachycarpus wagnerianus). Both got underplanted with Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). A simple, small clean box finished it off with a dwarf Golden Bamboo (Pleioblastus viridistriatus).

front pot

We dressed up the front door with a tall pot of easy-care succulents. There’s no faucet on this side of the building, so minimal care requirements dictated using succulents here. Patrick’s design used the colorful Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’, Echeveria lilacina for a lovely grey-pink, and a little spreading Stonecrop called Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’, which is a dark blood red.


Woolly Pockets ready for planting.

Some work needed to be done to prepare for Phase II, so we got a little hiatus in the meantime. The plan called for a vertical panel to be mounted on a fence, which needed some special structuring to make it sound. Also in the design were some window boxes out front on the other alley. The owners hired a contractor to install the hard goods and to build and paint a lovely framed rack for the Woolly Pockets. The work was very nicely done!


Before: No plants in front.

Phase II could now begin. I went back to plant the window boxes and Woollies. The window boxes repeated the exact same selection of succulents to maintain continuity of design. I planted one further box with same, to use as a centerpiece for the table on the back deck. The front has been so enlivened! Much more inviting facade in the alley.


Improved curb appeal.

The Woolly Pockets really are fun to plant. It’s super easy, conceptually. Reaching without a ladder is less so. Fortunately there was some sturdy furniture for me to stand on! (Note to Self: bring a ladder when doing vertical plantings.) To make it easier to fill with soil, I cut an empty soil bag in half and filled it with five scoops using a one-gallon plant pot. This was just about enough of a start for each of the six pockets.

The pockets get hung directly on the wall (or framework, in this case), using the hardware that comes with them. The pockets are hardcore heavy duty felt, made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. They are lined on the back with military-grade waterproof plastic, to protect walls from rotting in direct contact with wet soil pockets. I’ll be going back to slip some irrigation drippers into a special pocket designed just for that purpose, and will tap it into the existing drip line for the Great Wall of Ficus off to the side. Probably drop one in the citrus while I’m at it…

closeup woolly

Closeup of the Woolly Pocket plants.

The Woollies are in full shade, Northern exposure. Shady plants were called for. I planted each pocket with two 1-gallons and half a dozen 4-inchers. The gallons were a dwarfing fuchsia (Fuchsia campos-portoi) and a Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum venustum). The smaller plants were burgundy Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea ‘Purple Palace’ or something like that, to match the burgundy of the succulent), Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’, to match the white of the furniture), and tying it all together with more splashes of the bright Creeping Jenny that we’d used before in the palms. GORGEY!

the finished deck

Inviting deck space, with Woolly Pocket vertical garden, new succulent centerpiece, and fresh citrus.

alley view

View from the front windows, over the newly planted boxes.

One response to “Installation: Russian Hill Upgrade

  1. Pingback: Installation: Sidewalk Planting | boZannical Gardens

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