boZannical Design + Installation: Succulent Vertical Gardens

Living Picture above the trough fountain.

I originally worked at this house a couple of months ago, but didn’t post about it because I knew there might be more work coming. Well, also because I didn’t take pix because I knew they wouldn’t prove to be very exciting. One of the challenges was planting window boxes out windows that swing directly over the window boxes. That meant plants had to be short, and they really can’t quite be appreciated from the street even just yet. But we’ll get to all that.

This house over in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco (or perhaps Pacific Heights – this is one of the streets that is arguably the division between the two, and you could really go either way.) I’ve worked several gardens along the 94123 ZIP Code, including a fabulous Tommy Church garden overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the whole North Bay. I used to live over there and do my morning running up and down these streets, and it was a treat to get to see some of these gardens and houses after merely peering over fences at them in the past.

The homeowners had the problem of two 3×3 patches of Mondo grass out front not surviving the daily onslaught of passing dogs. Patrick Lannan at Flora Grubb Gardens (who has led to most of my FGG garden installations) was called upon to freshen up the curb appeal. Aside from the lovely patchwork of yellow and green and beige grass, the continuous, full-width-of-the-house, two floors of window boxes had not been dealt with in some time. The irrigation to them had long been massacred, and the remnant roots of ornamental grasses had cemented the dry soil into long, long cubes that were just big enough to not be able to slip out easily, but rather had to be chiseled into fragments and unceremoniously flung to the street below. Ahem.

One of the fun, and oft repeated, challenges in SF is having to work with very dirty crap while in/passing through very nice places. And bulky crap at that, that can easily knock very expensive stuff around. And of course it’s always chosen to do the gardening just after all the fresh white paint has dried and the new white wool carpet has settled. In some ways I love the challenge, I must say. I love puzzles, and maneuvering without leaving a trail is gratifying like a successfully solved puzzle. I am the stealth gardener.

The top floor was the kids’ room, with ivory cashmere wing chairs near the windows I was to plant. I left that place spotless! All the window boxes on both floors had the same repeating succulents: Senecio ‘Fishhook’, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, Rhipsalis, and Echeveria. I chiseled out the aforementioned bricks of soil and flung them to the street. Tony was at that end to contain and clean the fallout, and also removed all the Mondo grass and replaced it with nice grey river rocks. They looked really fantastic against the house! And will definitely not be affected by the neighborhood dogs. An elegantly simple solution, really. Sorry I have no pix of the front, but the plants really needed time to grow before they could even be seen from the street.

Inside the other challenge I mentioned earlier was the swinging windows. Took a little finessing, but it worked. The windows were narrow and easy to “hug”, so I would open a window and hold out the plant with my left hand, hug around the sash with my right, and plant on the other side of the glass from me. Took awhile, but wasn’t too difficult in actuality. The long Fishhook plants made an instant statement, whereas the other succulents can only be appreciated from the inside for a bit to come. I positioned the tallest plants – the Aeonium – with the corners and the beams between the windows, so as not to interfere with opening.

Closeup of the vertical panels and Ipé frame.

Take Two – The Succulent Living Wall

A couple weeks ago the client called back and asked us to install a living wall of succulent panels they had ordered from Flora Grubb Gardens (they have a DIY, but you can also order pre-planted ones through the nursery.) The planted panels came in, and we were on to put them up. I must say, they were an extraordinary trio of panels, almost entirely in different species of Sempervivum, with a soupçon of Echeveria elegans sprinkled in.

The back garden of this house is crisply designed, with three terraces including deck and patio, and succulents and grasses in well-maintained frames to create rooms in the yard. Quite appealing. Despite some lawn for the kids they’ve made a noticeable effort in keeping the rest of the garden xeric. The back patio has a long built-in concrete counter with a trough fountain at one end. Patrick had suggested a panel of succulents would look fantastic there. A living picture, if you will. They liked the idea.

These panels are basically 20″x20″, and 2 1/2″ deep. Tony and I cut plywood to fit a trio, snugly fitted side-by-side. We hung the plywood on the Ipé wood fence over the fountain, fixing it securely to the posts. We got Ipé wood to frame the panels, and sealed it with a wax and preservative to match the fence. It’ll all age together, since the fence is relatively new as well. We attached the side pieces and then the bottom piece directly to the plywood frame and to each other, to make a sort of nest into which we could set the panels. We fitted in the panels one by one, securing with screws, and capped off the frame with the top piece of Ipé. It looks like it’s part of the fence! Love it.

The plywood and framing, ready for the panels.

The Sempervivum species planted in this Living Picture will ebb and flow over the seasons. In a couple of months they will grow in diameter and hide the plastic. They will multiply by way of making little “pups” that will radiate out around them, floating off the wall. Many will flower next Summer. Flowering is pretty, but means the death of the plant (hence the proliferation of pups before it gloriously stands tall and flowers). The expired plant/ripening seed head can be removed, and pups tucked into the empty space to take root. Pups not tucked in somewhere will perish, so you can always snip them and pot them or plant them around the garden, too…

Another cross-patio view of our installation.

3 responses to “boZannical Design + Installation: Succulent Vertical Gardens

  1. Pingback: Installation: Sidewalk Planting | boZannical Gardens

  2. Pingback: Garden Installation: Light Well, Lightwell | boZannical Gardens

  3. Pingback: boZannical Design + Installation: Vertical Garden Upgrades | boZannical Gardens

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