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Installation: Beautifying a Narrow Patio

I sure am getting my fair share of livening-up tight spaces, that’s for sure! This past weekend, Tony and I found ourselves on Cathedral Hill, installing a design for Patrick Lannan of Flora Grubb Gardens. This was a long and narrow deck off the client’s condo on an alley that crosses Van Ness. The deck is an awkward space to deal with: it’s nine feet wide, and over fifty feet long! The nice thing is that it’s a phenomenally quiet space considering it’s sandwiched between Van Ness and Franklin. Couldn’t hear a single car.

The client’s condo has three sliding glass doors (bedroom/living room/office) looking out onto it, and the pre-design view was of a beige wall as high as the doors. One additional challenge is from a neighboring building: the tenants whose patio is above this one are smokers, who inconsiderately fling their cigarette butts into the abyss over their wall. And orange peels. Most of them land on this patio.

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Patrick’s initial design had two interesting elements to it that had to be nixed. One was going to be a “sail” that I was going to construct by sewing window screen fabric, and mount it at an angle that would deflect the butts and peels off the patio. The other was going to be a custom-sewn vertical garden like others I’ve done. Sadly, the HOA wouldn’t allow for anything to be drilled into the walls of the patio. The client is planning to get a more traditional patio umbrella instead, to shield his seating area from flying butts.

The palette of the planting is simple, yet engaging: bright greens, orange, yellow, and pink. We did three clusters of pots, one across from each glass door. Tall orange pots each have seven foot tall multi-trunked Kentia palms (Howea forsteriana), co-planted with a pair of white brake ferns (Pteris cretica ‘Albolineata’). The ferns are small now, but they’ll all grow over two feet tall. Smaller versions of the same pot, but in lichen green, nest in next to the tall orange pots. One has a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) with bright red-pink branches and bright green leaves. The other was designed with the same, but the client had noticed hummingbirds proliferated in the space between all the buildings of his block, and he wanted to encourage them to come onto his patio. In the cluster outside his door we planted Fuchsia ‘David’ instead of the maple. It also has red branches, and will have small red-pink flowers. The smallest pots in the groupings are the same lichen green, and have carefree succulents: Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’ with its yellow/green/pink leaves, and a delicate chartreuse ground-covering stonecrop called Sedum ‘Fine Gold Leaf’.

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The next day, I went back to hook up irrigation and bring one final element: an herb bench. The client was very excited to be watching the whole installation process and learn as much as he can about the plants. I showed him how to prune a maple, and how it’ll grow if you cut this spot vs. that spot. He was enthusiastic, and a great pupil! He wanted a place where he could “putz around” with herbs and edibles, so I built him a three-tiered pine bench to hold smaller potted plants. I even set up irrigation so that he can easily pop a micro-sprinkler into each plant as needed.

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The end result is fantastic. The view from each door is a VAST improvement compared to a beige wall, and the hummingbirds were already visiting the patio before we were finished planting the first day! All that’s left is for him to get the umbrella and some outdoor furniture for the end by his bedroom, so that he’ll have a place to come outside to enjoy his new patio garden. It was gratifying to get home to find he had already emailed his appreciation at transforming the space. I’m so glad we help someone new appreciate the outdoors!

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