Back in November I had the great pleasure of installing one of my own designs for a change. 🙂 This was for a new Parklet at Cheese Plus (a cheese/gourmet food boutique) on Polk and Pacific here in San Francisco.
I’ve written about Parklets (and other urban park spaces) before: they’re this thing that started here in SF, but is now an international phenomenon, where a business owner can seek permits to convert a couple of parking spaces into a small “park” with seating and plants. It gives passers-by a place to take a bit of respite from their travels, and offers seating options for the business owners who install them. Despite being privately funded, they are open to the public regardless of business patronage.
Ray Bair, the owner of Cheese Plus, and I used to work together at Whole Foods Market in Berkeley, “back in the day.” He was the cheese department manager in the early ’90s and I was a cashier assistant manager. A couple of years ago, he happened into Flora Grubb Gardens where I currently work as buyer for the design team (at the time I was doing on-floor sales), and casually mentioned he was cogitating the idea of doing a parklet some day, and would I be interested in designing/installing the plants. Well, naturally!
Fast forward (slow forward?) two years, and I get an email from Ray saying this thing is about to become reality. It really did take two full years of permits and neighborhood input and public hearings, apparently, to get approval. He had to have the infrastructure designed before he could even pursue the permits. It’s no small effort, and is testament to his tenacity that he kept at it to make it happen.
Ray forwarded me the blueprints from Ron Stanford at step3studio.com, who designed the structure. What a gem! Faceted, angular cedar boxes and bench, a three-tiered corner planter (this parklet has the benefit of being right on the corner of the intersection), and imaginative angled canopies and lighting. A real feast for the eyes: perfect complement to the feast inside. The cheese shop had put in a sidewalk window awhile back, where you can order sandwiches and beverages, and the parklet’s clever design dips down so that the window is clearly visible to passing drivers, but with the rest of it being high enough to shield the users from traffic’s sights and sounds. Structurally, there are some brilliant considerations for the plants: the planters along the “ridge” are only 8″ wide at the opening, but they flare out as you go deeper. Ron designed them to go nearly to the ground, so that there’s plenty of room for soil and roots. The corner three-tiered planter is actually built as a single container with shared root space.
Ray and I had a couple of meetings and many emails to choose a plant palette. He wanted to evoke the French countryside, and include some flowering plants, but without drawing too many bees right around where people would be sitting. My vision was to reflect Provence or the Côte d’Azur. My internal title for the planting plan was “Palm Savanna du Provence” (because, of course, Provence is full of palm savannas). 🙂 I wanted durable plants that are tolerant of drought and wind (this is a very windy part of town, being open to the north and the west winds from the ocean).
For the “backbone” plants, I selected a good, durable palm: Trachycarpus wagnerianus (a “waggie” by common name). Six fairly large specimens in 15-gallon pots form the framework for the plantings, along the ridge and in the corner tiers. For some height with a bit of color, I chose the succulent Aeonium ‘Zwartkopf’ for it’s burgundy-black glossy leaves. Kalanchoe thyrsiflora ‘Flapjack’ is the low succulent with paddle-like leaves. In the sunnier season they’ll flush with more red to tie in with the aeoniums. The grass is a rush called Lomandra ‘Breeze’, which is the grass of the day, I tell ya. Durable, wind- and drought-tolerant, and provides a rustle in the breeze. It grows about two feet high and in radius. To add to the Provencal feel with herbs (Cheese Plus offers a handmade lavendar lemonade, incidentally), I added Lavandula ‘Provence’. Prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostrata’) will cascade down the street side of the planters, to soften the angles from the outside and to keep the bees on the back side from the patrons.
The end result is so fabulous! It came out exactly as I’d envisioned it, and Ray was totally thrilled with it, too. As an added bonus, I just got word this morning that Janet Gallin at the Examiner happened by it and fell in love with the whole parklet experience there. She wrote a fantastic piece about our parklet and the cheese shop in her Love Letters column, and asked to interview me for her podcast by the same name. Thrilled!
(UPDATE 1/6/15: Last night Ms Gallin posted a follow-up article on the Examiner’s site naming me and the builder. And, I’m scheduled to be her guest on Love Letters Live this Friday! I’ll certainly post the podcast once it’s available.)
I need to get back over there to take some “finished” pictures, I’m now realizing. The floor was still to be installed when we planted, and the woodwork had been stained and varnished and was still drying, so the whole thing was covered in plastic for my photos. You can see some good finish shots in Janet’s article in the link above. Ray mentioned that the sail-like canvas canopies are still to come, and will be installed before the springtime sun makes them a necessity (it’s a hot little south-facing corner, so I know the patrons will be happy with them).
If you get a chance to see it, swing on by the corner of Polk and Pacific, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill/Polk Gulch neighborhood, just one block off the 101 corridor through town. And pop in to Cheese Plus for some awesome cheeses and charcuterie, and perhaps a lemonade or jar of pickled fig relish…
Here’s a link to the full Flickr set: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk6NBQo9