Monday, June 14, 2010

In The Garden With Sean & James of Organic Mechanics

How wonderful to find another garden gem tucked away in the middle of San Francisco, just a few blocks from Union Square. Bordered on the north and east sides by tall buildings, but open to the sunny southwest, it is a lovely spot that was just waiting for some talented hands to bring it to life. And that's exactly what Sean Stout and James Pettigrew of Organic Mechanics Landscaping have done over the past ten years.

Isn't this amazing? A 3-story 'Owl Cigar 5c' sign watches over the garden, which is the length of two buildings and the depth of one. Three ancient Victorian Box (Pittosporum undulatum) have grown into large, twisting trees that shelter most of the space and fill the air with orange-blossom fragrance in early spring.

The 'sunny side' of the garden, punctuated by paths and fun sitting spots is filled to bursting with favorite sun-loving plants. Such a sheltered sunny corner, protected from the wind, is much appreciated in a cool-summer city like San Francisco. The 80-degree temps on the day I visited were unusual; what a great spot to spend the first day of summer!

At ground level looking up at the Owl Cigar wall and the Pittosporum canopy. Once upon a time this was a concrete jungle, completely utilitarian.

An antique votive stand flanked by potted conifers welcomes visitors as they enter the garden from a small side entrance.

A curving bed opposite has newer plantings; a real mixed bag of conifers, shrubs, grasses, perennials and succulents. Beautiful.

The shady beds around the massive Pittosporum trunks are more mature, with a delicious mix of begonias, golden oxalis, fuchsias and other delights.

Now, isn't this a lovely place for a party? The new patio of simple colored concrete connects everything with easy curves. It's easy to clean, and good for a shared common area.

The attentions of a skilled arborist helped create this incredible high canopy that dominates the view from most of the apartments in their building. It is an incredible asset to this space, and one of those little reminders about How Big Things Get!

So many hand-crafted details, like this corner which was perfect for jamming musicians. I love the way they use mixed salvage for their hardscape, and how the plants have blended them.

What goes best with a garage wall? Classical statuary and tropical foliage? You bet!

The old concrete patio was broken up and used to make raised beds around a sunken meditation garden in the shadiest part of the garden.

A charming Kwan Yin...

A large lava rock is slowly being engulfed by a tapestry of needlepoint ivies, next to an unusual dwarf redbud.

One of my personal favorites, Begonia fuschioides grows lush here...

Another charming corner with an antique cabinet, potted succulents and a graceful Norfolk Island Pine in a bed edged with a collection of salvaged bricks.

Nearby a classical bust with an awesome patina hangs out with Yucca and Crassula.

A young Silk Floss Tree (Chorisia speciosa) shows its characteristic trunk spines in an Asian pot on the "sunny side.'

I was impressed by this beautiful specimen of Red Velvet Sage (Salvia confertiflora) and it was pretty funny that among all the hortirati at this party no one could remember its name!

Gorgeous, yes?

Against the sunny south-facing wall a wonderful collection of succulents and cacti in pots. Love the chunky little column!

Another artful corner just goes to show you that succulents are at home just about everywhere!

This tall euphorbia caught my eye...

As did this lovely Leucospermum...

But one of my favorite things in the garden were these incredible salvaged material paths, made from a little bit of everything! Beautifully executed, and so nicely enhanced by the plants.

Here's the other half of the path shown above; a simple half-circle through a planting bed; a great place to park a bike!

One last path; this also shows how the new concrete ties the different elements of the garden together. Big thanks to Sean and James for inviting me to their home and garden; there was so much to see, this just scratches the surface, thanks for joining me!


  1. Wow, I love it. I wonder if they would notice me if I moved in in the middle of the night.
    I want to acquire a red velvet sage after looking at theirs.

  2. Exciting to see how these two master horticultural craftsmen used reclaimed materials to create their vignettes.
    A totally personal garden with wonderful plantings.
    Bet that antique votive stand elicits a few people to genuflect on their way threw the garden.
    " Hail Flora full of Grace"

  3. Great-looking walkways! Beautiful garden.

  4. OMG. I love that giant sage.

    I should TOTALLY have a garden of GIANT PLANTs, because I love my giant rudbeckia soooooo much.

  5. WOW - what a beautiful space! And yes, that sage is gorgeous and the path inspired. You are lucky to have been there in person and we are lucky you took your camera!

  6. The pitts do get massive, and what lovely dappled light. Amazing garden, fiercely personal. Thanks for the tour, Laura.

  7. Great pictures Laura!

  8. Spectacular pics! I never cease to draw inspiration from urban gardening ventures. A recent trip to Germany introduced me to the urban gardening projects in Berlin, such as the community gardens on the old airfield at Tempelhof and the Prinzessinnengärten ( It just goes to show that gardening -- caring for the earth and reaping its fruits in return -- can also enable multicultural community-building and peaceful togetherness. I'm no hippie, but the benefits of these ventures are so obvious. Keep up the good work, all of ya's!