by Karen, San Francisco Garden Gal
Charming…creative…quirky…knowledgeable…beautiful…fun…sustainable… No, I’m not describing a “perfect mate”! These are the words that come to mind when I think about Flora Grubb Gardens (www.floragrubb.com). The garden center (named after the owner who, yes, is really named Flora Grubb) is located in an industrial area of San Francisco, a little oasis and great escape from the urban landscape that dominates the area.
I’d wanted to visit FGG for quite some time. Articles in major publications (Sunset, 12/10; Better Homes & Gardens 12/10; Martha Stewart Living, 12/10; and Garden Design, 7/10 to name a few) had piqued my interest and I was curious to see for myself this peddler of native plants, vertical gardens and succulents. The garden center places an emphasis on plants geared to thrive in the San Francisco Bay area’s unpredictable weather, as well as creativity and sustainability in the garden. Vertical gardens are presented in various ways throughout the center – a wonderful example of how those of us with limited space can put to use an untapped resource (who doesn’t have a bare wall that could be made more attractive with plants!). And, until this visit to FGG, I had never – not even once – been interested in succulents. Who knew the gorgeous varieties available…so many colors…and shapes…and sizes!
I knew I was going to love Flora Grubb the moment we pulled into the parking lot and I spotted the red Radio Flyer wagons. Something about pulling a red wagon transports you back to childhood…even when you discover you’ve lost your touch with the steering process (sorry Flora!). The first stop was at the coffee counter and even there, the attention to detail is evident! A cup of coffee is freshly brewed to order or a latte is served with a beautiful heart formed in the foam. Home-made pastries beckon from a platter…unexpected and so yummy!
Once “fueled” I began to explore the gardens. This is where the “charming and quirky” really become apparent. There is an old flatbed truck on the premises and it’s got plants – inside, outside and all around. The bed of the truck has a table and chairs arranged just so and there’s a staircase leading up to them. It’s an invitation to sit in the sun with your coffee and just breathe in all the peacefulness that surrounds you! Since we’re on the topic, I should share that the creative use of unexpected items doesn’t stop there! There’s a pedestal sink planted with succulents…an old car with (you got it!) plants growing under the raised hood, through the roof, and inside…and a bike, hanging on a wall, simply dripping with plants. And, in case a sink or car aren’t on your list of highly desired garden items, there are gorgeous garden accessories tucked everywhere – beautiful old doors, charming iron stakes, and pots in innumerable colors, sizes and finishes. There are darling tables and chairs, multiple sized Buddha heads, and a plethora of items to easily create vertical gardens. Somehow this all manages to form a cohesive, stunning presentation that makes you believe you could actually mimic some of this in your very own outside world!
On to the original reason for the visit – the PLANTS! What most impressed me was the quality of the plants. This speaks volumes. It would be easy to talk about the many varieties of plants: the tender vegetables, the heavenly scented citrus, the flowering perennials, the hardy shrubs, or the meal-ready herbs. It would be only right to mention the presentation of the various plants: the “salad bowls” (a shallow planter filled with lettuces, herbs, and other edibles), the gorgeous and colorful orchids displayed in a cascading form on a tiered stand, or the vertical, wood-framed display of succulents.
And I hope it goes without saying that most of these plants are not going to be found at your local big box garden center. These are special. They are not all the mass-produced plants that can be grown in a broad range of climates. These are plants that have a proven track record in this area of California. It seems they have been carefully chosen by FGG for a reason and that is to bring joy and delight to gardens in this particular climate.
It took lots of self-control, as well as a promise to myself to return soon, to limit the amount of plants I purchased. I settled on six total. First off were items for my edible garden. These included two tomato plants (Black Cherry and Red Pear Cherry) and a six-pack of “Dinosaur” kale. Also finding a spot in my wagon were Eschscholzi caespitosa “sundew” (those little waving yellow flowers!), a California lilac, and a helianthemum in an orangey-red color. I was done, heading to the register and ready to return my red wagon to its proper place when Rhodohypoxis baurii “Glitterbug” caught my eye! This perennial plant has amazing pink flowers that were so charming in their shape and profusion! I NEEDED to own this plant…I had no idea where to put it or what it’s needs were, but I wanted it. And so, in the wagon it went.
I left Flora Grubb Gardens inspired to try new ideas and plants in my garden. Some of my purchases are in the ground, beginning to get established and grateful for some spring rain. Others are still waiting for me to find the “perfect” spot, agreeably hanging out with the vegetable seedlings that will be tucked in to their area of the garden soon. And my Rhodohypoxis baurii “Glitterbug”? I’m still toying with where and how to present it so that I do it justice. It’s a show-off, all sass and color, and apparently can be on the fussy side. Maybe I’ll start with a pedestal sink…A bit about San Francisco Garden Gal:
I’m Karen, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area. Summers here can be cool or hot, winters may be rainy or dry…it all depends on the year, or sometimes the week! The coastal influence contributes to the lack of predictability but on the other hand keeps things interesting making me appreciate nature’s tenacity and beauty. I’ve been gardening since buying a house that had a backyard consisting of two sheds and some white rocks. My goal until relatively recently was to have the “perfect” yard and then sit back and enjoy it. It’s taken many years and even more plants to realize that gardening is an endless endeavor and that many of its most exquisite shows are fleeting. And this I’ve decided is both its frustration and its allure. I look forward to writing occasionally about whats going on gardening-wise in the Bay Area and sharing my experiences. I’m one of Andrea’s biggest fans and excited to be contributing to my favorite garden blog!