Parkside Garden

Project Location

The project involved the creation of an urban garden in conjunction with the extensive renovation of a shingle-style single-family residence in San Francisco. The site is adjacent to that citys heavily forested Presidio park.
Scope and Size

The extensive architectural renovation provided an opportunity to completely redo the landscape of this San Francisco row house and develop better connections to the park beyond. The narrow width of the 25-foot-wide lot was a challenge to achieving an interlocking spatial design.
Site and Context Investigation

The garden originally had a small lawn area and unique plants reflecting the owners horticultural sensibilities. But, due to overgrown conditions, play areas for the young children were limited and the garden lacked a coherent visual structure. The family had little opportunity to use their outdoor space. However, the garden had good solar exposure, with the long axis of the garden running eastwest. The tall eucalyptus and Monterey cypress in the Presidio park which borders this garden provided a good windbreak in this windy and foggy section of the city and the soil was quite sandy, with excellent drainage.
Design Program and Intent

The garden design had three main goals.

1. First, the garden is intended to match the contemporary feel of the homes interior through strong forms, yet maintain a lush character. A modern tone was achieved by using angles, rather than square edges, to create a series of interesting shapes and perspectives within this small rectangular garden. The thick plantings, in turn, are either white or green. This palette keeps the emphasis on textures and forms, rather than introducing multicolored distractions to the gardens layout.
2. The next objective was to extend the space and vistas from the living areas. This was accomplished by designing a deck at the floor level of the main living area that stepped down to a bluestone terrace. The terrace, in turn, then widened as it reached the back of the garden, which visually extended the space.
3. Third, providing opportunities for many uses of the garden was a key goal. This was addressed by designing the flat terrace space for entertaining, by creating a studio for painting and sketching, and by crafting planting beds to hold favorite plants of the clients, who are avid gardeners.

Materials and Installation Methods

The stone paving is a simple two-by-two-foot module laid in a running bond pattern and set on an aggregate base with open joints. The joints allow stormwater to percolate through, the aggregate base dispenses with the need for rigid concrete slabs and the alternating joints of the running pattern contribute to the feel of the ever-expanding paving blending into the park beyond.

The selection and arrangement of the plant material was challenging. For instance, one side of the garden receives mostly full sun, but portions are shaded by the deciduous Japanese maple. The other side of the garden is mostly shaded, but one edge receives a significant amount of sun. Plants had to be a successful mix of white or green and have year-round interest. Finally, the plant masses had to fit within a bed width that varies from 18 inches to 6foot within the wedges.
Environmental Impact and Concerns

Reuse, local and recycled materials were important components of the plan. The former garden shed was converted into an eye-catching art studio by encasing it in an ivy-covered framework. The resulting green cube makes for an alluring part of the homes garden view. In another example of reuse, antique stone curbs from the previous garden were reused to form benches and steps. Local craftspeople were selected to supply the colorful concrete pots and the garden chairs made from recycled oil drums.

Minimizing water use for irrigation was an important part of the program. Fortunately, the cool San Francisco summers cut down on evaporation. Combined with the use of organic compost and amendments, the plants are able to thrive on intermittent drip irrigation during the summer and do not need any irrigation during the rainy winters.

The preservation of the existing specimen trees and plants were critical factors in the design. The layout was adjusted to minimize disturbance to the mature trees and plants that remained. Also, the client reports sighting birds from the neighboring park who enjoy the density and variety of the plantings. Hummingbirds, finches and warblers are regular visitors to the garden.

Regarding environmental impacts, all stormwater had to be contained within the garden and local and recycled components were used where feasible.
Collaboration with the Client and Other Designers

The landscape architect and the owner worked closely together in the design phases, considering several options before selecting the wedged terrace idea. The owners extensive knowledge and interest in plants made the plant selection and field arrangements a uniquely satisfying experience for the entire team.

Project Type


San Francisco,