The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show Part II: Hunting and Gathering the Guts of the Garden

If you read my last post, you will learn how an unknown, small-potatoes designer (me) decides to build a garden for a world-renowned garden show, and then proceeds to turn into a neurotic, stressed-out insomniac. There. You’re up to speed.

Truly, I was determined to not humiliate myself at this thing. So I spent hours and hours, every day for nine months, working hard on my little garden. It’s all I talked about. It’s all I thought about. My Facebook posts were all about it. I’m pretty sure my family and friends couldn’t stand me at that point.

I called my little obsession “Salvaged Creole Jazz Courtyard” and not too many people know this, but in my head, the garden belonged to this guy:

After watching this magnetic, sexy trumpeter perform, I started to fantasize about the type of garden that he might own (I promise honey, I was only fantasizing about his garden). I envisioned a Creole “shotgun” style house, passed down to him from his grandmother, with an old courtyard garden that he didn’t have a lot of money to redo, yet wanted to inject his own style into. Once I had fleshed out this character—a musician’s life story—in my head, I based all of my design choices on it. With everything I collected for the garden, I asked myself, “Would a broke, hipster New Orleans jazz musician put this in there?”

The blanks started to fill in: vintage drums used as containers for plants. Some cheesy, touristy alligator heads in the fountain. Votives, an old coffee mug and a copy of the Times Picayune on the porch. A fence built out of old rebar with musical notes and trumpets welded into it. Used guitar picks for plant labels. The soulful sound of New Orleans jazz playing. Lots of black plants, and plants with cheeky, theme-appropriate names (Cordyline ‘Black Magic,’ Aeonium ‘Voodoo’, Helleborus ‘Mardi Gras Black,’ etc.). I aimed for an authentic space that had layers upon layers of details, so that people would notice something new each time they came through. I also aimed for a garden that would encourage people to hang out—hence the urbanite (used concrete) seat walls (thank you, Brian for building these!) and good-vibes music.

I also gave myself the added pressure of trying to create the garden using 100% salvaged materials. Craigslist, Freecycle, Ebay, garage sales, salvage yards, dumpster diving, you name it, I did it. Even the ramps used to enter the garden were scrounged from a salvage yard. This was 2010, the worst of the recession was hitting the fan, and I wanted a garden filled with ideas obtainable to everyone, regardless of paycheck size. No custom pergolas, fancy waterfalls, and expensive stonework, thank you very much.

I experienced some setbacks. Hundreds of dollars worth of succulents that I purchased waaaay too early rotted out (remember that f-ing rainy winter?). I gathered a veritable ton of used brick (HUGE pain in the ass) only to realize I couldn’t use them (long story). And I started to run out of money. My initial cost estimate for building this thing? Well, let’s just say I spent five times more than that. And that’s not even including the price of a little impromptu “buying trip” to New Orleans that, in addition to a whopping hangover, resulted in only one item: a three foot long metal crawfish.

Next blog post: It’s Showtime! (Or How To Say “Yes, Those Are Real Alligator Heads” One Thousand Times Without Completely Losing It)

THE OLD FOUNTAIN FROM MY FRONT YARD, GETTING COVERED IN MOSAIC I GOT FROM A GARAGE SALE. A MESSY, TWO-MONTH PROJECT THAT I DID INSIDE MY HOUSE, THANKS TO THE WET, MISERABLE WINTER THAT WE HAD.

TESTING OUT WHICH PLANTS LOOKED GOOD IN WHICH DRUMS

AFTER DESIGNING A MUSIC-THEMED ARCH AND FENCE TO ENCLOSE THE SPACE, I SWEET-TALKED A FENCE GUY INTO BUILDING IT FOR ME (THANK YOU, JAVIER!)

HALF-BUILT SHOTGUN FACADE: IT TOOK ME ONE TORTURED MONTH TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO PAINT OVER THE ORIGINAL SALVAGED PATINA, BUT I KNEW THAT THE NEUTRAL COLOR WOULDN'T "READ" WELL IN THE DARK SHOW SPACE. IT ENDED UP GOING THROUGH THREE COLOR CHANGES.

MY FIRST ROUND OF SUCCULENTS ALL DIED AND HAD TO BE REPURCHASED. EVEN THOUGH I KEPT THEM UNDER A TENT, THE RESIDUAL MOISTURE IN THE AIR FROM THE SOGGY WINTER SPELLED D-E-A-T-H.

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4 thoughts on “The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show Part II: Hunting and Gathering the Guts of the Garden

  1. I feel your pain and the excitement while making the project. It was exciting to see it all put together. You did an awesome job Dawn. Did your garden turn into a New Orleans after the show? Hope to see it next time you have an open house. I missed it last time.

    • Yep, there is a giant crawfish in my water feature, and some peacock blue shutters on my fence! Oh, and I’ll be on a garden tour in May…I’ll post the info as the date gets closer. I hope to see you there!

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