A few months back, I wrote about an amazing experience I had involving a “pop-up garden” in a public housing complex on the south side of Chicago. The term applies to a turnkey garden installation in one day, from bare ground to a finished garden and landscape. Up to that point, it had been the most unique and rewarding experience I’ve ever encountered in my diverse life of gardening around the country.
Then came San Francisco! A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to design and oversee the installation of another pop-up garden. Fiskars’ Project Orange Thumb set their sights on well-deserving locations around the country and, then, provide all the resources to turn a neglected or forgotten piece of land into a thriving garden. As possible sites were being evaluated for this garden, we looked at numerous pictures and learned as much as we could about the story behind each location. Although every potential garden was worthy, one stood out from the rest.
The pictures didn’t tell the whole story (as I’ll explain in a moment), but a site visit by one of the Fiskars representatives revealed the compelling reasons why this spot was special. Located near downtown, it was in an active and culturally-diverse neighborhood. A staircase along one side of the property allowed children and parents to easily access a nearby school and public library. The neighborhood itself boasted a spectacular view of the skyline, but even more impressive, was the community involvement. Monthly socials, civic meetings, a neighborhood website, and blog and fund raising events were just part of what made this neighborhood so appealing for us to be a part of.
With less than four weeks to design the garden and no opportunity to physically visit the site in advance, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I had numerous pictures from every conceivable angle from which to draw my plan, but nothing captured the steepness of this hill. When I arrived at the site to get the lay of the land in person – one day before the installation, I couldn’t believe how much steeper the site was compared with the pictures from which I had been working. Adding to the challenge was the virtually solid rock surface we would be planting into.
With the help of a generous supply of tools supplied by Fiskars and five jackhammers rented to facilitate the difficult planting) corporate volunteers, city workers and an impressive showing by neighborhood residents worked tirelessly from morning into the late afternoon to transform this land into a garden these residents had dreamed about for years.
As the sun was setting, I finally had the chance to sit down for the very first time. Overlooking the garden from a newly-installed bench, I quietly reflected on how much was accomplished by so many and thought about all the enjoyment to come from this beautiful new space.
At that moment, a young couple excitedly hurried over to see what had transpired while they had been at work for the day. Although they didn’t see me and I didn’t understand a word they were saying to each other, it didn’t matter. Their happy expressions and excited gestures said it all.
I knew they would be back many times, as would so many others who had this beautiful place to enjoy at last. I’ll be back too, not just to check up on things, but also to visit the many new friends I made that day—all thanks to a garden.