Happy Birthday 20th Street Garden!

Happy Birthday 20th Street Garden!

Oct photo 1

The 20th Street Garden was planted just over a year ago, on October 6th and 7th, 2012. This was a community effort spearheaded by David White of the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group and Jane Martin, local resident, landscape architect, and the godmother of sidewalk landscaping in San Francisco.

Oct photo 2

By Eric Luse, 2001 for the San Francisco Chronicle

Before 2006, if you wanted to garden on the sidewalk in San Francisco, you faced a $800 permit fee and a discouraging, Byzantine permit process. Sidewalk gardening was so not encouraged that in 2001, the City cited a business owner in the Bayview District to get rid of her “obstructive” sidewalk planter or pay a $500 fine.  Her business was located on a dead-end street with a 15-foot wide sidewalk used more by parked cars than pedestrians. Thanks to Jane Martin, this same owner could now probably get grant funding to take out half the sidewalk and still put a planter against the building.

Oct photo 3

Interlocking pavers let rainwater and allow easy access between street and sidewalk

After a 2004 storm caused flooding and sewage backup, Jane was able to convince the City that sidewalk gardens weren’t just beautiful – they absorbed excess rainwater, preventing property damage and public health hazards. She helped City officials hammer out a streamlined, less expensive permit process with easy-to-understand guidelines, which rolled out in 2006. The permit actually becomes less expensive when more property owners on the same block participate, encouraging community involvement and bigger open spaces.

Oct photo 4


Fast forward to 2012. David White approached Jane about the 20th Street project. Southern Exposure Gallery, which anchors the western end of the block, agreed to collaborate, so the garden would extend the entire north side of 20th Street and wrap around onto both Alabama and Florida Streets.

Jane’s nonprofit Plant*SF wrote the Community Challenge Grant, funded by the City and SFPUC, to fund the garden. Her architectural firm Shift Design Studio did the design, with concrete work and paver installation done by Park View Construction. Plant*SF facilitated workshops for 60 volunteers to do the planting over a period of 2 days.

Oct Photo 5

The official name of this garden is the 20th Street Biophilic Landscape. Biophilia, meaning “love of life,” also represents humankind’s desire to be connected to all living things.  Our primitive brains recognized that a biologically diverse landscape – plenty of plants and animals – meant abundant sources of food. Although fewer of us now hunt and gather, the link between biodiversity and human health remains. Most of us still prefer to live and do business close to parks, gardens, trees and open spaces.

Oct Photo 6

Ladybug on Beach Strawberry (Fragraria chiloensis)

Appropriately, the plant list contains climate-adapted and native plants that provide forage and habitat for local insects and birds. Jane’s favorite? “Hooker’s evening primrose is particularly spectacular in bloom.” The bees agree.

Oct photo 7

Hooker’s evening primrose (Oenothera elata)

Happy birthday, 20th Street garden, and looking forward to many more!

Ellyn Shea is a gardener and garden educator in San Francisco. All photos are her own except where noted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s