In The City, even a crack in cement can yield beautiful results for a garden.
Kevin Conger, a partner at CMG (which has designed public places such as the sculpture garden at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) purchased a tenancy-in-common Edwardian building in the Mission district in 1998.
A tiny cement backyard was shared with a next-door neighbor. There was no division between the two properties — just
“The back of our house was a sea of concrete,” Conger says, “and at the time, we were first-time buyers, in a maxed-out situation.”
“We had to do it all ourselves,” he says.
The four buyers each made sketches of what they’d like to see in the backyard.
Conger took the initiative and sketched a plan to “erupt” the cement and plant rows of shrubs and flowers in the cracks.
After the final sketch (which included patterns and grids; the group spray-painted blueprint lines on the ground) was completed, the workers rented jackhammers and cut the patterns into the concrete.
Four hours later, the cracked garden was born.
The next week they built a fence along the property line and purchased plants.
The back wall is the side of the neighbor’s garage. The group affixed stainless steel cables on the wall and planted potato vine and akibia to grow against it.
Then they extended the cables to the side fences. Plantings were 8 feet high in that area, so that climbing vines would rise above the height of the fence to create privacy.
They planted Iceland poppies, fleabane, corn and strawberries.
There was no irrigation system, so they put lawn sprinklers on the end of the hose and watered the cracks. Extra water would hit the pavement and run into the cracks.
On both ends of the garden they installed 2-foot wide planters, where they placed lush foliage against the fences. On the sunny side they planted vegetables. On the shady side, they grew calla lilies, hydrangea and salvia.
“The amazing thing about the garden was that sometimes during parties people would walk on it and trample it — and it just popped right back up,” Conger says.
The garden became a testament to the old adage that anything grows if you just give it a little space.