Noe Valley Voice March 2004

Familiar Faces in Green Spaces:
Noe Valley and Glen Park Gardeners Shine at Garden Show

By Dawn Stranne

Several Noe Valley and Glen Park residents are playing a significant role in the sixth largest flower and garden display in the world, the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, coming up March 17­21 at the Cow Palace. Not only is the show's producer from this neck of the woods, but so are four garden creators, a nursery owner, and a garden club.

"It's truly extraordinary to have so many gardening experts from the same locale involved in a world-class event," says Garden Show producer Kay Hamilton Estey, who lives in nearby Glen Park.

Flora Grubb of Guerrero Street Gardens, who is donating dozens of palm trees for display at the show, says she isn't surprised at how many gardeners and landscape designers from the area are prominent in the event. "A lot of professional gardeners choose to live here because it's the banana belt of San Francisco," she says. "We enjoy a warm microclimate with the best soil in the city."

Four local garden creators were selected to be among the 22 display gardens at the show: Ric Lopez of ModernPast, Jill Potter of Potter's Gardens, Elizabeth Dubuque of Healthy Gardens, and Alma Hecht of Second Nature Design. The Glen Park Garden Club will also help design and install 11 window boxes, planted with a variety of annuals and perennials.

Potter and Dubuque are collaborating on a garden called "Enchanted Lane," which will feature Potter's specialty of matching plants with pots. "It's a great opportunity," says Dubuque, who runs a garden maintenance business from her Noe Valley home. "I've gone to the show for the last couple of years, so when I was asked to collaborate on a garden, it was like a creative dream come true for me."

Hecht, who lived in Noe Valley for eight years and now lives in Glen Park, says her show garden, called "The Garden of Sustainable Delights," will not only be beautiful, but ecologically friendly. Her partner, Brian Avery of Avery Construction, will build the garden with help from Noe Valley resident Johno Campos of California Tree Care.

"I wanted a garden you could just look at and feel could be yours," says Hecht. "It's a sensory experience. There are the fragrances, the subtle sound of water trickling down the rain chain, the 'green roof' overhead, the whimsical sculptures tucked here and there, and if we could get some birds in there, there would be a party in the birdbath."

Hecht explains that the landscaping around her garden includes a hillside streambed and a small studio (built from recycled materials), which could be used for sculpting or potting. When water flows over the studio's roof, it collects in a cistern, storing rainwater for the dry season. "The 'green roof' captures runoff and adds natural insulation," she says.

Lopez, whose Glen Park shop ModernPast features home furnishings from the 1920s to '70s, is designing a garden to inspire home and apartment dwellers who do not have any green space.

"It will be an indoor garden using terrariums," says Lopez. "We have a lot of flats, apartments, and homes with tiny yards, so I thought it would be good to reintroduce terrariums--which have been largely forgotten since the '60s."

Each garden creator has to build his or her garden at the Cow Palace in three and a half days, before the judges begin deciding which gardens win awards. Hecht and the other garden designers agree that they sweat bullets in the days and weeks leading up to the show. "It's just like trying to outrun a train," laughs Hecht.

As the show's producer, Estey works closely with the designers from start to finish, and advises them on the complex logistics of creating a life-size garden out of an empty slab of cement.

"The creators take this on, not only because it's prestigious and exposes them to new clients, but because they consider it a creative outlet," she points out. "It's completely their garden design, from top to bottom, and they enjoy the freedom as well as the great challenge of making it a showpiece of their talent and vision."

Besides the displays, the Garden Show is a venue for more than 40 educational booths explaining everything from how to safely treat your lawn to how to keep bees, and 360 exhibitors demonstrating the hottest items on the market, including dozens of new plants. You can also attend Sunset magazine's free seminars and workshops, led by horticulture experts from around the world, such as David Austin Roses of Britain.

The one-day admission is $17 in advance or $20 at the door; a five-day pass goes for $65. Proceeds from the show benefit the Friends of Recreation & Parks. For tickets and more information about the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, visit or call 1-800-829-9751. m