February 4th, 2011 | by Sarah E. Smith Arts & Books |

GREEN THUMB: Flora Grubb on Urban Garden Experiments

Flora GrubbVertical garden by Flora Grubb Gardens
The creator of innovative San Francisco plant nursery Flora Grubb Gardens came to Portland last weekend to share tales from the frontier of micro-gardening, vertical gardening and even gardening (albeit unintentional) for the urban nudist community.

The foliage fashionista's city gardens must contend--or let's say co-exist--with bikes, beer bottles and all the bacchanalia San Francisco can throw at them. Believe it or not, she's much more amused than aggravated at what she laughingly calls "these incursions."

Listen to her come-one-come-all philosophy in the video below (and just be grateful your garden is infested with slugs and starlings rather than aggressively non-migratory middle-aged nudists).

Portland may have its Naked Bike Ride, but after Grubb helped design a tiny plaza in a traffic-tangled intersection in the Castro District, residents flocked to hang out in the protected pocket of green set in a sea of transit. Among the most enthusiastic users is a colony of the proudly clothing-free (presumably not cyclists). They may not have clothing, but they apparently don’t shun electronics because they blog about it.

See an image of the Castro Commons project and hear Grubb, whose sold-out lecture Sunday at Portland State University was hosted by the Hardy Plant Society and underwritten by the Parker Sanderson Memorial Fund, tell in the video below about the sociology that sprouted up amid the greenery.

Speaking of cyclists, Flora Grubb Gardens, located in San Francisco’s edgy industrial Bayview neighborhood, is next door to the clubhouse of the cycle carnival Cyclocide. And Grubb’s own 28,000-square-foot grounds are a carnival of creative plant projects. They include a much-photographed black Edsel with palms exploding from its roof and spiky succulents as spark plugs.

She discusses her trend-setting vertical gardens, which resemble tapestries or wall-hung quilts of colorful succulents in the video below. The store sells a $99 frame for those who wish to build their own.

And her glass spherical aeriums—that’s “terrarium minus the terra because there’s no soil”—were so popular this December that an avalanche of online orders crashed her site for a couple days. The sculptural plants that make up these miniature worlds are air plants, or tillandsias, which require only bright light, cool temps and occasional misting. She also uses them in vertical installations in settings, such as Yountville's boutique Bardessono Hotel, where watering systems would be too messy.

Micro, vertical or Castro, Grubb is rapidly succeeding in her goal of making gardening accessible to people with no yard, no free time, even no clothes. She says her next group to conquer is those operating under the wrongheaded belief they have no interest in gardening—"We want to trick bystanders into gardening."

 
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