By Holly Hayes
You’ve heard of eco-friendly, water-sipping green roofs. And you’ve seen lush succulent wreaths and other decorative wall treatments featuring living plants.
But when you step inside this year’s San Francisco Flower & Garden Show — opening Wednesday in San Mateo — be prepared to be wowed by a 12-foot-by-12-foot “Living Room,” a giant, walk-through cube of succulents that appears to float, dramatically lit, in a round pond.
This ingenious show garden has been dreamed up by the team of James Pettigrew and Sean Stout, the San Francisco-based garden designers who call themselves the Organic Mechanics. The job of actually designing and planting the living succulent walls is in the capable hands of Robin Stockwell, who owns a wholesale and retail business called Succulent Gardens: The Growing Grounds.
After winning the Golden Gate Cup — the popular event’s highest honor, also known as best in show — for their stunning, succulent-rich 2007 fantasy garden called “Under the Sea,” the Mechanics took some time off to regroup.
Clearly, they are jazzed to be back in the game.
“The wet of the pond, the dry of the cube and the edgy interior of the room should combine to a pretty spectacular effect,” says Pettigrew, surveying the progress of the succulent walls, lying flat on the ground in one of Stockwell’s three expansive greenhouses in Castroville. “It should look like it’s floating, like some weird alien gift box.”
Stockwell designed the four walls of the “Living Room” using interlocking recycled plastic panels that are about 20 inches square. Each modular panel is about 4 inches deep and has 45 slanted planting cells that support plant roots. Each of the room’s four walls is made up of 49 panels.
Stockwell chose a rainbow of succulents to plant — a total of about 90 little gems tucked into each panel — to create a stunning living mural featuring waves of tiny aloes, crassulas, echeverias, haworthias, sempervivums and other varieties of these fascinating, sculptural plants. One big swath of the flat rosettes of Aeonium tabuliforme appears to be undulating.
“The system is designed to accommodate a drip system to lay on top of every other panel,” explains Stockwell. “The water drips down to water through one panel and into the one below.”
Stockwell started at one edge and worked across to create the building blocks for the Mechanics’ dream garden, which resembles a green magic carpet on the greenhouse floor.
This weekend, the design team faces the tricky business of transporting the living walls to the San Mateo County Event Center, where the “alien gift box” will begin to take shape among the 24 other display gardens on view from Wednesday through March 28. The black-lined pond must be built, the succulent walls attached to a sturdy plywood frame and lighting installed to provide the dramatic setting the designers envision.
“Our luminarias surrounding the pond are going to be natural stone bowls with cutouts for 6- to 8-inch pots of plants with LED lights inside,” Pettigrew says. More LEDs in ropes will uplight the structure. And clusters of handmade glass pond floats — created by Seattle artist Barbara Sanderson — will provide further whimsy to the team’s “new-wave garden folly.”
Oh, and there’s the little matter of providing access to the interior of the “Living Room.”
“We need to cut a door somewhere in this beautiful artwork of Robin’s,” Stout says. They’re envisioning a tall driftwood arch — vaguely wishbone-shaped — to frame the portal. The plan is to allow a limited number of show visitors at a time to cross the pond’s steppingstones to set foot inside the structure.
Here’s what you’ll see if you are one of the lucky ones to get a peek inside: a fantasy luncheon or dinner party setting featuring a 60-inch round table draped in luxe Fortuny silk damask fabric in rich green and bronze surrounded by clear Lucite dining chairs. An antique mirror will reflect the scene, which will be lit from above with old-timey Edison filament lamps on a chandelier made from a recycled buggy wheel.
Jonathan Straley — the Sausalito-based interior designer who did Al and Tipper Gore’s San Francisco place at the St. Regis — is in charge of creating the cushy interior tableau.
“We’ve picked out a nice rich teal color to paint the plywood interior walls, and it will be covered in a loosely woven textured burlap to let the color come through in a subtle way,” Straley says. “It should be a very striking look that blends contemporary and traditional at the same time.”
Will the whole package turn the heads of the judges and result in another Golden Gate Cup? The Organic Mechanics and their team are crossing their fingers.
Contact Holly Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 480-920-5374.
25th annual San Francisco
Flower & Garden Show
When: Wednesday through March 28
Where: San Mateo County Event Center,
2495 S. Delaware St., San Mateo
What: Sprawling show features 25 indoor display gardens created by Bay Area designers, extensive outdoor displays, a shopping Marketplace with more than 200 vendors, Artists" Alley, Orchid Marketplace and the “Sproutopia” area for kids. A full lineup of seminars with expert speakers is included in the ticket price.
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-next Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. March 28
How much: A one-day adult ticket purchased at the door is $20 and is good for all five days of the show. Discounts apply to students and youth (children 5 and under get in free), and there are price breaks for half-day and group tickets. Parking is $10 per car.
Details: 925-605-2923, or visit www.sfgardenshow.com for a full list of seminar speakers, transportation options and other show features.
The show garden was conceived by Sean Stout, left, and James
Pettigrew of San Francisco-based Organic Mechanics.
Interlocked 20-inch square panels support 90 plants each to form a living mural. Each wall “” shown side by side here "” consists of