Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2010
Regional Report

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The Sunnyside Conservatory has been given a facelift. It is open to the public and ready to receive a new generation of gardeners!

Winter Garden Excursions

It's been too wet to do much in the garden. I advise not walking on rain-soaked soil to avoid ruining the texture and causing severe compaction. Now, you have my permission to take a day off and explore what the Bay Area has to offer in the way of garden "entertainment."

On a recent rainy day excursion I visited the newly re-opened Sunnyside Conservatory. I have been driving past this San Francisco Landmark for years, wondering about the ramshackle old greenhouse and it's history. Located at 236 Monterey Boulevard between Congo & Baden (SF historic register #78), the Sunnyside Conservatory was built at the end of the 19th Century as an elegant "folly" to complement the newly built home of William Merralls. At the time the home and conservatory were built, the Sunnyside district was nothing more than empty rolling hills.

The heritage trees on the property, which include Canary Palms, a rare Chilean Wine Palm, and a large Norfolk Pine, also date from the late 1800's. The Chilean Wine Palm is rumored to be the largest on the West Coast.

The Conservatory is built of redwood in a unique octagonal design, with wings on the west and north sides. The unusual bowed arch roof construction enhance the elegant design elements of the building. In 1998 a Neighborhood Association was founded to restore the old building and the surrounding grounds.

In cooperation with the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, the community has realized its goal with a grand reopening of the building on December 5, 2009. Gone are the broken windows and rotting wooden supports. Also missing are the tangle of weeds, replaced by an attractive drought-tolerant landscape surrounding the rotunda. Various succulents, grasses, and hardy shrubs have been installed in newly formed planting beds, with curving walkways leading to the main entrance of the Conservatory. Amusing creatures made of bronze dot the landscape, adding a sense of whimsy.

The Sunnyside Conservatory is now a gleaming tribute to the tenacity and dreams of those residents involved in the reconstruction. I can see a bright future of weddings, ceremonial events, and education for the old building and grounds.

My next stop was the Flora Grubb Nursery at 1634 Jerrold Avenue. If you have never been there, I recommend that you plan a visit soon. Flora Grubb is famous for her hanging gardens and unusual collection of plants. There are tillandsias, palms, succulents, corokia, vines and all manner of unique and stylish plants. While I was there I saw a beautiful collection of carnivores planted in an old, green porcelain bathroom sink. A collection of tillandsias was displayed on an old bicycle. There was an old Edsel automobile used as a very attractive planter. The whole place is very contemporary and upscale. The nursery is famous for the woolen wall pockets that can be planted and hung from any vertical surface. They come in a variety of sizes and their use is limited only to your own imagination.

Flora was not on hand the day I visited, but there is a coffee bar where you can relax with a warming cup of something hot. Also on hand are tools, containers, art objects, hanging terrariums, and gift items. It's an eclectic collection and one you should experience for yourself. For more information and driving directions, visit

Visiting gardens around the bay is inspiring. If you have a favorite, please share it!

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