Noe Valley neighbors turn two weed infested public stairways into a beautiful botanical tapestry beginning in 2012
Location: Noe Valley, San Francisco, CA
Maintenance: Neighborhood Volunteers
Sponsor: San Francisco Parks Alliance
Phase I Brendan Cox
Phase II Todd Gilens
Size: 11,418 square feet
Year Started: 2012
Imagine two public staircases leading up and down an oxalis-infested San Francisco hillside. Now imagine that a group of neighbors determined to turn that hillside into a botanical tapestry. That’s what we at 22nd Street Jungle Stairs have been up to these past 8 years. It’s been a daunting endeavor, one that has challenged our psychological and physical staying power, and it’s far from finished. But as a reward we now have two increasingly beautiful areas that are attracting oohs and aahs not just from the people who walk by but also from bees, butterflies and a myriad of birds.
Our plantings are largely native, with a few Mediterranean “cousins” mixed in. On the shady western side, we have red-flowering currant, California bush anemone, evergreen currant, coffeeberry, hummingbird sage, coastal wood fern and snowberry. On the sunny eastern side, we have a multitude of California lilacs, both blue-flowering and white-flowering. We have monkey flowers, buckwheats, manzanitas plus a spectacular flannel bush. Also in the mix are perennials like scorpion weed, yarrow, blue-eyed grass and Douglas Iris. Among the plants we—along with the birds and bees— like best are the ground-cover California lilacs, which help us in our battle against weeds. We are also partial to the California poppies, which have sown themselves far and wide.
Biggest Challenges: The size of the site; the steepness of the terrain; the persistence of weeds.
Advice: If it’s a big space, count on a multi-year effort and work in manageable increments.
To combat weeds, sheet mulch has much to commend it.
If the site is steep, the layers can be held in place with strips of burlap pinned down with landscape staples.