Jim's Hidden Paradise

Container Garden Tour

Name: Jim Kumiega
Location: SoMa, San Francisco

The entrance to Jim Kumiega's garden is down a long dark hallway from the street. At first to creep down a tunnel like this in SoMa feels like a bad idea, but then before long the tunnel ends in the most enchanting courtyard garden, a small concrete plot bounded by four adjacent buildings, none of which are visible through a lush, rippling canopy of bamboo and vines.

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The marvels of this garden are too many to name (but we'll try), and perhaps its most amazing feature is this: Nothing is actually planted in the ground.

A mature container garden is a true rarity. So often, renters plant container gardens as temporary solutions, focusing on annuals they can shift in and out of pots. But Jim, the resident "display genius" at Flora Grubb Gardens, began planting the shared courtyard below his rental apartment in 1995, and as neighbors have come and gone, he's nurtured the garden lovingly ever since.

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Given the obvious creativity of the design, it's no surprise that not all of the containers in Jim's garden are pots. An old piano, left behind by the bike messengers who once had an office in the front building, sprouts bromeliads from its broken-down keyboard. On the seat of a little wrought-iron chair, greenery springs up around a concrete cushion.

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Even tucked in among the buildings, the garden gets ample sunlight, most of it reflected off the surrounding walls, but it also has many opportune pockets of cool shade. With these conditions, the space is ideal for growing tropicals, including some rare orchid species, a towering Bird of Paradise, and a feathery and prehistoric-looking tree fern. Stanhopia tigridia orchids, which bloom out of the bottoms of the plants, dangle overhead from an elaborate rope-and-pulley system (see above photo).

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Jim also grows several unusual species of begonia, which were in gorgeous color when we visited.

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Click here to view a full slideshow tour of Jim's garden. And if you're inspired, why not start one of your own? Even if you don't plan to nurture it for fifteen years, there are many ways to make a paradise out of a small concrete plot, if that's the extent of your outdoor space. Try these posts for more tips and inspiration from Apartment Therapy:

How To: Start a Container Garden
Tips for Container Gardening
Inspiration: 8 Simple Container Gardens
Look! Garden Ballroom on a Houseboat Roof

(Images: Susie Nadler)

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