Noe Valley Voice May 2011

Food Blossoms at Noe Valley Garden Tour

By Heather World 

Rusty McCall tends a backyard garden on Hoffman Avenue that yields lemons, blackberries, lettuce, herbs, roses, and geraniums.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

Rusty McCall’s back yard hums with bees circling fruit trees and vegetable plots, and come May 21 the din will grow, as garden enthusiasts buzz through during the Noe Valley Garden Tour, a spring rite hosted by Friends of Noe Valley.

“I’m going to try to highlight some of the sustainable gardening techniques I use,” says McCall, who turned 1,600 square feet of fallow land at his Hoffman Avenue house into a thriving garden with blackberry bushes, raspberry patches, greens, and herbs.

McCall’s is one of nine gardens featured in the self-guided tour, which roams the hills and dales of the neighborhood from 21st to Valley Street. And his garden exemplifies what makes this tour different from past years’: there are “edible gardens,” says Friends member Richard May, who has helped organize the event since it first sprouted in 2006.

May says at least four of the showcased gardens produce food for the table—from lettuce, kumquats, and fava beans to loquats, avocados, and quince. And the eco-theme runs through the other gardens as well. Many of this year’s plots have native plants, one is home to spotted salamanders and native tree frogs, two collect rainwater, and two host beehives. “People are really thinking in Noe Valley about green in a larger sense,” says May.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t traditional flowering arbors along the way, he notes. You’ll see a koi pond near a burbling stream, a hundred-year-old boxwood hedge, and a “re-creation of a tropical rainforest at mountain-slope level.”

Visitors who tour all nine gardens will be asked to vote on their favorite. Friends of Noe Valley will tally the results and award a plaque to the winning garden.

Sustainable Is Doable

The move to include vegetable gardens came thanks in part to new Friends board member Erin Rice.

“Having a variety in the types of gardens we have on the tour will make it more interesting to a wider variety of people,” Rice says.

She is an assistant manager at Firefly restaurant on 24th Street, which cooks with local produce, she says. “I’m passionate about sustainable urbanism,” says Rice, who lives in an apartment and must make do with container gardens of herbs and strawberries.

Rice and fellow board members Doug Lockyear and Linda Lockyear found the gardens through, a database of “urban food production zones” in San Francisco. Registrants trade food and profile their gardens.

“I think it’s a great way for people to see what they themselves can do easily, to see how useful a small plot of land could be,” Rice says.

The Scent of Geraniums

McCall, too, hopes visitors will see that sustainable gardening can be done, and can be done beautifully.

“It’s not a complete mess or wild-looking,” he says of his garden, which includes flowers as well as edible plants.

He started in 2008 with nothing but a quince tree, a lemon tree, and some roses. He began practicing methods he had learned years earlier in a permaculture design class, feeding the soil with compost, collecting rainwater for dry days, and raking in neighborhood leaves to cover and protect the soil.

Since his favorite part of gardening is feeling connected to an eco-system, he says he will invite tour visitors to do the same. They are welcome to pick a branch of his scented geraniums, to get started with their own garden, McCall says. “That’s a plant you can break off a branch, put it in soil, and it will start growing in a month.”

Cable Car to Give Lifts

The gardens will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Because this year’s tour is quite hilly, the Friends—with help from the Noe Valley Association and the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association—have rented a mobile cable car, which will be circling the sites. “It will stop at every garden, and you can hop on it anywhere,” says May.

Tickets, which come with a map and guide to the gardens, cost $15 for adults under 65 and $10 for seniors. Children under 18 are free. Tickets will be sold at Omnivore Books on Cesar Chavez Street, Independent Nature on Church Street, and at Urban Nest, Patxi’s Chicago Pizza, Small Frys, Noe Valley Bakery, and Wink SF on 24th Street. They will also be sold at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market each Saturday up to and including the day of the event.

Net proceeds will go to two Noe Valley beautification projects: landscaping the Sanchez Street side of the Upper Noe Recreation Center and providing shade structures for the James Lick Middle School garden. To find out more about the tour, email May at Volunteers are needed, he says. Those willing to staff entrance tables at the ­gardens for two hours earn a free ticket to the tour. To volunteer, call May at 415-298-2344.