Noe Valley Voice June 2006

A Glimpse into Noe Valley's Secret Gardens

By Erin O'Briant

You know who you are: flower-lovers who peek over fences and around corners to catch a glimpse of the neighborhood's gorgeous secret gardens. Thanks to the first Noe Valley Garden Tour sponsored by Friends of Noe Valley on Saturday, June 10, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., garden enthusiasts can gain entry into six of the area's most delightful hidden gardens while raising money to make Noe Valley even more beautiful.

Tour participants will get to see a lush hillside garden, a flower-vegetable garden that was cultivated using a modified version of the "French intensive" method, a garden designed to attract butterflies and birds, and a cutting garden filled with roses that was developed to be child- and dog-resistant. The half-acre garden at the 30th Street Senior Center will be on display, as will a garden with a gazebo and a few other surprises, according to tour organizer and Friends of Noe Valley President Richard May.

An avid gardener, May is full of enthusiasm for each of the gardens in the tour lineup. "You stare out at this patch of greenery--it's intense, it's like a tropical garden with spots of bright color," May says of the Asian-influenced hillside garden on 23rd Street between Noe and Castro streets owned by Rob Evans and Terry Micheau. "And every once in a while, there will be a point of focus, a teak bench or a little area, a garden unto itself. You feel like you're not in San Francisco anymore."

Jonica Brooks owns a chemical-free garden on 23rd Street between Church and Vicksburg streets, where she practices a modified French intensive method, designed to yield the most plants in the smallest space. "We eat out of it almost all year-round," says Brooks, who uses compost and mulch to keep weeds down and digs extra-deep beds, which allows a high rate of crop rotation. She also plants vegetables and flowers together. Her garden is bursting with cabbage, kale, chard, broccoli, lettuce, sweet peas, herbs, zucchini, strawberries, foxglove, poppies, and edible flowers.

The idea for a neighborhood garden tour took seed when the Friends discovered that most of the Noe Valley Community Benefit District's funds for improving the neighborhood were earmarked for maintenance on 24th Street, with little left over for beautification projects. The Friends of Noe Valley, in concert with the CBD board, will determine the project after the money has been collected.

"We hope to raise a couple of thousand dollars," May says.

Tour sponsors, including Backyards Garden Construction, Kathy White and Sonia Gomez-Rexelius of Barbagelata Real Estate, Deanna Glory Landscape Design, Mollie Stone's Markets, Paxton Gate, and Zephyr Real Estate, have donated money to cover the tour costs and contribute to the beautification fund. The tour fee is $10, and children under 12 get in free.

May has been pleased with the neighborhood's enthusiastic response to the new tour. He and other members of the Friends wanted to plan an early summer activity to round out the year's events. "We thought it's a great idea, people would have fun, and it would show off Noe Valley," he explains. The tour is small this year, but May says next year it may be larger. "I really have been astounded by the response. Once we got rolling, we had to turn people [gardeners] away."

To purchase tickets before the tour, visit one of four stores on 24th Street: Ladybug Ladybug, the Noe Valley Bakery, Small Frys, or Cover to Cover Booksellers (on Castro).

Tickets also will be available the day of the tour, outside the Noe Valley Farmers' Market on 24th Street between Vicksburg and Sanchez streets. It's a self-guided tour, so with each ticket purchase, participants will receive a map and description of the participating gardens. E-mail May at or call 602-4445 for more information.