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By Erin O'Briant
Richard May, president of the residents' group Friends of Noe Valley, says he's not a burglar--but he is a gardener, so he's always trying to sneak a peek into other people's back yards. For him, organizing the annual Noe Valley Garden Tour is both a way to raise money for neighborhood beautification and an opportunity to see what other gardeners are up to.
"I had a blast going to gardens," he says of this year's tour preparation. He and Friends members Mindy Kershner and Beth Daecher scouted the gardens together. "Each of the gardens was so unique and different from last year's that each one was an easy choice."
Last year, May had to persuade some folks to put their gardens on display. Now that the tour is in its second year, more local gardeners volunteered their yards. That was a relief. "You never know how the second year is going to turn out, even if your first year was successful," May notes.
The tour, which takes place on Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., includes seven private gardens sprinkled throughout Noe Valley. The only repeat from last year is the half-acre garden at the 30th Street Senior Center, which May says is back by popular demand. A visit to this garden requires an elevator ride to the building's third floor. The garden itself is full of winding pathways, plots, and patios.
A garden on Elizabeth Street features recycled materials and a grove of large tree ferns. May says the owners have taken advantage of a hillside view of downtown San Francisco and the Bay by putting in dual stairways that lead to a raised patio. Their garden also includes a rock pond, a variety of grasses, and a day-lily bed.
A Vicksburg Street garden shows what can be done in a small space, says May. It began life as a concrete parking pad, but now is full of fragrant, colorful, and edible plants (nothing poisonous, because small kids live in the home).
The owners of a garden on Day Street have taken pains to make their space as dog-friendly as possible, according to May. Low decorative fencing along the sides of the garden discourage dog traffic, and there are tough low plants where the owners' dog can enjoy rolling on its back. Durable and re-seeding plants have been spread throughout the middle area.
Mosaics made by a mom and her kids decorate a garden on Clipper Street. The small lawn features a sculpture that catches the wind and a carriage house holds art projects in progress. May says the garden's flowers include pittosporum lining the walls on both sides, as well as abutilons (flowering maple) and lavender.
Traditional English cottage gardens inspired the hillside back yard on 23rd Street, says May. It is full of flowers suitable for cutting, and includes 18 varieties of hydrangea as well as a heritage Bing cherry tree.
The garden on Douglass Street now has a patio for lounging and a level play area for the family's little one. Eventually, though, the parents plan to turn the swing set into the entrance to a future hot tub and the surrounding play area into a formal stone terrace.
All the proceeds from the tour will benefit the Carlos Santana Peace Garden at James Lick Middle School, and there's a good chance this year's walk will raise even more money than last year's. In 2006, the Friends sold 340 tickets at $10 each. This year, May hopes to sell 500 or more at the same price. Children 12 and under are admitted free.
Tickets are available at six local businesses: Cover to Cover Booksellers, 1307 Castro Street near 24th Street; Ladybug Ladybug Cards & Gifts, 3870 24th Street between Sanchez and Vicksburg streets; Lisa Violetto Designs, 3932 24th Street between Sanchez and Noe streets; Noe Valley Bakery, 4073 24th Street between Noe and Castro streets; Noe Valley Curves, Church and 29th streets; and Small Frys, 4066 24th Street between Castro and Noe streets.
Each tour-goer gets a ticket, a self-guided map with garden locations and descriptions, and a discount coupon donated by Sloat Garden Centers. For additional information on the tour, contact May at firstname.lastname@example.org.