Bringing New Life to our Hayes Valley Streets

By Lauren Daley

I met long time Hayes Valley resident Elyze Stewart a couple of months ago while she was watering her sidewalk garden at Haight and Laguna. I have long admired the beautiful green space in front of her home and was able to speak with Elyze about her garden in more depth.

Elyze is a Somatic Therapist and moved to the neighborhood from Sante Fe in 1982. She is originally from Canada. The house she moved into was built in 1886 and was originally a commune connected to the SF Zen Center. But like the surrounding community, it underwent some changes over time and Elyze was able to buy into the building in the 90’s. She has always been a strong proponent of designated community open space. Once she purchased her home, she worked with Friends of the Urban Forrest (FUF) as a Community Liaison and organized a street tree planting along Laguna between Waller Street and Haight Street. All of the kumquat trees along the East 100 block of Laguna are thanks to Elyze’s, FUF’s, and the community’s efforts.

When the sidewalk in front of her home was cited for minor cracks in 2008, she and the other co-owners of the building decided to take the opportunity to replace parts of the sidewalk with gardens. The City of San Francisco encourages this because it diverts stormwater out of the city’s system by allowing more rainwater to be retained in the soil. Often sidewalk cracks are caused by growing tree roots. Thus, taking out concrete and replacing it with planted soft ground is the best long-term solution to fixing the problem. Elyze worked with the other owners of the building Guy and Trey (who also have a sidewalk garden), friend and garden designer Michelle Schaal, and a landscape architect, Jane Martin, at Shift Design, to get the gardens done.

Elyze did all the planting for her gardens and continues to learn as she goes. She mentioned that it is important to choose plants that are hearty, safe to the touch, and plants that are not too expensive, to avoid possible theft. If you plant in pots, use ones that are very durable and put something heavy like a large stone or concrete on the bottom under the soil. Elyze prefers drought tolerant, mostly native plants. She has found succulents to be a little tender and plants mainly perennials. She has also planted some irises, daffodils, narcissus, and sparaxis. An interesting feature of the gardens is the bricks. They are from an original 1886 chimney that was removed from the house and are now repurposed as pavers.

What Elyze values most about her sidewalk gardens is the creativity she gets to express through them, the birds and butterflies attracted to them, and that they change everyday with different things blooming. She has nurtured a bit of natural habitat on a bustling urban street that everyone gets to benefit from. The next time you are walking on Laguna, take note of Elyze’s gardens and allow yourself to get inspired. And don’t hesitate to ask her any questions if you happen to run into her watering her garden. She’s happy to offer advice and you’ll be glad you did.