In My Garden: Organic Mechanics, San Francisco, CA

James Pettigrew and Sean Stout, San Francisco, CA
Open Days Garden: Organic Mechanics
Read a short bio and introduction

In My Garden, October 20, 2020

"We did a major fall clean-up of one of our city gardens, resulting in an abundance of glorious leucadendron stems," report James and Sean this week. "As is our practice, we shared the bounty with florists and friends, and still had enough to make four arrangements for our home."

"The garden has a mosaic path and custom glass birdbath that mimics the geometric shapes in the low garden wall (below)."

In My Garden, September 1, 2020

Sean and James's home garden contains many creative elements, which bring color and life to their urban garden. Below is the exterior of the twin buildings where they live and garden. Their garden is a hidden oasis spanning the space behind the two buildings.


“Our water feature,” Sean and James explain, “is made of a vintage gas pump flowing into a mosaic bowl [below, left] that spills into the koi-filled pond. Many mornings we look out the window and see a hawk bathing in the mosaic basin. The character on the right has lived in our garden for years: a blue bowling ball resting on a narrow stand topped with a makeshift crown.”


“We found the sculpture [below, left] that anchors a wall near our seating area as an unfinished piece in the 'bone yard' of California artist Phillip Glashoff, but convinced him to sell it to us, as we thought it was perfect. On the right is a rubber tire planted with tillandsias and succulents.”

In My Garden, August 4, 2020

"Last week, we shared about the progress we’re making on our new entry garden. Below is a photo of the final product, with all of the plants in the ground and the entry looking spectacular!" the Organic Mechanics report.

In My Garden, July 28, 2020

James and Sean have been re-working their entry garden. "Our objective for this project is to restore a sense of privacy to the seating area just on the other side of the entry bed. We planted a mix of fuchsias, grasses, and abutilon to create an airy setting."

Gathering plants, pots, and other materials:

The Organic Mechanics explain further, "Initially we had a large hedge of various Corokia species that created an organic entrance to the garden on one side and provided privacy to a large seating area with benches and a burl-wood table on the other. The bed to the right of the path is a well-established planting of Begonia species with a thick layer of wine/champagne corks for mulch. The cork mulch is very effective and quite stunning as a soil topping. We refurbished the entry bed with Fuchsia species, grasses, and a ground cover of vinca, with a through line of blue ceramic pots leading to a charming blue bat cottage, which needs to be placed high on the garage wall. The centerpiece is a rusted engine block carried up the dunes from the Pacific Ocean by our neighbors, who are avid free divers." 

And with everything in place:


In My Garden, July 7, 2020

This week, the Organic Mechanics report on a project they did as part of their ongoing maintenance account for the deck plantings at a boutique hotel, Inn Above Tide, which is perched above the San Francisco Bay in Sausalito.

"We were originally hired to come up with a creative visual barrier between the decks. Now, during the Covid-19 closure, we were asked to rebuild and replant one of the planter boxes."

"We removed boxwood hedges and replaced them with varieties of succulents to evoke marine life."

In My Garden, May 26, 2020

"This week, we checked in on a project that we designed and built a few years ago, in the Noe Valley district in San Francisco. The garden was open for Open Days in 2019. When Stephen Ordaway first hired us, the garden was mostly unusable. It was a combination old brick and wood terraced walls with boxwood hedges. A small (rather treacherous) goat path made of old cobble stones meandered up the middle of the garden, as did an old non-functioning concrete stream that led to a small pond on the south side of the garden. We tore the whole thing out and started from scratch. We redid the old concrete stream and installed a stream bed with four little waterfalls leading to a four-foot-deep Koi pond. The stone is Mariposa."

"Solid flagstone block steps lead up to a small landing and bench. A round outdoor room, which Stephen called "A Moroccan Folly," makes the space more people friendly. The latest mini-renovation that we completed last week had us removing the Acorus gramineusJuncus, and other plants along the path and replacing them with California natives, including Erigeron glaucusDarmera peltata, and Brodiaea californica. Stephen picked out an Acer cincinatum for the pot by the upper seating area."

In My Garden, May 12, 2020

"This week, we are enlarging the bed on the property line that shares the boundary with the parking lot behind the sunny side of the border. Currently, the bed contains a mix of vines, salvias, and a yucca that has outgrown its 24-inch box. Our yellow-naped amazon, Simon, is presiding over the project."

"The concrete path is original to the 1926 construction date of the twin buildings, so it is very crumbly and easy to remove. Some strong work with a pick ax and shovel is all it takes to break through to the soil beneath.
"Our objectives for this project are to amend the soil in the new bed, plant the yucca and other plants, and trim the vines while preserving the privacy in the garden."

In My Garden, April 28, 2020

Pathway before 
(above, left): "This is the plain brick path that we installed over a decade ago. We’ve always thought it was too plain for our style, but replacing it has been a low priority. The San Francisco Fire Marshall insisted that the path had to be widened to four feet to meet city code, as it is below a fire escape. That directive came around the same time the Garden Conservancy approached us about documenting projects in our garden, so this was a perfect time to get it done!"
New pathway tamped (above, right): "We prepared the base by tamping a layer of stone dust, creating a solid and strong foundation for the up-cycled mosaic materials."

Pathway halfway 
(above, left): "The mosaic is created from found and recycled materials, including city water department caps, rusty dumbbell weights, granite and marble cores, and bricks and cobblestones of various colors."
Pathway complete (above, right): "The path was planted with groundcovers: Cymbalaria muralis ‘Nana’, Ceonothus griseus var. horizontalis, and Delosperma ‘Solstice Red’. We’re thrilled with how it turned out!" 

In My Garden, April 14, 2020

"Our garden is a hidden oasis tucked behind our apartment building in the heart of the Tenderloin in San Francisco. We’ve created a sense of space by building several garden rooms connected with walkways made of concrete and various recycled materials.

"We love the character of found materials. Giving them a second life in our garden is environmentally responsible and also a fun challenge. We’ve created a garden with its own unique style and character. Shown above on the right are materials that we’ll use for a small mosaic walkway renovation; a practice round for a larger project we have planned for later this summer."

"Seating areas provide places to rest and enjoy the tranquility of the gardens. Many of the benches, chairs, and garden ornaments are found, recycled, or up-cycled."

Organic mechanics portrait web310w
Sean Stout and James Pettigrew

"We love the character of found materials. Giving them a second life in our garden is environmentally responsible and also a fun challenge."