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Notes from a Plant Nut

Lisa Van CleefLisa Van Cleef's life mission is to spark a passion for plants in people. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Lisa sows the seeds that inspire curiosity and a love for the plant world. A long-time SFBG Nursery volunteer, she wrote the Green Gardener column for the SFGate, has worked with the Conservatory of Flowers and The Nature Conservancy. Today, she supports the Society's marketing efforts.

The Best Thing You Can Do


The Zellerbach Garden of Perennials
The Zellerbach Garden of Perennials

View from the Zellerbach
View from the Zellerbach

Share Your Garden

View by the Bay video segment Check out this View of the Bay video shot in the Zellerbach Garden showing how to share your garden with others from cuttings.


The best thing you can do in the Zellerbach Perennial Garden is nothing. Do nothing but take it all in, exhale and relax. Sit beneath the trellis and take in the long, spectacular view. After a while, if you can summon the energy, move over to the lawn and take a seat surrounded by the masses of flowers.

If you relax for long enough, there's a good chance you'll be joined by butterflies, birds, bees and other pollinators. This garden is a veritable buffet. Butterflies use the broad open face of flowers like asters and others as a landing pad while they slurp up nectar. While watching the bees move from flower to flower, is a fun, easy botany lesson as you witness pollination in action.

You can start to guess what animal pollinates the different flowers by matching their shapes – you can easily imagine a chubby bumblebee nestling into a penstemon or a speedy little hummingbird dodging in and out of the narrow salvia flowers.

A Classic Beauty With a West Coast Twist

The plants, the setting, the view. It reminds you why so many of us are crazy for gardening. This is a classically beautiful garden with a distinctively California twist. The salivas, penstemons, phormiums, asters and others are all low water plants, ideal for our summer drought. There's a silver tone to many of the leaves in this collection (an adaptation to minimize the moisture loss through the leaves) that announces you we're gardening under Mediterranean skies.

Perennials are a gardener's best friend. These plants are defined as living for more than 2 years, as opposed to annuals and biennials. Many will live for years, blooming season after season with relatively little maintenance.

Gardener Bob Fiorello and a dedicated group of volunteers keep this garden glorious. They use organic fertilizers and loving care to keep it thriving. These same volunteers also grow these same plants for our plant sales, so if anything in this garden really sparks a passion, you can probably find it at our sales.

This garden has something in bloom year round, but right now it's looking especially inviting. Bring a book, a sketchpad, or better yet nothing. Just come and enjoy the beauty.

Back to August 2010 newsletter >>