I'm no garden history expert, but I'd be willing to bet that vertical gardening, the current rage, started in San Francisco in the middle of the 19th century. At least it looked that way from where I was standing.
Little did the Gold Rush-era sailors know that the stone they were blasting and hauling off as ballast for their ships would someday support a rich tapestry of lush plants smothering the sheer, stony cliffside of Telegraph Hill.
Before all those tons of rock were removed, water lapped at the base of a gently sloping hillside inhabited by grazing goats (good name for a band). It's taken a century and a half to revegetate the barren, jagged rock face, but the results are impressive, as I witnessed on a recent trip to The City (that's what cool people call it).
Lin and I were in San Francisco taking in the Post-Impressionist show at the DeYoung Museum, and visiting our son, Cosmo, who's living the life of a poet, cooking on a gourmet Vietnamese lunch truck and finishing college.
We rose early, ate a power breakfast with the kid and headed for the waterfront. "Oh heart, be still!" I gasped. "I've found unexpected free parking on a side street in the commercial depths of the Embarcadero, just a few blocks from our destination, Filbert Steps." (I tend to talk that way when I'm excited.)
The eastern face of Telegraph Hill looked wild and inaccessible, like El Capitan rising from the floor of Yosemite Valley. The rock face cascaded with ribbons of green, framed by the shimmering golden foliage of poplar trees. Fortunately, we weren't going to need a Sherpa or oxygen masks to mount our assault - we'd hoof it a couple of blocks to the Filbert Steps and take the more civilized route.Lots of great photos and plants at Fine Gardening