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pennsylvania garden

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Pennsylvania Garden: The Jewel of Potrero Hill from NENtv on Vimeo.

There are no finer examples of one person’s determination transforming an unsightly piece of land into an urban oasis of plants and community than Potrero Hill’s Pennsylvania Garden. In 2008, resident Annie Shaw took a d-shaped piece of land next to the Mariposa Street off ramp on 280 South and began transforming it into a community garden. Soon, the neighborhood got behind her and the result is quite possibly the Jewel of Potrero Hill.

NENtv visits Annie, garden volunteers, and neighbors to find out how Pennsylvania Garden happened and what the rest of San Francisco can learn from Annie and her team’s courage and determination.


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Annie Shaw, Founder, Pennsylvania Garden

In my last NEN blog I told you about how Pennsylvania Garden (map) got started – from guerrilla garden to official San Francisco Street Park! Well we’re now in our second year, and the larger plants are looking pretty established. We’re still working on some areas, but when I look around the garden what I realize we need is hardscape improvements. You know – retaining walls, terraces, paths, benches and fences.

That stuff all costs money – and to do them right can take quite a lot. I’ve spent a lot of my own money making the garden what it is, but I just don’t have thousands more lying around (I wish!) With that in mind, we’ve decided to try and get some grants to fund the garden, and I tasked my volunteers Emily and Josh with writing grant proposals and maintaining a budget for the garden.

To my surprise they agreed, and equipped with the knowledge I gleaned from attending the San Francisco Parks Trust‘s (SFPT) grant writing class this year they have jumped in and have already applied for some funding. They might literally be worth their weight in gold – wait and see!

Where does a person find out about grants they can apply for, you ask? Well the aforementioned grant writing class was a great source of leads. We’ve also been tipped off to grants available from groups specific to our neighborhood, and through researching grants on a national level. Get your Google on, and make friends with your local neighborhood groups – they can help you.

Most of these grants require you to be a 501(c)3 nonprofit though.  And at that mountain of paperwork I balked, I confess. Luckily, once again, it was SFPT to the rescue! They will become our fiscal sponsor – any grants will be awarded to them in our name, the granting body gets the tax write-off, and we get the cash. Happy days.

However, this could take some months. In the meantime, we still have stuff that needs to get paid for. One such item is the information kiosk for the front of the garden.  This will be a metal structure that will house a weatherproof covered corkboard to hold signs that detail garden news, ways to get involved, brochures and dog poop bags.

So with that fundraising goal in mind, we decided to hold a plant sale! All the volunteers met and discussed ideas, and May 1st was chosen as the best day. We all started propagating plants and asking for donations from our friends in the neighborhood, and a frenzy of postering, emailing, watering, potting, and sowing started.

On the day of the sale we had doubts that anyone would show up, but in the end we made $1100 and were so busy helping customers we didn’t get a lunch break! A big success on many levels. It brought our merry band of volunteers closer, it raised cash and awareness for the garden, and it even helped our grant raising efforts: when a granting body sees that a community is behind a project, and that the volunteers have worked to fund it too, they are more likely to give funds as the project is just more likely to succeed. And everyone loves a winner!

So, if getting a garden started seems like too much money and work to you, take my advice: attend the SFPT’s upcoming workshops and see what you can get via grants.

And if you just want to do a little gardening one weekend, I have a regular monthly volunteer day on the first Saturday of each month from 11am-1pm where anyone can drop by and try their hand at gardening – check out my blog and come visit the garden soon! I’d be happy to show you around.

Annie Shaw is the founder of Pennsylvania Garden in the Potrero Hill neighborhood.

Annie Shaw, Founder, Pennsylvania Garden

Prior to December 2008, the D-shaped patch of land opposite my old apartment was known as the Mariposa Street off ramp on 280 South. It was also known as a place where you could allow your dog to poop and not have to pick up, or a place you could shack up with a 40 oz. of Mickey’s until the cops moved you along!

All that changed when I decided to create a guerrilla garden there. I naively thought it’d be as simple as heading over to the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s plant sale and loading up a few fast-growing plants, planting them out, picking a name (Pennsylvania Garden – it’s on Pennsylvania at 18th) and voila! Instant garden. But as I found out, creating a garden in the city is not about the plants, but the people.

Pennsylvania Garden before and after

Over the coming months, I met many of my neighbors for the first time, despite having lived on the block for 5 years. They helped make the garden what it is, by assisting with cleanup, watering, building an arch, bench and steps, planting plants and weeding weeds. Every person had a special skill they brought to the garden that improved it dramatically, from welding and cement work, to pruning the trees, to calculating the perfect dimensions for the steps.

I approached the owner of the land, Caltrans, when I realized that I really cared about how the garden Pennsylvania Garden before and afterwould survive. Initially they suggested I adopt it under the Adopt-A-Highway scheme, but when they saw some of the hardscape items installed in the garden they balked at the liability. Worried that all my hard work and aching muscles were for nothing, I reached out to the community with an online petition. I got in touch with the district supervisor’s office, and spoke with The Potrero View newspaper in hopes of gaining support.

A tense time followed where there didn’t seem much point in gardening in the face of impending doom. Then there came a call from Caltrans. They had considered this new and disturbing gardening activity and the community support behind it, and teamed up with DPW and the San Francisco Parks Trust to allow the garden to remain! I signed an agreement with SFPT to maintain the garden for 5 years, and they even encouraged me to apply for grants to make it even better.

What began as a guerrilla garden, without permission and official support, developed into a green oasis that local people and wildlife began to enjoy. On a sunny day my trips to the garden at lunchtime to enjoy my sandwich mean sharing the bench, and light conversation, with other neighbors and friends. In fact I think we might need another bench!

I now have several core volunteers who work on the garden at various times, bring me plant donations, and help with grant writing. I also have a regular monthly volunteer day on the first Saturday of each month from 11am-1pm where anyone can drop by and try their hand at gardening – check out my blog and come visit the garden soon!

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