Things are changing for the San Francisco couple. On Saturday, they hosted dozens of neighbors to show off their welcoming outside space, which underwent a much-needed makeover this year and is now home to raised garden beds, beautiful landscaping and a sunny sitting area.
The Clevengers were one of 20 households in the Portola district, a middle-class area sandwiched between the Bayview and Excelsior districts, to host the neighborhood's seventh garden tour.
What started as a fundraiser for the now-built neighborhood branch library has blossomed into an annual money maker for horticulture and floristry scholarships at City College of San Francisco, and become a must-see event that last year attracted 300 people and raised more than $7,000. For the Clevengers, it was a chance to show off phase one of their two-step garden project - next up is a gazebo and hot tub - and get to know some of their neighbors.
"These houses are like fortresses and the streets are wide, so you never see anyone," Phil Clevenger said, adding that their garden was put on the tour after organizer Ruth Wallacepeeked over their neighbor's fence and insisted they join.
"We weren't really ready, but it's been fun," he said. "And last weekend we went and saw all the other gardens."
Wallace, who moved to Portola from South of Market 12 years ago, said the tour has created a sense of community and allowed the neighborhood to reclaim its history as the city's Garden District. It was once home to floral greenhouses, and is still a great place to grow fruits, flowers and vegetables because of its relatively warm climate and lack of fog.
One of the last remaining greenhouses was owned by the Restani family, whose rose and carnation business lasted through the 1970s. They closed the greenhouses in 1979, but the family held on to some of the land and over the past five years has built four homes on adjoining lots across the street from McLaren Park. Their gardens are reminiscent of Italy, with stone pathways, grapevines and overflowing vegetable gardens.
On Saturday, neighbors wandered through gardens and peeked into a stone-covered shed that Dominic Restani and his family built. Restani, whose grandparents were the last generation to work in the greenhouses, and his wife, Holly, shook hands with neighbors as he explained the family's neighborhood history.
Wallace said those sorts of interactions are the best part of the tour.
"It really has let people get to know each other. Like most of San Francisco, the gardens and yards are closed off, so we don't meet in our yards," she said. "This has given people a reason to look over the fence and reach out and meet more. That's the big thing - to meet people you normally wouldn't."
It's also good inspiration for gardeners. Linda Chen and her husband, Willie, have lived in the home next door to the Clevengers for 32 years, and just redid their backyard this spring. Now dotted with drought-resistant succulents and bushes, Chen says the backyard is more environmentally sustainable - and a labor of love.
"I'm out here practically every day," she said.
Article: Marisa Lagos
Photos: Michael Short, The Chronicle
Updated 4:07 pm, Saturday, September 28, 2013
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