Garden advocates and artists in San Francisco have joined forces to find creative ways to bring nature back into the urban landscape

23 Jun


Adapted from under author Annie Thornton.

Urban Hedgerow is a group of San Francisco “instigators” and artists, formed by Benjamin and horticulturalist Jason Dewees, aimed at creating public awareness of the extraordinary — and necessary — environmental processes happening around us every day. By creating pockets of nature deep within the city, they hope to redefine what makes a landscape good.

Urban Hedgerow team members reuse urban finds to make wall-mounted shelters for pollinating insects and even migratory birds.
Hedgerows were originally used in farms as property divisions and lane lines. To Urban Hedgerow, a traditional hedgerow is “a row of trees and shrubs at the margins of country spaces, one that people lightly manage and partly neglect. It’s a space that attracts and harbors wildlife and offers people wind protection, enclosure and pest management.”

The classic hedgerow is an obvious interaction of the managed and wild landscape — untamed trees beside carefully planted farm fields. In a similar way, Urban Hedgerow installations like this one bring fragments of the wild into the city, redefining the fringe.

Bug Habitat

Public awareness and support are critical to Urban Hedgerow’s success, so the group aims to create pieces that are attractive, fun and attainable.
This panel of foraged and reclaimed materials designed and built by Benjamin and Kevin Smith hangs at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. This art piece and potential habitat invites us to ask how willing we are to invite nature into our domestic landscapes, even in a subtle way.
This Urban Hedgerow prototype is designed to hold bundles of foraged twigs and plants for bug habitats. It was displayed at the Farmer’s Block exhibition in San Francisco.
I Love Vanessa

Benjamin and collaborator Moose Curtis created an Urban Hedgerow installation at London’s 2012 Chelsea Fringe Festival. It focused on building awareness of two species of a local butterfly: Vanessa cardui and Vanessa atalanta.
In an installation titled “I Love Vanessa,” Benjamin tagged countless street weeds and plants with butterfly-size tags identifying them as critical butterfly habitats. Being presented with sidewalks as hosts to the beautiful Vanessa butterfly, passersby may rethink the value of “weeds” and what they mean to animals.
I Love Vanessa

Curtis power washed images of the butterflies on sidewalks and walls surrounding the installation as an additional reminder of the wild creatures that occupy managed spaces.
I Love Vanessa

Check out a map of butterfly image locations. The installation will remain intact in Chelsea until the art naturally weathers away.
Reclaim Market Street

Many things go into the choices of locations selected for Urban Hedgerows. Public spaces are important, because they maximize exposure and enable pedestrians to take notice and ask questions. Proposed habitats in San Francisco coincide with critical paths for migratory birds. “Reclaim Market Street!” (shown here) was created as a temporary green space in the middle of San Francisco’s Civic Center. By staging a native habitat at this political and pedestrian center of San Francisco, designers, artists and plant experts were able to share their expertise and collaborate with the public on a communal stage.
Green Roof Shelters Wall

Nesting birds and insects can find shelter in this habitat built with Green Roof Shelters. Native plants are tucked inside recycled and reused construction materials.
While Benjamin works with artists to create attention-grabbing shelters, the real needs of nesting birds and bees still must be met. Even then, the result is not always foolproof. “I once watched (a bird) go straight into a screw hole after a week working on a hand-crafted mud concrete panel,” Benjamin says.
Urban Hedgerow Prototype

Small hedgerow prototypes, such as this, enable portability.
There is still a lot left  to be discovered about the lasting importance of these mini urban habitats. The ecological benefits that humans receive from native plants, bugs and insects is undeniable — pollination, decomposition and carbon removal are just a few. Benjamin believes that awareness at the personal level will determine how we affect our environments moving forward.
“The insects will very well survive without us, but we will not survive without them,” she says. “All in all we are just another animal, so we should start behaving like one.” Pay attention to what is happening right around you and respect what’s already there, she says.

Rolled burlap, twigs and other natural materials cost little and create colorful and textural habitats.
Benjamin suggests leaving some areas of your garden natural, or planting host or pollinator plants. Think about garden “problem” areas differently. If considering your own hedgerow, Benjamin reminds us to to be creative, intentional and resourceful with materials. Ask yourself what the animals would choose if they were in your place.
I Love Vanessa

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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Design


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