Staff Gardens Jim Kumiega

Behind a door on an alley South of Market in San Francisco, at the end of a narrow passageway, our own merchandising magician Jim Kumiega cultivates a secret green enclave in a tiny courtyard.

A luminous front room for his tiny mid-block house, Jim’s garden grows out of of a salvaged piano, rescued ceramic containers, machine parts, and other urban artifacts of a piece with his formerly industrial, working-class neighborhood now shadowed by Y2K-era lofts and posh contemporary apartment towers. None of Jim’s plants is planted in the ground. Some, however, have gained a foothold in the earth by snaking roots through the bottom of their containers and penetrating cracks in the paving.

Jim grows mostly subtropical and cloud forest plants, taking advantage of his extraordinarily mild microclimate to create a baroque weave along the walls surrounding the court’s concrete floor. Plants that naturally thrive in vertical settings – epiphytes like the evening-scented lady of the night orchid (Brassavola nodosa), giant-flowering epiphyllum cactus, and waxy vireya rhododendrons – perch on vine-clad walls. Huge-leaf snowflake plant (Trevesia palmata, seen just to the left of Jim’s head in the photo at left) from the Himalayas, its stem studded with cinnamon-color thorns, joins a rising parasol canopy of tree ferns (Cyathea) and bamboo palms (Chamaedorea spp.).

Perched high on walls and low in his container collection are varied bromeliads, their rosettes of foliage fascinatingly armed, pigmented and textured, the occasional flowerstalk emerging from the heart like multicolored flames. Tillandsia air plants, an especially peculiar subset of the bromeliad family, hang like fuzzy air anemones from twigs and sconces. Jim’s diverse collections of begonias and succulents hint at the rich collections that decorate his home’s interior.