For more than 30 years, Shirley has been quietly converting some of San Francisco’s finest rooftops, courtyards, and balconies to pesticide-free zones, creating habitat with diverse and chemical-free food for pollinators. She and her team of horticultural professionals have learned over time how to create organic, mostly native gardens in impossibly small containers within the hardscape. All this in the shadows of a canyon of high rises, about as far as you can get from a wild and natural setting.
The corporate world has an exacting visual aesthetic and design standard, which doesn’t lend itself to natives very easily. Creating pollinator-friendly habitat that meets those standards has developed after years of experimentation. For example, natives with aggressive roots are taken out periodically, and donated to non-profits and schools. Pollinator-friendly plants are also rotated out seasonally, to extend the bloom period and availability of food. And vermicomposting in the basement of a 48-story building creates the compost tea which is key to restoring the nutrients and biology that don’t exist in containerized plantings.
Tens of thousands of people experience her gardens every day along the cable car run on California Street. The educational aspect of that exposure is very satisfying to Shirley, and seeing the joy it brings to people to see all the life that is attracted to them. Honeybees, native bees, birds, butterflies and more, prove if you build it, they will come.