All Hands on Deck

By Anh-Minh Le, San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly two decades after its launch, Paxton Gate – the quirky gardening shop on San Francisco’s Valencia Street that is also well known for its natural curiosities – is still going strong. In late 2008, proprietor Sean Quigley opened a kids store as well. A landscape designer and denizen of the Mission District, it’s no surprise that Quigley’s home provides plenty of urban outdoor inspiration.

Q: How do you utilize your deck/garden?

A: We barbecue, even in the rain. We’ve had brunches. On sunny days, with that southern exposure, it’s actually quite hot. My 2-year-old daughter will play out there in a small wading pool. Much to my chagrin, she enjoys breaking off pieces of the plants and dropping them below. I actually was inspired to design a small version of the hanging garden that we offer at Paxton Gate to get more plants out there – up and away from her little plant-pinching hands.

Q: What are the plants?

A: They are mostly from my bromeliad and carnivorous plant collection, with a few succulents and others mixed in. They were selected for their ability to take full sun and full exposure. Plants on rooftops and elevated decks need to be tough.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the upper deck “skylights”?

A: We had already decided to mix materials for the deck, and adding the Plexiglas panels was the logical next step so that we could let more light into the lower deck. They also look great at night when the low-voltage garden and deck lighting is on. They’re not directly lit, but the glow from below looks really cool.

Q: What other materials are in the deck?

A: The dark wood is ipe – a beautiful, dense wood that’s nearly impervious to weather. The yellow decking is a composite material produced by Fiberon. We’ve always been frustrated by composite decking manufacturers and their insistence to try and make it look like wood. Fake wood grain does not look like wood – just accept it! On this deck, we turned the composite upside down so the fake grain is only seen from below through the framing.

Q: Where did you get your outdoor furniture?

A: It came from a landscape client who was getting rid of it. I’ve always been attracted to weathered things and thought this set offered a nice counterpoint to an otherwise modern-feeling structure.

Q: When working with a client, what’s the first question you ask?

A: How do you want to use your space? For example: Do you want to spend more time outdoors, or do you see it as something primarily viewed from indoors? Our goal, of course, is to get them out there – into their gardens. It’s amazing how many weed-filled outdoor spaces there are in San Francisco just waiting to be utilized.