Lora Martens - Gardener In Residence


Hello! My name is Lora Martens, and I am a designer at Arterra Landscape Architects. For the fall and winter of 2015, in addition to my role at Arterra, I will be serving as the Gardener in Residence through the Recology Artist in Residence Program. In this time I will design and install a garden plot in the Sculpture Garden at the San Francisco Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center in South San Francisco. 

I will be blogging throughout my residency about my thoughts and posting photos of the work as it progresses.

The secret of art installations is that most of the work goes unnoticed, until you drag 10 of your closest friends and family members out to do it with you. And the best way to do this is to have your work party on your birthday, the one day out of the year that your loved ones are most likely to shovel manure when you ask them to.    

I have been working for the past 3 months as the Gardener in Residence through Recology’s Artist in Residence program. At the end of the residency I will have installed a land art piece created with found objects in the sculpture garden at the transfer station in San Francisco.

The residency has been an extremely rewarding and transformative experience for me and at the end I will have modified a piece of the planet. That was an extremely humbling, daunting and incredible task, which I approached with reverence and a bit of fear….all these emotions were dissolved in my seventh hour of clearing ivy on my hands and knees from my garden plot. Anxiety goes out the window when your muscles are on fire.

What is a Gardener in Residence?


Just like there are a variety of answers to “what is a garden”, so will there be many answers to the questions “What is a Gardener?”, which makes it even harder to come up with a simple definition for a Gardener in Residence.

The task of being "in residence" is an opportunity given by a supporting organization to individuals so they can have a space away from their normal lives and routines to explore creative ideas in a free and open environment.

Traditionally, these programs have been "Artist in Residence" programs. The idea is simple, provide a studio space, financial support and sometimes housing and meals for artists, who use this time to freely create and think. Usually at the end of the residency there will be a show of the work created during this period.  A more nuanced description of the "artist in residence" can be found here.

A Gardener in Residence program has been becoming more popular lately, as the built environment is seen more as a place of great creativity for human intervention. I would draw a connection between the rise of thinking creatively about landscape and the rethinking of the American lawn and the localization of food production. Both of these movements are rethinking the paradigm of small scale land use in our urban environments.

A successful Gardener in Residence program empowers creative minded growers who are stepping to the plate to replace old, wasteful land systems with an ever expanding catalog of ideas.

My design

The design of the plot is 3 gabion walls filled with found objects from the dump, in a sea of low water use grasses on which floats a boat also made from found objects.

Visitors are invited to sit in the boat in an immersive grass sea and observe these slightly foreboding masses rising from the ground. The walls represent the coming impacts from climate change, they will be filled with burnt wood and found objects that represent the fires that burned so many acres of forest this summer in California.

The boat and the grasses represents a few things: the coming refugee crisis due to climate change, teamwork and togetherness, the romance of boating, the industry of shipping and most importantly the sense that our planet is a boat, and we are in it, all of us, floating in a sea that we need to fix together. No one can be left out of the solution because no one can escape climate change.



Ten people, including three Recology staff members, spent 4 hours of a Saturday preparing the site from the bottom up. It was amazing.

First the team hauled compost onto the site with wheelbarrows and spread it over the entire plot. Then they hauled bark mulch onto the site and spread it over the entire plot. These items will break down and prepare the soil for the plants which will be installed in the coming weeks. Grasses love nitrogen and the compost and mulch will provide them with plenty of food when they are planted.

The welded wire mesh panels were attached with hog rings to make hollow walls and these were placed in footings which had to be chipped with pick axes out of some unexpectedly hard soil. The gabion walls were filled with reclaimed stone for support and a gravel path was spread to create a path and a space for the future boat.


Many thanks to my crew, including my amazing co-worker Alyssa, who came out to support the work of creating a space that will hopefully spark a conversation about climate change. 


In the next few months I will fill the gabion walls with found objects, build the boat and plant grasses. For further updates, check out the blog of my experience at milkandhoneylandscape.com