How Quirky is Berkeley? Gardens that define the term

Vertical garden at 3109 King Street; photo Tom Dalzell
Vertical garden at 3109 King St. Photo: Tom Dalzell

“Quirky” has one thing in common with “obscene.”  When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was presented with what the State of Ohio had deemed an obscene movie, he famously wrote:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

So it is with “quirky,” especially as applied to gardens. Many, long posts could be devoted to landscape architecture in Berkeley, and there are many arguably quirky gardens. Here I present only those which hit the upper scale of quirky, the kind of landscaping which you know is quirky when you see it.

For starters, I find vertical gardens quirky.

Vertical garden at 830 Camelia Street; photo Tom Dalzell
Vertical garden at 830 Camelia St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Vertical garden at 3109 King Street; photo Tom Dalzell
Vertical garden at 3109 King St. Photo: Tom Dalzell

If that is not quirky enough for you, there is the living roof, aka a green roof of vegetated roof, described by the City of Berkeley. Not to be confused with a rooftop garden, the living roof is the surface of the roof.  I have found three, but am sure that there are more.


Living roof at 1100 Spruce Street; photo John Storey
Living roof at 1100 Spruce St. Photo: John Storey
Living roof at Northside Community Garden; photo John Storey
Living roof at Northside Community Garden. Photo: John Storey
Living Garden at Eco House; photo John Storey.
Living garden at Eco House. Photo: John Storey.

I haven’t seen these next two myself, but Berkeleyside has.

Living roof at Freight and Salvage.  Photo: Eden Teller.
Living roof at Freight and Salvage. Photo: Eden Teller
Living roof at Berkeley Animal Shelter.  Photo: Emilie Raguso
Living roof at Berkeley Animal Shelter. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Quirk can also be provided by the container in which the plants have been placed.

Bathtub planter at 1632 62nd Street.  Photo: Tom Dalzell.
Bathtub planter at 1632 62nd St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Car planter at 1645 9th Street.  Photo: John Storey
Car planter at 1645 9th St. Photo: John Storey
Wheelbarrow planter at 2901 King Street.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
Wheelbarrow planter at 2901 King St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Mosaic planter at 1321 Lincoln Street.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
Mosaic planter at 1321 Lincoln St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Sculpted planter at 2339 Curtis Street.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
Sculpted planter at 2339 Curtis St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Car planter at California and Tyler Streets traffic circle. Photo: Tom Dalzell.
Car planter at California and Tyler streets traffic circle. Photo: Tom Dalzell

This last photo, of the traffic circle planter, is Berkeley at its quirky best — a group effort, toy car embellished with mosaics, and tasteful succulent planting — in a traffic-calming circle.

A reader suggested one more.  Either it wasn’t there when I walked Arch Street or I missed it.

School desk planter at 1176 Arch Street.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
School desk planter at 1176 Arch Street. Photo: Tom Dalzell

For a fuller treatment of the quirky gardens of Berkeley, see Quirky Berkeley.


Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. This is the fourteenth installment in the series.

Do you rely on Berkeleyside for your local news? You can support independent local journalism by becoming a Berkeleyside Member. You can choose either a monthly payment or a one-time contribution.