Afternoon coffee with: Flora Grubb

by Grace Bonney

Afternoon coffee with: Flora Grubb (owner, Flora Grubb Gardens, Flora Grubb Gardens)

Around San Francisco, Flora Grubb is a bit of a celebrity. When her garden shop reopened 2 years ago its awe-striking coolness was doubted by no one. It’s one of those rare businesses that had a hot launch and stayed hot. The 2,800 square foot Mediterranean-style plant and garden accessory Mecca focused on water-sparing options for landscaping leaves even garden-less wanna-be green thumbs like me drooling. Lush succulents, vacation-inspiring palms AND a divine boutique coffee shop IN the store—what’s not to love? It’s pretty much my description of heaven.

See for yourself.


Regular or decaf (let’s pretend it’s 2pm)? Nursing mom’s favorite: decaf latte. Decaf can be so awful, which is why I am incredibly lucky to have an outpost of Ritual Coffee Roasters in my store. Their decaf is as good as the best regular coffee you can get elsewhere.

Recycling-geek, vintage-freak, or SUV-driving jock in high school? Vintage freak. Back then we called ourselves “death rock”. Now they call it “goth”. You know, all in black, black lipstick, leather jacket, lots of silver jewelry. And, for me, gardening by moonlight so that I did not accidentally get a tan.


Okay, okay, now we get serious…

What was your inspiration for Flora Grubb Gardens and your mission behind it? I want to bring peace and joy to people’s lives by helping them to create outdoor spaces that they love. My mission is to create a place that people can come for tranquility, inspiration, and expert help to create the perfect garden for the way they live. I want to demonstrate that the perfect garden need not waste water and I want to help people to make their gardens more appropriate for the climate they live in.


What’s a new project you’re really enthused about? I have been collaborating with my sweetie, Kevin Smith, to create vertical gardens. In collaboration with our friend Seth Boor we recently created a vertical tillandsia garden for the Bardessono Hotel. We have nicknamed the garden Thigmotrope. People absolutely love it. We are also creating vertical gardens with succulents, and we installed one in our store. It just tickles me to see how much people love this garden. They gather, stare, take pictures.


Why San Francisco? CLIMATE! For a gardener, the climate here is amazing. The cool summers and mild winters allow an astonishingly huge number of plants to thrive. And, of course, thoughtful, creative people who love and support our store.


What’s one (or two or three) surprising thing(s) everyone can do today to make the world a more sustainable place?

1. Go into your garden and think about what uses the most water, and find a way to cut that water use in half. If you just can’t part with your lawn, consider reducing its size.

2. Learn to love un-thirsty plants. If you believe that having a garden that uses less water means that your garden will look like a desert, be prepared to have your mind changed. Come to our store and let us show you the possibilities. I promise we have plants you can fall madly in love with that are not very thirsty. [Check out Sunset’s new Plant Finder].

3. Grow a little bit of your own food. There is no lower-impact way to get food than to grow it yourself.


You’re an environmental hero (don’t be modest; go with it), but you’re also human. What’s your eco-confession—something that’s been hard to give up in support of a sustainable lifestyle?
I spend my whole life telling people not to waste water in their gardens, but I love taking baths.


What’s your earth day wish? It is always my wish that I’m helping people to create gardens that they love, I am helping them to connect to nature, and that the connection they make to nature through their garden will inspire them to live more gently on the planet. It is my wish that more and more people will turn to their gardens to find sanctuary, and that they will develop a love for growing things that will stay with them for their whole lives.


If you’re ever ANYWHERE near San Francisco, Flora’s shop is not-to-be-missed.

Photos from Flora Grubb, Marion Brenner, and Boor Bridges

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  • Thank you for this inspiring interview! I love succulents, but never own one myself – time to start, I think.

  • oh my! everything about this post and these photos is so beautiful & inspiring! I so want to build one of those vertical gardens!

  • We are plant freaks at Variegated and the succulent wall sent me over the moon this morning. Sempervivum has always been one of our favorite genuses of plants and we have quite a collection. The vertical gardens Flora has created wtih these plants beautifully shows the remarkable variability of this succulent. They seem so soft in the photographs belying their pointy tips.
    And that Tillandsia wall is fantastic. You expect generic “art” in public spaces of hotels, etc. but this solution is anything but.
    Beautiful. I’m inspired.

  • Totally in love! That wall garden and the succulents garland are utterly fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing – most inspired to approach my succulents afresh!

  • Beautiful work, but I’m sorry, this woman is insane if she thinks that taking baths are something to feel guilty about.

  • Looks like such a great shop. Hopefully if people can learn to love their gardens more then they will want to respect the planet and live more sustainably everyday!

  • What a beautiful interview! I had no idea she was behind all the gorgeous pictures I’ve been pulling out of magazines lately. Her shop in on my list the next time I’m in SF!

  • Please, please can Flora give a DIY lesson on how to make our own succulent vertical garden like her ‘painting’ ones?

  • What a beautiful interview! I had no idea she was behind all the gorgeous pictures I’ve been pulling out of magazines lately. Her shop in on my list the next time I’m in SF!
    P.S.: Wanted to say great post!

  • flora grubb is my zen oasis- the perfect escape hidden in hunter’s point. grab some tea and relax among the plants-ahhhhhhhhhhhhh

  • Cathy – So wonderful to hear from you! (And you have such great taste!)

    Jeff – A bath can use up to 70 gallons of water, while a 5 minute shower uses only about 12.5… :)

  • I live in South Africa and we have so many succulents but nobody has ever thought of doing what you have done-ingenious and incredible.Come visit and share your ideas.