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Succulence: Life and Garden

A Green Gem in Bernal Heights

Tucked behind Bernal Heights’ beloved Four Star Video on Cortland Avenue lurks a hidden oasis in our big city — Succulence: Life and Garden.

You have to enter through the video store, but there’s no need for a secret password or a map, just wind your way through the shelves of videos and step out through the back door to a land of tiny, cute, fleshy, and photogenic plants.

The idea for the store got started when Four Star Video’s owners, Ken and Amy Shelf, were chatting at a party with another local store owner, who told them that their small stock of succulents were selling quite quickly. Taking this idea, Ken and Amy, along with Frauke Swoboda, decided to take advantage of an underutilized space behind the video store and turn it into a new business venture.

The focus of Succulence is, of course, the plants, but according to their mission statement, the store strives to provide items that extract “that which is delicious, juicy and full-of-life.” Like Four Star Video, the inventory speaks for itself, but it’s also a welcoming place where shoppers feel comfortable enough to stay and chat even after they finish their shopping. There’s even a corner bench where you can take in the beauty of the little yard of succulents with a calming water fountain in the center.

Throughout the space, which opened this last winter, you will find succulents of varying sizes as well as some airplants and bromeliads. Pricing for the plants is relatively flat, starting with two-inch plants for $3, four inchers for $7, and six inchers for $15. More exotic plants might cost you a little more, like the spiky Sansivera from Madagascar (four inch plant for $12).

You can also buy all sorts of planters, including custom-manufactured metal, modern-lined ones like those from Adam Ceramics ($10 for a rectangular vase, $12 for round), and vintage and standard clay pots. Succulence also carries unique faux-stone pots from San Francisco’s UrbanFarmGirls Garden Design. These pots are hand-molded out of cement, perlite, peat moss and reclaimed fibers (prices start at $5).

If you are short on square footage, try a vertical garden, like those planted in found objects or custom manufactured planting systems. Felt vertical garden panels from San Francisco’s own PlantsOnWalls are made of recycled PET plastic fiber. They give you the ability to hang your plantings on a wal, creating a special green space inside or out ($16-$66).

Succulence also carries stone and clay lawn sculpture accents for your garden that will make you smile, such as a grinning face ($36), a green man ($22), or a heart ($40). Don’t forget all the other extras either, like soils, pebbles, fountains, vintage furnishings and heirloom seeds.

In addition, Succulence has vintage and handmade tableware and vases, including ceramic cups and vases by local artist Diana Fayt. On my visit I also spied a couple of tiny liqueur glasses with etched stars ($4 each).

There’s also decorative and utilitarian art from artists near and far, including 3-D metal art by LogicalSpace Design in Rome, like “Bobby Bird” ($35) or silver “Frozen Flowers” motifs ($20). Silk-screened key holders ($42) and coat racks ($93) from Tiny Sparks Design in San Francisco are on sale, in addition to handmade wooden cutting boards and rolling pins by the East Bay’s Roberto Gastelumendi.

If you want to learn how to display your succulents, you can purchase a book called Design with Succulents ($30). Solar lights to illuminate your plantings ($10), and even a 92-inch metal welded shelf ($920) are also available.

Canning and food-preserving supplies are available in the store, too. Co-owner Amy even sells some of her own creations like Lemon chutney ($9) and other seasonal preserves made of apricots, grapefruit, plums, and more.

As time goes on, the inventory will be enhanced with additional items like garden tools and ceramics from other designers.