By Michael Durand
About five years ago, longtime Sunset District resident Wayne Chan found a note in his mailbox that would have a significant impact on his life. It was during a drought, when his lawn was brown and lifeless, that someone dropped off a flyer reading: “We Buy Ugly Houses.”
Chan decided it was time for a change. He ripped out the lawn and replaced it with drought-tolerant succulents and different colored rocks. Since then, the long strip of landscaping along the sidewalk next to his home has caught the eye of many neighbors and passersby.
“I get hand-made notes and cards from kids saying how much they like the garden,” Chan said.
Wayne Chan stands in his back yard along with hundreds of potted succulents which he uses for his streetside display. He created a landscaping work of art around his home on the corner of Wawona Street and 38th Avenue. Photos by Michael Durand.
Before the stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus went into effect earlier in 2020, many seniors would stop by and admire his work every day.
“An old lady told me: ‘We look forward to going out and looking at your garden, and every day it looks a little different,’” Chan said. “They would walk a few blocks with walkers. That made me feel so good because it made people happy.”
This eye-catching succulent garden on the corner of Wawona Street and 38th Avenue is the handiwork of amateur “trial and error” gardener, Wayne Chan. He welcomes visitors.
Chan is originally from Hong Kong. He came to America in 1969 when he was 14. He turned 65 on Christmas Eve. He moved into his home on the corner of Wawona Street and 38th Avenue with his family in 1975.
“We were one of the first Asian families to move into this neighborhood,” he said.
Chan has worked in real estate since 1990. He did not have any background in gardening, horticulture or even landscaping design. It was just trial and error over the years that resulted in the visual gift to the street.
“Maintenance is the hardest part. I’m out here on weekends maintaining the garden,” he said. “I get most of my supplies at Home Depot and Sloat Garden Center. I must have spent $20,000 on the garden.
“I didn’t know you had to put wire down to keep the gophers out, and I learned that you need to put plastic sheeting down to keep the weeds down. I was picking out lots of little weeds by hand. I still have some weeds, but not a lot,” he said.
Chan’s gardens surround his Outer Sunset home. This is a view of his front yard. His back yard has hundreds of succulents in pots ready for their turn in the streetside displays.
Chan’s display even inspired his neighbors. They loved his work so much they asked him to create something similar for them. He planted succulents and created designs with different colored rocks for them, but said he can’t keep up with all the maintenance.
“The neighbor next to me, I still maintain his garden when I have some time because he is older than me, so I feel like I should help him,” he said. “But I had to tell the younger neighbors that I couldn’t do the maintenance. I’m not that young anymore.”
Chan shares tips and succulents with anyone who asks. His back yard is filled with hundreds of pots holding a wide variety of succulents that he swaps out with the ones that look tired after starring in the main show along the sidewalk.
“If someone needs some help and wants my advice, I would be more than happy to do it,” he said. “If they need a plan and want to start a garden, I’ll be happy to help and to give them some succulents. They can just stop by.”