Sometimes… You Rent a Crane to Plant a Palm Tree in San Francisco

If you’ve ever wondered how large trees are planted in San Francisco courtyards bordered by tall residential buildings… well, here you go.

San Francisco is the second most dense city in the United States, with New York City claiming the Big W. Because of this, urban landscaping and gardening can pose a few hurdles. Unlike suburbia — where metropolitan walkability and public transport surrender to large backyards, front yards, and painted fence lines — sowing large trees in a cityscape comes with its own set of problems.

Most San Franciscans can’t uninstall a wooden gate to bring in a mature, hefty plant into a courtyard. No, much more creative and ostensibly over-the-top (pun intended) measures must be enacted to perform such feats.

At the corner of Webster Street and Pacific Avenue this week, a scene unfolded that can only be described as eye-catching: A massive crane taking up nearly an entire roadway… for the sole objective of hoisting at least three palm trees into the backyard (or courtyard) of a nearby residential building.

The crane in question was owned and operated by Sheedy, an SF Bay Area crane rental agency that’s headquartered in San Francisco, and stretched up toward the sky like an enormous giraffe, flushed by embarrassment. (Fun fact: Sheedy was established nearly a century ago in 1925 — and played a crucial role in the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.)

What it was hoisting remained an initial mystery to the dozen or so onlookers who had gathered. But eventually, it became clear why the towering hydraulic structure was present. It wasn’t to hoist a car or construction materials. Nor was the crane rented to remove boulders the size of ranch cattle. Nope. It was rented to presumably bring some fresh greenery into an otherwise inaccessible part of a residential building.

Those present, (including myself), had smirks smudged onto their sun-kissed faces as a large planter housing three palm trees was carried into the sky and, with the utmost care and patience, placed somewhere out of our sight.

Full-grown palm trees regularly sell for upwards of $1,200 in SF; large operated cranes — like the one managed by Sheedy we mentioned — usually cost somewhere north of $1,000 to rent for a few hours in the afternoon. Suffice it to say that’s a pretty penny to spend on some urban landscaping.

But, frankly, you can’t really put an honest price tag on gazing out at a luscious, verdant palm tree while sipping your third cup of morning coffee.

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