Archive for the ‘History’ Category

History – Fall 2011 – Back Yard Pt. 2

February 23, 2012

I had previously hired Jose to pull the weeds that blanketed the hill from end to end. However, it didn’t take them long to grow back. So right before the plants were installed on the hill, shortly after the path was finished, I hired Rob’s son Adam to pull the weeds again.

I ended up hiring Rob and Adam to do the planting, not long after Rob picked up the plants from Tree of Life on November 14. Big milestone!

I was very busy at work and did not have time to do the next thing, which was to install the drip irrigation on the hill, and then the mulch, until January.  It had been so long since the weeds were pulled that they were back in force (again!).  Nevertheless I went ahead and put the irrigation lines in, because these plants needed water!

Finally, later on in January I purchased the mulch that would cover up the irrigation lines and keep the weeds down. I spent an entire weekend pulling the weeds and using Roundup on them. When I was satisfied that they were mostly taken care of,  Jose and his son spread the mulch. And finally, we were done. (For the time being, of course!)

Here’s the story on the hill in pictures – unfortunately it’s hard to see the plants among the weeds. Plus, of course, they are not very big yet!

Alas, I fear the Julia Phelps Ceanothus will not make it. It is dry as a bone and seemingly lifeless. I will give it until spring to show signs of life, but I don’t have much hope. If it doesn’t make it, I will have to get together with Rob and plan something else, as its absence will leave a big gap on the hill.

A word on the irrigation: I have an automated system that is based on my previous sprinkler system that was in place at the time I bought the house. There are two valves, each one watering a different part of the yard. Valve 1 controls the east side of the front yard. Valve 2 controls the west side of the front yard as well as the back yard hill.

However, because natives don’t have to be watered several times a week like regular lawns, only every two or three weeks during the summer, and much less during the rainy winter, I had to purchase a special sprinkler controller. The existing controller was set up to choose to water one or more times every day, on odd days or even days,  or on specific days of the week. I had to purchase one that allowed you to set up a recurring watering scheme with up to 30 days between waterings. The brand I am using is Rain Bird ESP Modular Controller. It was quite expensive — $185 – but it does allow me to set up watering automatically and not have to turn on the irrigation manually, as I had been doing in the beginning. I have it set to water every 20 days during the summer – during the winter I turn it off and only use its manual watering feature when the plants seem to need it. I would recommend a controller like this, which makes things so much easier.

Thus ends the history of my garden (well, except for my butterfly story, which will follow shortly). But of course the story of the garden will continue!


History – Fall 2011 – Back Yard Pt. 1

February 21, 2012

Well, by now my front yard was well in hand – nothing to do for the moment but wait for things to grow in.

Now my attention turned to the back yard.

The yard was relatively small – maybe 60’ x 35’. There was a large patio, a flat area that had once had a lawn, and a hill that arose from a low brick wall and continued to the property line in back. Many years ago I had stopped watering the lawn, because the yard did not drain well, and it would tend to become flooded, with many puddles after every watering.  I had no particular plans for it, and predictably it became overrun with weeds after a couple of years. At one point I tried planting vegetables, but the soil was so muddy hardly anything grew.  Even profligate radishes would not grow – the red “radish” part maxed out at about  ¼ inch. Yuck – I gave up.

Eventually, at about the same time I dug up the lawn in front, I removed all the weeds in the flat area and put down weed-block fabric and covered it with gravel. My vague plan was to have a container garden of succulents. The hill continued to be covered with weeds; periodically, I would don an IPod and spend a few hours pulling them all. I did have plans to put natives on the hill (which had much better soil than the flatland – or so I hoped). Eventually.

Then another one of those serendipitous moments arrived.  In spring of 2010 I had started taking a Taiji class (known incorrectly as Tai Chi by most Americans)  at the Brea  Shaolin Kung Fu center, from our wonderful teacher Master Hsing. For months I practiced alongside a nice-looking younger man named Rob Moore, a relative beginner like me. We occasionally chatted amiably, but that was it. Then, one day I noticed a pickup truck parked outside – it said “California Native Landscape Design”.

I was astounded. Could that belong to one of our Taiji-ers?? I asked around, and was told that yes, it was actually the truck of Rob Moore. I immediately buttonholed him, and discovered that indeed he was the proprietor of a native garden design business. I could hardly believe my luck! Not only did we share an interest in native plants, but we shared many similarities in our personal history and our interest in eastern-type spirituality.  A great friendship began.

It was inevitable that I would ask Rob to get involved in my garden. At first, I asked him for some design pointers for the front yard. From a design aspect, it was still not right to me. He recommended some boulders of different sizes for the yard, and pointed out where he felt they should go in order to create more focal points. Within a few months I would implement his suggestions and add a few rocks as well as some additional plants to the front yard.

After I had seen some of Rob’s work at a native garden tour (the annual one put on by the California Native Plant Society – a great way to learn about designs and designers), I decided to take the plunge. I hired Rob to design my back yard.

I was impressed by Rob’s thoroughness and professionalism. He carefully measured my back yard, noting the position and size of trees, existing rocks, and the patio. He then spent several days working up a Preliminary Conceptual Drawing of his design proposal. His idea was to have a decomposed granite path leading from the gate on the side to a “landing” at the front of the patio. I explained that I wanted a semi-circular area (concrete perhaps) in front of the patio in order to be able to sweep birdseed from that area, so it wouldn’t go into the gravel, where it was harder to clean (I had several bird feeders on my patio). Also, the “landing area” provided a sense of a terminal point to the path. I also wanted some kind of eastern-themed statuary in the yard – I ended up getting a stone pagoda. The design proposal also included suggested plants for the hill. (The flatland was still going to be succulents in containers.)

Once I had approved the preliminary design, Rob worked on a detailed Final Design Plan to scale. He also came up with a list of resources for the implementation of the design, as his services did not include installation. The resource list included decomposed granite (DG) path installers, sources of mulch and DG, purveyors of river rocks, and the like.

I ended up hiring Jose (again!) to install the DG path. I was not sure if he had had any experience with DG, but I had seen his work with concrete and knew he was highly skilled. And I knew he really needed the work. Jose is always my go-to guy for most of these kinds of jobs. His friend Gabriel worked with him, and it turned out Gabriel had had considerable experience with DG paths working with new home models.

Here’s how the process of installing the path played out (we’re talking November of 2011 here):

History – Spring 2011

February 19, 2012

The spring of 2011 brought more changes (as always!). For one, the fall plants on the east side had begun to grow in nicely, with a few exceptions. The Dara’s Choice Sage (Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’) that was near the birdbath did not make it. Ditto for the Russelias on either side of the bench – sadly, as those are gorgeous when they thrive. And the Ocean Spray near the house (Holodiscus discolor),  the one that Pat had warned me might grow too big for the space, had hardly grown at all, and continually seemed on the verge of expiration. To this day it grows anemically but manages to hang on.

In midsummer the fuchsias started their wonderful blooming period that extends into the fall. The low Everett’s Choice fuchsias bloomed nicely, but then their centers totally collapsed to the side, exposing ugly brown stems. I had to cut them down, and they seem to be currently making an attempt to come back. I hope they will behave better this year if so.

And my wildflowers – oh my! The wildflowers – Elegant Clarkias, Chinese Houses, and Farewell to Spring flowers (as well as the ever-present Poppies) exploded in an orgy of color on the east side and to a lesser extent the west side.  I love this period. Bees and hummingbirds abound, and the neighbors get a visual treat.

Generally speaking, I was not a happy camper as far as the west side was concerned. It was starting to look overgrown, and again the poppies were overrunning everything. I had misjudged the eventual size of the Canyon Prince Wild Ryes (this is very easy to do!) and they were getting way too big. Remember, I had three of them! Not only were they getting too big, the centers were collapsing off to the side and they were losing their nice rounded shape. Later on in the year I would have Jose remove two of them, and in the fall I would cut the remaining one down to within a couple of inches of the ground. I was nervous about doing that, but as we speak it has grown back marvelously, completely recovering its previous compact form.

The Coast Sunflowers were going nuts, becoming sprawling and leggy and just overpowering everything around them. Again, in the fall I would cut them back severely. They are now growing back very nicely. I’m getting over my squeamishness about cutting plants too much – they are remarkably hardy and seem to adapt well to pruning for the most part.

Here’s the spring/summer situation in 2011:

History – Fall 2010 – Enter the Pros

February 18, 2012

The next step was to start tackling the much larger east side of the yard. I had already had the mulch installed, but otherwise I had no idea what to do – it seemed much more daunting than the other side.  But in a serendipitous moment several months earlier I had joined an activist community group that just happened to have a native garden expert in it. (As you’ll see, this type of serendipity keeps occurring as regards my garden.)  I had sought her advice on several occasions, and now, after seeing one of her designs in a native garden tour, I decided to hire her to at least give me some ideas on what to do. Enter Pat Overby and her husband Karl.  Pat is well-known and well-respected in the native plant community.

Pat and I had several consultations during which she made recommendations on plants and general design considerations. It was Pat who urged me to install some sort of path to divide the large, relatively featureless yard into areas, and to create groupings that could become focal points. I set up a path by laying down flagstones on top of the mulch. I also bought a birdbath to add interest, and a bench for sitting and viewing. The idea was that you would not see the bench immediately while walking the path, but would come upon it after rounding a curve. It would be hidden by one of the Italian Cypresses and a (non-native) bush growing next to it, as well some tall natives – this was the plan.

Meanwhile, Karl provided invaluable assistance in setting up the drip irrigation. We decided to use the existing sprinkler system heads, and attach “octa-bubblers” to each head, gizmos resembling octopuses to which you can attach up to eight ¼ inch drip lines.

The plan was for Pat to purchase the plants at the Tree of Life nursery around November, in time for the fall planting that is considered ideal for California natives (the winter – the rainy season – being the major growth period in which natives lay down roots and prepare for the spring efflorescence). Meanwhile, I had to get the irrigation set up, with Karl’s help. Karl provided a pressure-regulating valve on my sprinkler system,  and I did the grunt work of attaching the octa-bubblers. Before I could lay down the drop lines, though, I had to know where the plants were going to be planted. I kept putting this off. Finally the end of November was looming, and I pushed myself to get going.

I had previously measured the entire east side of my yard, and I made a scale diagram of it and drew in the locations of all the sprinkler heads. I made several copies of this diagram so I could pencil in different plants and start all over with a different copy if I didn’t like it. I then spent a couple of weeks trying to decide what the best layout was. I tried to incorporate Pat’s suggestions as to which plants would work where, and at the same time tried to envision how they would look – I didn’t want tall plants in front of short ones, and I wanted to group them so as to create focal points. I found this the hardest part of all – so many decisions to make!

I finally came up with a layout – I showed it to Pat, and she thought it was a good one. From this layout I was able to give Pat the list of plants I needed her to get from Tree of Life (where she was able to get a designer’s discount).

I then had to mark the location of each plant in the yard with a marker, as the next thing was the physical labor of running drip lines from the octa-bubblers to the assigned location of each plant. This is harder than you would think – I found that I had to use a screwdriver to “open up” the ends of the ¼ inch tubes to attach them to the octa-bubblers, and then use pliers to push them on far enough so they wouldn’t come off.  It was a huge amount of work, and caused me some carpal tunnel-like symptoms that lasted several weeks – I wish I had allowed more time!

For areas where I was expecting a mass of plants – such as an area I had set aside for wildflowers, and another area under a tree where I was going to plant a number of Coral Bells, Karl had recommended a line that had perforations about every 6 inches, so that it leaked water all along the length and I didn’t have to run a separate line to each plant. These lines emitted ½ gallon per hour, so that set the standard for the drip emitters needed for the rest of the plants – I used ½ gallon emitters over the entire east side. This was different from the west side, where I had 1 gallon/hour emitters – and consequently I ran the system longer on the east side.

The plants arrived near the end of November.  I had had enough of the “do-it-yourself” stuff, and I hired a landscaper to plant them all. It took them only a few hours – and finally I had a native garden in my whole front yard. That was a nice feeling.

Of course, it didn’t look like much yet. Here’s what we were looking at on the last day of 2010:

History – Spring 2010

February 6, 2012

By spring of 2010, the west side of my yard had grown in nicely:

Amazingly, all the poppies at the bottom of the yard had come from the one plant from RSABG. They had overwhelmed almost all the other plants in the vicinity. The next winter, I would limit their spread by pulling out most of the young poppies that sprang up during the rainy season. I was discovering that there’s a reason poppies are the California state plant – they establish themselves VERY quickly and can easily run amok in a garden.

All the other plants were about the size I wanted them to be – the Canyon Prince wild ryes, the coast sunflowers – everything was just perfect. If only they had stayed that way … but, they never do!

History – 2009

February 5, 2012

By spring of 2009, it was clear my soil could indeed support growth of native plants. The Monkey Flower didn’t make it, but all the other plants were thriving. I decided to take a class offered at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden (RSABG for short), “Designing a Native Plant Garden – A Workshop for Beginners.” This class featured, among others, California native plant expert Bart O’Brien, and it was very very helpful. Bart gave me some recommendations for one of my stated goals – blocking the view of my neighbor’s driveway, with its plethora of vehicles, including a large boat. (He recommended Toyon or Pacific Wax Myrtle.)

In the RSABG fall sale, I bought a number of other plants for the west side of my front lawn.

Here’s what I was looking at in 2009: