Monday, December 31, 2012

The Slope is a Work in Progress

The slope at the back of the property is another of the areas I initially designated as a low priority for renovation.  Actually, I didn't even discover this section of our new garden until the day our house inspection was conducted.  During our initial tours of the property I'd assumed that the property line ended at the area bordered by the wood fence at the back of what I now call the "dry garden" and the hedge running the length of the backyard.  It was quite a surprise to discover a narrow dirt path descending down a fairly steep slope beyond the hedge.  Other than a large lemon tree at the bottom of the slope, the area had little to recommend it with honeysuckle on one side of the path and weeds on the other.

During the first month we were in the house we got a significant amount of rain (by Southern California standards anyway) and the dirt path down to the bottom of the sloped area seemed particularly treacherous.  When I finally ventured in that direction, compelled by a visceral need to begin cleaning out the weeds that were sprouting everywhere after the rain, I fell repeatedly.  In the interest of making the area accessible, I began campaigning to add a stairway of some type.  As we'd just spent a chunk of change to buy the house, neither my husband nor I felt comfortable laying out a lot of money to bring in a landscape contractor or stonemason.   He-who-does-not-wish-to-be-named-in-a-blog (to be known here as the "Blog-o-phobe") took some measurements and plotted out a pathway, which he built out of pre-made concrete wall segments.  As the existing dirt pathway was hard-packed clay embedded with a zillion small stones, this was no mean feat.  The new pathway is still a bit treacherous but it's now at least navigable.

Of course, when I had a way of traversing the slope and got out most of the weeds, I had something of a blank slate and, as my friends know, I have a very hard time letting soil stand uncovered for long.  The prior owner left a large number of wooden tree rings on the property, which I used to break the area into more level planting beds.  I know this was a short-sighted move on my part as that wood will rot within a couple of years but I had the material on hand and I was pinching pennies.  At some point, the Blog-o-phobe and I are undoubtedly going to have to replace the wood borders with stone or concrete.

I added both purchased and home-produced compost to the area within the wood-bordered areas, then began planting.  I probably should have worked still more compost into the soil in this area but, again, impatience and penny-pinching interfered with good horticultural practice.  As the downward section of the sloped area is irrigated only by a hose, I sought out plants that could handle drought.  Also, as the area is in shade for a good portion of the day in the winter months, I selected plants that can tolerate this, although I've pushed that envelope a bit.

The picture below shows the slope in the early stages of planting.

My major plant purchases were Arthropodium cirratum (Renga Lily), Carpenteria californica 'Elizabeth', Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid', Liriope muscari 'Pee Dee Gold Ingot', and Ribes viburnifolium (Catalina Perfume Currant).  Perhaps foolishly, I added divisions of Centranthus ruber and Oenothera speciosa 'Siskiyou' from other parts of the property   These last two plants have spread like crazy and, although they certainly help hold the soil, I hope I don't regret their addition.  I certainly won't have an easy time getting them out now that they've established themselves.

The Renga lily is one of my favorite plants as it seems to tolerate dry shade well and looks good even when not in flower.  I haven't seen this plant in any of the local nurseries but Annie's Annuals & Perennials routinely carries it.  I have this plant in several areas of the property.  Here's a picture of one of these in bloom this past April.

In Spring, I added more plants to the slope, including Monardella villosa (Coyote Mint) and a purple groundcover Abelia (both purchased by mail order from Annie's), as well as Pelargonium 'White Lady', obtained at the South Coast Plaza's annual garden show.  More recently, I've added thyme ('Pink Chintz' again) and a variegated Sedum between the stepping stones.  I'm hoping the beds along the slope will shine in the coming Spring and I've begun to plot my next steps in rehabilitating the flatter and sunnier area surrounding the lemon tree.  I'm thinking ornamental grasses...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Change Comes Slowly

We've lived in our "new" house for 2 years now.  Although I've devoted hundreds of hours to the garden (and managed to do serious damage to my right knee in the process), I feel as though I've barely made a dent in what I want to accomplish.  Pictures of my old garden make it look so full and established in contrast to this one.  I filled every inch of my old back yard, as you can see in the pictures below.

As we lived on a "2-on-a-lot," I had no front yard to speak of, although I managed to cram plants into the tiny area between the driveway to our house in the back and our neighbor's backyard fence. 

Of course, my old garden was very small and I spent nearly 20 years making changes to it.  When we moved into that house all there was in the back yard was sod, which we removed, with the help of my stepfather, within a year of moving in.  I added uncounted bags of compost over the years so the soil there was in great shape when we sold the house, in contrast to the soil we inherited here, much of which is clay and all of which is riddled with rocks.  After moving in I learned that the area was once the site of a rock quarry.  Every time I dig in a new area of our lot, I pull up small stones - in the spirit of using life's lemons to make lemonade, I've used the stones to cover pathways throughout my vegetable garden as shown below.

The vegetable garden looks more "done" than any other area at our "new" house but it came with 3 raised beds, 3 established citrus trees and a mature bed of Camellia sasanqua bordering the house.  It's given me my first real experience raising fruits and vegetables - our former garden was too small and shaded to grow more than the occasional basil plant.  Thus far, I've been more successful with herbs than vegetables, although I got a good crop of peppers this summer, as well as some tomatoes and lots of beans.  The broccoli shown in the picture above got huge but never produced any florets.

My dry garden, an area on the other side of the fence in the picture of the vegetable garden above, is also beginning to come together.  This area was at the bottom of my list of gardening priorities when we moved in but, one thing led to another, and I found myself tearing out the lawn bordering the area, removing huge quantities of stone as well as a thick plastic weed barrier buried several inches below the surface, and soon I began adding a plant here and a plant there.  The last owner of the property, here just over one year, had put in several trees and grape vines but most were placed too closely together and some of the varieties proved to be poor choices for the area.  I left the 2 guava trees, a persimmon tree, and one of the grapevines.  An apricot tree died suddenly during our first year in the house and I moved an artichoke into its spot.  We also moved a small cherry tree from its  place on the slope below and, against expectations, it seems to be holding its own in its new location.

I don't have a before picture of the dry garden but here's one my brother took at the end of 2011 as the garden was starting to take shape.

Here's a picture taken when I first planted the area formerly covered by sod.

Here are a couple of pictures taken earlier this Spring plus a recent one showing how the Creeping Thyme 'Pink Chintz" in the picture above has filled in.

I guess maybe I have accomplished something!  There's much more still to do, here and elsewhere in the garden, in 2013.  It's also clear that I need to work on my photography skills.