Two sisters, two coasts, one blog

Landscape revolution


Hey guess what?

I’m  right smack dab in the middle of a sort of accidental-unexpected-frontyard-overhaul.

Ta da!

part 1

Not to be long-winded, but for the sake of our readers, let me just take the thread  of this story all the way back to the eye of the needle, as I believe our (soon to-be infamous) Auntie Diana says:

So…. back at the beginning of the year we had a plumbing disaster involving our main line the street collapsing on account of being Orangeberg pipe. It needed to  be totally replaced, so we hired a patient plumber who was willing to wait until tax return season, which finally came, check & all. Well we went ahead with the repair, which is now done, but the unintended consequence was, as you see, a good part of our front lawn being all dug up and crazy-looking. And this of course, is what has brought us to this spontaneous landscaping project. Better strike while the iron is hot as they say!

Now, I’ve got this dying lawn half dug up, and I’m faced with a choice.What to do? Re-seed more grass? Besides being aesthetically boring, I find I am philosophically against lawns. Maintaining a green lawn is just a ridiculous waste of water and resources in this hot valley climate. So should we just go for it and convert this area into beds of  drought-tolerant plants, as we’ve been dreaming of ? Start to slowly transform the whole lawn into a beautiful dry garden! Maybe we should do  only California natives? Or Xeriscaping?! Wait, what is Xeriscaping anyway?

My mind is flooded with the possibilities but……

The bottom line is, work. We have to put in the work to make this happen.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to work in my garden. It’s one of the few things I can count on to bring me peace of mind and stress relief. But I wasn’t really planning to do this project right now,  if ya know what I mean?

But, here we are.

So carpe diem! Let’s get on with it……

Here is the plan:

  • Amend the soil on the existing patch that was dug up by the plumber. I have some credit at Cascade Rock Inc from when Lu Dawn helped us put in the sandpit (more on that later). I’ll use that to add a yard of mushroom compost.
  • Rake and rototill in the compost and expand the area to follow the natural curve of the berm around the tree. This will become the new perennial bed.
  • Rake out and flatten a wide path following the line of the existing brick beds, add pea gravel. This will allow access to tend the beds and also a crunchy garden path to walk along.
  • Build tiered beds by building up the soil in gentle gradations to deal with the slope. Use gravel and river rock to help with drainage and to frame borders

And here’s what went down, our first week into the project:

  • Monday:

The amazing Lu Dawn Mason delivered a yard of mushroom compost. Just a quick aside – I won Lu Dawn’s gardening help and expertise at the Camellia Waldorf School auction earlier in the year. She is donating her time, the money went to the school, and thanks to her and her trusty beat-up truck, we’ve gotten one yard of sand, and two yards of an excellent mushroom compost delivered to our driveway in no time flat.

She wouldn’t let me take her picture, but agreed that I could thank her by name. Although she has a “real job” cooking for seniors, the slogan on her business card is Gardening By The Yard and if anyone in the Sacramento area is looking for a helper for the day she’d be a great person to hire. I’ve got her number.

Today she unloaded and raked out a load of the compost onto the plumbing-disaster area, and fixed the broken irrigation pipe in the veggie bed so I can try to  get some drip lines put in soon. Thank goddess for Lu Dawn!

I show her what I’m thinking with the front  yard and she immediately helps by reminding me to soak the soil slowly for a few days before going to get the tiller. She also pointed out the slope and mentioned drainage. This is when  I start to become inspired about the tiered beds. But I’m still not sure how to build them

  • Thursday:

It’s 100 freakin’ degrees and the kids and I can’t stay indoors any longer. It’s off to “the LBC” (that’s the Labedski/Belson compound in my husband’s venacular) to swim and rustle up Stef’s electric mini-tiller from  garage. I’m so excited!! It’s light-weight and manageable , and I can borrow it from one of my best friends for a week instead of paying to rent it for a day. Thanks girl!

  • Saturday:

On the calendar today was a work day at Lincoln’s new school to start making improvements on the kindergarten yard. We had every intention of going when went we went to bed the night before. But the stars must have aligned just so or something,  because we all woke up with the same idea which was: Let’s have a  work day for ourselves here at home. what a concept!

And boy, did my boys bust it out!….

Keith always tells me that having my own personal crew of  high-energy, hard-working boys, is a very good thing, a secret weapon in fact. And he’s right. I had just sketched out the idea for a pathway and the initial shape of the beds on paper. I showed to them and those guys went for it!  My 10-year old worked methodically on the path which will eventually become a gravel walkway, raking and shaping it until it was firm and even.

I can already begin to imagine how it will look! This is getting fun.

I can see that there is a significant slope and that the tiers I thought about will be a good way to deal with drainage and run-off. I’m thinking it should have three gentle levels, made with river rock walls at front to stop erosion. This is my first idea , I need to read some more and start talking to people about it.

We’ll figure it out as we go. That’s my strategy and sometimes, my mantra.

Oh! I so want to rush ahead and start choosing plants, but I know we have to take it a step at a time and do the prep work in an intentional way so that our  garden will have good base to start from.One thing is for sure, this is going to be a looong project.

***************  ********* ***********

part 2

In between the sporadic bursts of digging and raking, not to mention the cooking, cleaning and all that jazz – there have been hours of countless deep thoughts about gardening: what kind of plants to pick, whether to go the direction of all California-natives to make a philosophical stand, or to stay drought-tolerant but mix up the plant cultures (which is of course the human purgative) in the name of attractive design. What’s a gardening girl to do?

There are so many incredible, beautiful hardy plants out there that don’t need to be watered three times a week. I’m more of an intuitive gardener than an ‘educated’ gardener but I’m trying to research these different approaches and I’ve been reading lots. I found the shelf in the library that has the gardening books and I’ve stopped by there on our last two library trips, crying children in tow, and grabbed a couple of interesting titles. I’ve got a pretty good stack going, I guess I’d better get some returned. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been looking at:

I like what I’m learning about Xeriscaping. I took notes the other day as I was reading about the 7 Principles of Xeriscaping. It all seemed like common sense to me, and it reminded  me to slow the pace way, way down in order to make a strong foundation. As you can see, you don’t even get to the plants until step 4 and as I said before I’m already realizing that just the planning and design stage is going to take much longer than I bargained for.  This is good, it’s an exercise in patience for those of us who like to strike that iron. You have to wait until the time is right.

In case you are interested, here are those 7 steps, as summarised by me:

1.  start with a good design

2.  improve soil

3.  limit lawn use

4. choose low or no water plants

5. water efficiently

6. mulch

7. practice good maintenance

  • Here is a truly naturalised landscape in summer dry conditions, this is along the banks of the American River near FAir Oaks, CA.

I keep getting swept away in fantasies of a garden revolution where yard by yard, town by town, people convert their palatial water-sucking lawns with summer  dry plants and California Natives and slowly re-naturalize the land. Shake off the façade of the manicured English garden and instead grow the plants that are meant to grow here. It’s possible in this Mediterranean climate to grow a garden  abundant with fruits and veggies for all. It seems like such a simple idea to me, a no-brainer.

I ‘m guess I’m with the flow of thought on this, because I found a book today at the library called “The Landscaping Revolution: Garden with mother Nature not against her” by Andy and Sally Wasowski (2000).

Well, whadda ya know? Here’s something I read in it:

“I firmly believe that by the second decade of the new century, native landscaping will become the norm, and that the typical highly controlled landscape of today will be viewed as a museum piece…a symbol of our wasteful past . And it could happen sooner.”

– Dr. David Northington, Former Executive Director, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

I like that. It gives me hope.

And some days I need that kind of hope, because I spend a lot of time driving around Sacramento, and being a garden-gazer by nature, I notice much of the landscape. And let me tell you, I am tired of seeing faded Agapanthus and ugly ol’ Oleander everywhere! Don’t let the pictures below fool you, that’s a good-looking specimen there. I’m talking about their dusty, neglected counterparts which I see all over this town.

Come on Sacramento, we can do better.

And Oleander – yuck! Actually, I think it can be nice if it’s pruned more upright and when it is healthy with big flowers like the hot pink one in my neighbor Trish’s yard, it can look positively Tropical! But it’s THE landscape material of choice in this part of California, and sometimes I feel like it’s the plant that took over the world. Fence-lines, bushes,highways, public space …it’s everywhere. And remember, it’s poisonous.

Okay, I’ll climb down off my soapbox and now, except to say that I’m determined to bring a little bit of funky Berkeley style to our side of the street! I have a neighbor down the way, a young  college guy, who is totally xeriscaping his front yard. That is, he let he everything turn brown and die. I’ve talked to him and he is doing it for resource-conservation reasons but  it’s been an ugly process and I know the elderly ladies on the block are all aflutter over it. It does look pretty junky, but I can see his heart is in the right place.

So,our family has decided we’re going to make a change too, but  perhaps we will do this thing with a little more planning….. and style! Like this:

Go Native!

8 Responses to “Landscape revolution”

  1. Freda Powers

    After living one part of my lifetime on a farm (weeding, hoeing, I
    feel as overwhelmed by your ambitious undertaking as I was by
    Oami’s many stages of mosaic print. I remember callouses and
    blisters, so take care and enjoy a lovely yard!

  2. modaspia

    totally exciting rucha, the possibilities. can’t help but love the look of those flowers in the last photos..give us an update next post.

  3. Anne

    I have a good book “edible landscaping”. You are welcome to go by my house and borrow. Let’s do a plant swap when i get back- fall is the time to divide!

  4. Aunt Diana

    The infamous (nearly) Auntie Di here….your garden project sounds wonderful/exhausting/stimulating. Here’s an idea: what say we swap your team of 3 hard working guys (which I dearly need) for ALL of my ‘tropical’ plants (which I can’t stand). So spiky and stiff. Am not going to admit publicly that I’m aiming for an ‘English’ garden in my new place- but there will be roses and I will need to water. Apart from that and just a very few pretties, all will be fruit and veg…in, I fancy, a wild flower rich orchard.

  5. Jacquelyn Marie

    I can just see methodical Maceo doing that path just the right way!

    Caitlin and Ian just brought over plants for me to foster while they are away. Trying to figure out where to put them in my apt and on my deck.

    Good luck!! Can’t wait to see the finished product but you are so smart to take your time and do it right!


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