Frankly, the idea of doing anything to my mother-in-law's garden struck me at first as something close to sacrilege. While she'd spent less time personally tending to the garden as she got older, in my view the garden was very much her creation and fiddling with it felt, well, like an intrusion. A professional designer put together the original design and oversaw the installation and subsequent maintenance but she was very involved in the initial plant selection and all later decisions about the garden. I can still remember some of our early discussions about plant choices. Her focus, then and always, was on utilizing plants that supported the birds she so loved. While she certainly considered color, shape, size and texture, what was really important was whether the plants served the birds - by providing food, cover, nesting material, and the like. Earlier this year, months before she became ill, I wrote a post about her garden (which you can view here).
As we cleaned out and emptied the house, it came to feel like a shadow of the family home it once was. I accepted my assignment to spruce up the garden and, once I was sprung from jury duty, I got to work. My husband and I spent one full day just trimming back trees and shrubs. It's a good-sized yard as backyards in Southern California go but the volume of foliage diminished the sense of its size. Among other things, we took out 3 scraggy mid-sized Artemisia and a misshapen 'Iceberg' rose.
|Before picture of bed adjacent to the main patio|
|After selected plants were removed and the bed was replanted|
|More sun-exposed "after" picture|
Our real estate agent wanted to create an open flow from the patio to the raised area beyond the planting bed so I selected plants that didn't obscure the low stacked wall (created from concrete cut from the front driveway during the original garden installation). The plants I added here were Trachelium 'Lake Michigan Violet' with purple, dome-shaped flowers and reddish foliage; low-growing annual Cuphea purpurea 'Firecracker' with red and purple flowers that will coordinate with the existing red-flowered Callistemon (bottlebrush) nearby; Vinca 'Cora Cascade Polka Dot', a very short, trailing plant with white flowers accented by a reddish pink dot at their centers; and white Alyssum. I'm afraid it still looks bare but then I've noticed this is common in the gardens of newly listed houses.
I also cleaned up and added color to the large circular bed that previously held a solar-powered fountain. My mother-in-law liked it so much that she got others for my sister-in-law and for me. My solar control burned out and the base of by sister-in-law's fountain was damaged by some large night-visiting creature so she and I each took pieces of my mother-in-law's fountain, which left an empty hole in the middle of the bed. I cut the large Coprosma back, moved a succulent planter my mother-in-law had created to the center of the bed, and added plants to address the real estate agent's request for more color.
|Fuzzy "after" picture with succulent planter and new plants|
I also added some color to a shady area off to the side under the canopy of a large pine. I trimmed and neatened the existing orange-flowered cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) and added 9 New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens x hybrida 'Painted Paradise Pink Improved'), as well as Scotch moss (Sagina subulata 'Aurea'), along the path.
|After, still a bit bare|
The rest of the work in the backyard consisted of trimming to open up the space, clear pathways, and improve the general appearance of existing plants. We could have cut many of the shrubs and trees back further but we didn't have space in the green bins to dispose of additional garden debris before the start of the open houses. The plants also didn't have sufficient time to recover from a hard pruning at this stage.
|Before picture of Arbutus unedo and Leptospermum|
|Picture of Arbutus after it was limbed up and the Leptospermum was cut back|
|Before picture of overgrown shrubbery (Camellias, Pittosporum and Raphiolepsis) below the kitchen window|
|After relatively light pruning used to create nominal separation between the varieties of shrubs|
I feel as though I should have done more to make the backyard shine but there just wasn't time. And, as my husband cynically commented, the new owners are likely to yank out everything I added, as well as my mother-in-law's established bird-friendly plants, to put in grass.
In the front yard, all I did was to add 2 pots by the entrance to the front door. Both pots were planted up with the same mix: Cordyline 'Renegade', Pelargonium peltatum 'Pink Blizzard', Calibrachoa 'Cherry Star', and Alternanthera 'Yellow Joseph's Coat'. The Cordyline is a particularly nice plant and, as I could find only 2, I'm planning to take at least one of the pots home with me once the house is sold.
|Front doorway with new matching pots|
|Close-up of one pot|
The listing went up on Friday night. The first open house was held yesterday and another is scheduled for today. It's currently a seller's market in this area and we're hoping for a quick sale. It will be a relief for both my husband and myself to shift our focus back to our own home. However, on a sadder note, the sale also marks the end of an era in the family's history.