Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What should I do now?

Every border needs a focal point, doesn't it?  My backyard border changed dramatically last weekend with the removal of the Agonis flexuosa that marked its mid-section.  The removal came about in response to a complaint lodged by a neighbor concerning what she perceived as the obstruction of her view by our trees.  You can read the gory background details here so I won't reiterate them in this post.

Rather than engage in a battle arbitrated by our city's "view conservation commission," my husband and I decided to remove one tree and to thin and reduce the crowns of 9 others in a good faith effort to address the neighbor's objections.  Even after receiving notice of our intent, she sought to insert herself into details of the decision process.  After I declined her request to tour the property and discuss each tree in turn, she delivered photos, including at least one taken with a telephoto lens, showing the "offending foliage" circled with a yellow highlighter.  I haven't asked her opinion of the completed work and I don't intend to.  If she's dissatisfied, then we'll let the city commission address the matter - at her expense.

The removal of the Agonis broke my heart a little.  It  left a large empty spot in the middle of my backyard border.

Photos snapped from inside the house as the tree service crew brought down the Agonis and ground the stump to dust

The photo on the left shows the 2 Agonis trees in the backyard border before the one in the foreground came down; the photo on the right shows the remaining tree, with its crown reduced and its foliage laced out


I dug up a large number of plants in advance to clear room for the tree crew to work.  After the work was done, my husband and I swept up the sawdust left behind when the tree's stump was ground down, then dug in supplemental topsoil, raising the soil level a bit to improve drainage.  I've replanted some things but I'm taking this opportunity to reconfigure the border before putting all the plants I removed back.  I expect it'll take me another week or so to finish that up.

Area cleared in preparation for the tree service crew

Area as it looks now, cleaned up and partially replanted


What to do with the blank space left by the tree's removal is my current conundrum.  It's a very long border and I think it needs something taller than 3 or 4 feet to give the area between the 2 remaining trees, an Albizia julibrissin on the left and the remaining Agonis flexuosa on the right, definition.  To avoid future conflict with the complaining neighbor, I'd like to keep the height to a maximum of 12 feet as that's our rough estimate of the height of our roofline (although my husband proposed keeping it lower still).  In addition, I'd like to leave the remaining Agapanthus where they are so I want something that will coexist peacefully with those plants.  Finally, as our drought conditions continue to represent a serious problem, anything I put in should be relatively drought tolerant.

I've been driving myself crazy trying to identify the right focal point.  Some of the options I'm seriously considering include:

  • Drimys lanceolata - it has attractive red stems and produces flowers and berries but it's slow-growing and needs regular water
  • Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' - it's a beautiful drought-tolerant plant with both winter and summer interest and well under my height limit but I already have 2
  • Metrosideros collinia 'Springfire'  - it's drought tolerant and has beautiful orange-red flowers that attract birds and butterflies but, if not kept pruned, can grow well above my 12 foot limit and it appears to have a dense canopy
  • Persimmon - although these trees are deciduous, I love their leaves and beautiful orange fruit but can I find a dwarf variety and will it attract more raccoons to my back border?
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Ivory Sheen' - it's attractive and has a naturally lacy appearance but it seems more of a background plant than a focal point


Clockwise from top left: Leucadendron 'Wilson's Wonder' with its summer foliage; nursery containers of Metrosideros 'Springfire'; containers of Drimys lanceolata; and a Pittosporum 'Ivory Sheen'


Do you have any thoughts or additional suggestions to offer?  I hope to add more Grevillea and other mid-sized plants to the border as well but I'd like to make a decision on the taller focal point first.


All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

34 comments:

  1. They are all excellent choices already Kris, although in your favourable location a few more proteas to consider would be good as some can get up to 12' tall in your closet climate :)

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    1. I thought about using Grevillea 'Moonlight' there but, since I'm hoping to add another G. 'Superb' in that area, I wasn't sure I wanted the 2 so close together. It's an option through.

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  2. What an opportunity! Plant something you like! (I know, I'm sort of teasing.) Persimmon grows too big and attracts things like squirrels,birds and rats, although it is my favorite fruit tree to grow here. I'm always have to take the top branches off which is not pretty to keep the view. May I suggest pomegranate? It has seasons, it survives on no water. You can prune it, there are dwarf varieties, but even 'Wonderful' doesn't get too large. Some of the tangerine trees are very shrubby, too. A mix of myrtle, citrus, pomegranate, and fig all cut at the same height?

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    1. I hadn't thought about a pomegranate! According to Sunset, 'Wonderful' wants regular water but that's not your experience? I checked on the ornamental varieties and those also look promising. Punica granatum 'Toyosho' is the right height and has pretty apricot-colored flowers too. I have a row of citrus in the veg garden but a another fig might also work. (I have one on the slope but the critters steal all the figs.)

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    2. Pomegranate grows here under the same conditions as toyon, Schinus terebinthifolius, Aloysia virgata, and Cotinus ... slight slope, no supplemental water. If you can grow those, and I think you do already, you can grow pomegranate easily.

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  3. I missed the original post somehow, about your obnoxious neighbor's complaints. It must have made you so anxious, to be the subject of so much scrutiny, from someone with no appreciation for growing things. As far as a suggestion for the focal point, how tall do Arctostaphylos get in your area? I realize they're prized plants here, where they're more rare, and are pretty common down there in California. They're also natives, so might take well to the droughty conditions. But I think most of them are beautiful small trees, with that wonderful red bark and dynamic shaped limbs, sort of like your Arbutus, but smaller. I have to admit, I'm wishing ill health on your neighbor (bad Alison!)

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    1. I love Arctostaphylos, Alison, although, despite its reputation for drought tolerance, some sources don't recommend planting it here - at least not within 100 feet of a home - because they can provide "fire ladders." We live in a fire risk area and as my in-laws lost their home in Malibu to fire years ago, we're especially wary. I just scanned the on-line sources on the plants again and reviews are clearly mixed but, given the heightened risk of fire due to drought, I'm still apprehensive.

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  4. To me this woman is just a bully and I feel that she has really gone over the score with her tactics. This situation needn't have got to where it's at. It would be rude of me to say some swear words here!! One day she will get her comeuppence and I just hope you are there or there abouts to see it Kris.
    What ever you choose I'm sure with the amount of consideration you are putting into it will be just perfect.

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    1. I've probably used all those swear words myself, Angie. The problem isn't just the neighbor - it's the local ordinance that she's relying on to push her agenda. As LA is becoming another urban heat sink, a law that encourages cutting down trees and other foliage, especially during a drought, seems foolish at best. I just read that the "June gloom" that used to help keep temperatures down in early summer along the coast, is rapidly diminishing due, in part, to the reduction in the amount of green space here.

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  5. You've selected some great plants! How about a piece of statuary? I'm thinking of a huge human fist displaying it's raised middle finger toward your neighbor. Concrete? Carved stone? Bronze?

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    1. Ha! There's no ordinance against that - at least not to my knowledge. You never know here - the area has all sorts of arcane rules I only discover when I trip over them.

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  6. I want to start off seconding outlawgardener's suggestion and I vote for bronze.

    Knowing you will choose wisely as always, I'm game.... How about a dwarf form of yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria)? They are relatively slow growers, keep an open canopy, are easy to shape, tolerate drought and heat well, love full sun, pollinators love the tiny flowers, and they provide year 'round interest with berries in winter that attract songbirds.

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    1. I'll check into that option, Deb. I never think of holly as many won't grow here but Ilex vomitoria is an exception.

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  7. I like Jane's idea about a Pomegranate...and I'm sending a whole ton of evil thoughts in your neighbor's direction. May she be squished under the weight of her own bad karma!

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    1. For my neighbor, it's a matter of homeowner rights, while my focus is on our local environmental health. While I'd be upset if someone built a mega-mansion in my line of sight, I can't see making an issue of a tree (or 2 or 3). Hopefully, the neighbor will leave us alone for awhile. For my part, I'll stick to an annual tree trimming schedule (despite my concerns with the drought). If that doesn't satisfy her, then I'll deal with the city's view commission.

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  8. The suggestions are all great - Metrosideros actually benefits from being pruned to height and can be encouraged to become fairly dense from the ground up if done early. Australian natives seem to do so well in California...perhaps a Callistemon, Banksia or leptospermum may fit the bill and most cultivars are under 12' in eventual height and many have very silvery foliage or weeping forms as well as prolific winter/spring flowering. But I have to agree with outlaw gardener about the statue!

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    1. All good suggestions, Matt. I thought of a Banksia after-the-fact - I've never tried one of those, in part because I rarely see them in the local nurseries. I got tired of red Callistemons as they were everywhere when I was growing up but lately I've noticed more in alternate colors. (In fact, I just put in a hot pink hybrid form.) I definitely need to look into species of Leptospermum other than L. scoparium, which is the most common variety sold here - L. petersonii might be an appropriate choice!

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  9. "Wilson's Wonder" looks terrific,but I certainly understand the wish to choose something not already in the garden. Like Jane, I thought about pomegranate; ours has survived on very little supplemental watering and the flowers are brilliant; I don't know whether the fruit eventually attracts pests! Some varieties of crape myrtle might be an option too... At any rate, I think you should get something you'll be excited to look at as a focal point :)

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    1. I've always wanted a crape myrtle, Amy, but they're prone to mildew close to the ocean so I'm wary of the choice. A pomegranate is definitely a possibility.

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    2. I think crape myrtles need a lot more water than you may want to give them; mine are smaller now than when I planted them through lack of water.

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  10. It's so sad to see the tree brought down, but at least the deed is now done and you can move on. I know you were dreading it and with good reason.

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    1. I was indeed dreading the tree's removal, Jessica. At least the tree crew did a great job and their work in pruning the other trees was performed under the direction of an arborist I trust. Still, an effort like that also brings all sorts of minor collateral damage. The reduction of shade in some areas is also having a negative effect on some of my plants, particularly recent introductions in the front garden.

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  11. I would think about a pomegranate, mine is never watered and in fact their don't like any wet in the soil for most of the year. they are very slow growing and the autumn foliage colour is lovely, here you can buy very mature specimens which have wonderful bark. I do think it is such a shame that you have had to lose the frame for your view.

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    1. Another vote for pomegranate - thanks Christina! My final choice may depend upon availability for now I have a good list of prospects.

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  12. That lady must just be one horribly unhappy basket case.

    But about your tree...as you mentioned on my pl blog post I do think Magnolia figo could be a contender (http://plantlust.com/plants/magnolia-figo) and as was mentioned above a Banksia would certainly be a lovely choice! Perhaps you should treat yourself to a visit to this nursery: http://www.australianplants.com/

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    1. It's an odd life mission for the neighbor to have chosen, isn't it?

      I've yet to get to that Ventura nursery - you have to make an appointment and it's more than 2 hours away. I note they have a sale listed in April, though, so that might be a possibility.

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  13. Agree that you need something that has a little height.
    I can unfortunately nothing about them plants that grow in climates.
    Know that you will find a good solution.
    However, I find it hard to forgive the neighbor, she not only destroys your views but also the relationship between neighbors.
    best regards
    Mariana

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    1. As we already have our first significant heatwave, I am not feeling too forgiving of my neighbor at the moment either, Mariana.

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  14. Um, 'Improved Meyer' lemon? That one can take less heat, and the scent of the flowers and the flavor of the fruit is the best, and citrus needs not a lot of water--a deep soak once a month in summer is enough.

    What about a trio of Aloidendrons (tree aloes) like thraskii or alooides or ferox or marlothii or castenea? If that isn't a focal point...thraskii belongs at the coast, and blooms young.

    Sad you lost your Agonis, as they are such pretty trees.

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    1. I thought about a lemon tree but I already have more of the fruit than I can use or give away with the tree at the bottom of the slope. I'll have to take another look at the tree aloe.

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  15. All good choices, Kris. Another choice might be some large grasses, with the great movement you'd get in that area. Stipa gigantea would be wonderful there. A grouping of Yucca rostrata would be good -- but big plants are expensive. Another idea would be shrubs you'd coppice, cut down every year, like the smoke bushes. 'Grace' grew amazingly fast for me. It'd grow to 12 feet for you in a season, then you cut it back down every year. Lot of work and garden waste to deal with. And then there's the big agaves, like franzosinii...

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    1. I wonder how the gardener who maintains my hedges would feel about a big old agave there - I like the idea. I was seriously considering a smoke tree but I keep thinking of that mutilated specimen across the street (cut back annually at the behest of the same neighbor who contacted me) and think, for that spot, I may want something that looks good year-round.

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  16. I vote for the pomegranate although I think the statue of the middle finger would give your neighbor what she deserves.

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    1. A friend is taking me nursery hopping next week so I now have a good list of plant prospects for that back border, Donna. The neighbor extended a peace-offering today: a case of wine. I was tempted to refuse it but figured I don't need to escalate the tension.

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