Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lawn Removal Progress Report

In late September, we had our remaining sod removed.  Afterwards, my husband and I began what turned out to be a longer and more difficult project than our prior projects removing the lawn on the north and south sides of the house or even last year's project with the main front lawn area.  While we recognized that the areas we cleared this year were larger, we closed our eyes to just how much more area our newest project involved.

Removing the sod was the simplest part of the project.  We paid a crew to strip the sod and haul it away, which took one day.  But, having learned from prior experience that removing the grass roots and plastic sod netting, then adding topsoil and amendments to improve soil quality and drainage makes a major difference to the health of future plants, we spent a good part of October digging.  Much of our soil is heavy clay and a lot of it is embedded with rocks, the legacy of the rock quarry that once operated on our site.  The good news is that we've made considerable progress.  The bad news is that we have the aches, pains and battle scars to prove it.

We're done digging in the backyard.  We've added about 4 cubic yards of topsoil.  Our new path, consisting of 3100 pounds of flagstone, is down.  And I've planted creeping thyme alongside and between each and every stone - 13 flats in all.

Photos show, from left: the state of the backyard lawn prior to removal, the space after the sod was stripped away, and the area at present with flagstone laid and creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum 'Minus') planted


Closer shots show all the empty space.

North end of new flagstone path

Mid-section of new path

South end of new path, which links to the existing flagstone path, creating a continuous path circling three-quarters of the house


I've slowly begun the process of filling in small portions of the new garden area we've gained by taking out the lawn.

I added Argyranthemum and Briza media (aka quaking grass) here

I planted 3 Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara', a compact grower, Geranium 'Rozanne, and Salvia chamaedryoides 'Marine Blue' here

In this area, I planted Ozothamus diosmifolius (aka rice flower shrub), Arctotis 'Pink Sugar' divisions I took from plants in the front garden earlier this year, 2 Abelia 'Kaleidoscope' (1 moved from elsewhere in the garden) and a few Santolina virens 'Lemon Fizz'

I added Seslaria autumnalis 'Campo Verde' (some moved from another area of the garden), Alternanthera 'Joseph's Coat' and Gazania plugs here

This area is marked for renovation.  The Stipa tenuissima, Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream' and Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset' will remain but I'm planning to add Agave attenuata, Leucadendron 'Red Devil' (a compact form), Coprosma 'Pacific Sunset' and Carex testacea (shown still in pots above).


There's a LOT more space to fill.  I have plans for some areas but not all.  Integrating them to create a coherent landscape remains a concern.  Meanwhile, we've started work on the neglected front area along the street as well.

Photos show the ongoing metamorphosis of the area inside the hedge along the street, from left: grass lawn prior to removal, area after the sod was stripped, and the current work area with a shade to screen us from the sun as we dig


We've had numerous setbacks in this area.  The soil here is heavy clay and riddled with tree and hedge roots (in addition to rocks!), making digging particularly difficult.  We discovered that those roots have cracked several irrigation pipes while careless digging damaged others, requiring my husband to spend countless hours on plumbing repairs.  (Happily Unfortunately, I have no expertise when it comes to plumbing...)

We also need to install a path to the street here for use in hauling our trash bins for the weekly pick-up and, as we couldn't find anyone willing to accept a contract for the job, my husband is building it himself, using railroad ties and gravel

After clearing sod netting and adding a thin layer of new topsoil around the ornamental pear tree, I planted woolly thyme as a groundcover


I took a break for a plant shopping trip to Santa Barbara County with a friend last weekend.  Much of what I bought is intended for the backyard but some also went into filling holes in the front and side yards.  It was wonderful to focus on the fun stuff, if only for a while.

From the upper left: 2 more Aloe 'Johnson's Hybrid' were added to surround the one I planted earlier; 3 Cordyline 'Renegade' replaced the spindly Coprosma 'Plum Hussey' I had in the south side garden, to which I added cuttings of Pelargonium tomentosum; another Corokia x virgata 'Sunsplash' was added between Echium 'Star of Madeira' and Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream'; and I found a Correa 'Ivory Bells' to complement the Corokia in another of the front beds


After a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, I'll be back to digging in the front this coming weekend, although I may fit in another nursery run if I get a chance - I do still need a lot of plants and I want to take advantage of the rains expected to accompany El Niño to get the plants established before drought conditions take hold again.  In addition to the empty spaces in the backyard, we pulled out 2 more sections of mostly dead Ceanothus hedge so those areas need planting too.

The Ceanothus weren't especially tall but they were very wide and their removal left large expanses of exposed soil in these areas, which slope down from the main area of the front garden toward the street on the southwest side


Best wishes to all of you celebrating Thanksgiving this week.  However you're spending the holiday, I hope you enjoy it!


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

33 comments:

  1. O my you've been working hard, and the results are impressive. Choice new plants hopefully ease the aches and pains. All the labor you've put into a good basis for happy plants will surely pay off. Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. Filling all that area with plants is somewhat intimidating but I keep reminding myself that I don't need to do everything at once.

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  2. my hats off to you Kris ... this is looking splendid , what a job ! In my experience picking 2 or 3 plants to use throughout helps with that pesky integration issue - the repeated element thing y'know. Happy Thanksgiving to you !

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    1. Yes, I'm trying to repeat plants and even some groups of plants. I have to fight my collector (one of everything!) tendencies, though.

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  3. What a huge project! The transformation is amazing! I admire how carefully you've planned each step. I hope you get gentle rains this winter to help these new gardens flourish!

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    1. Gentle, well-spaced rainstorms would be wonderful, Jenni. If only El Nino would be so accommodating.

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  4. Wow, Kris, what a LOT of work. Gardening, or garden-making, at least, is not for the faint of heart. :-)

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    1. Right now I could use a good chiropractor, Emily.

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  5. I'm in awe of this -- so much work. It looks great now and will look wonderful as everything grows in.(One thought re the path to the street: your mileage may vary, but I've found that hauling trash cans through gravel/crushed rock is, well, a real drag.)

    Sending you best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving -- thanks so much for blogging about this big project and allowing us to enjoy the fruits of all your hard work!

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    1. I admit to some apprehensions about the garbage path, Luisa, but my husband laid the railroad ties such that the wheels of the cans can roll across them with gravel left for walking. I've used the wood "tracks" a few times already and it works fairly well (as long as I don't try to hurry). We'd originally wanted a cemented stone path but could find no one locally to take on such a small job!

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  6. I am in total awe of what you've achieved Kris and in such a short space of time. The backyard looks fabulous already, I can just imagine it when all those plants fill out. Enjoy the Thanksgiving break, you deserve it!

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    1. Thanks Jessica. I couldn't help myself - I went back to work in the garden this afternoon.

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  7. What a lot of work, but of course the payoff is huge. What will you guys do when you've tackled all the projects?

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    1. Is it possible to finish all the projects, Loree? Isn't it like whack-a-mole? A new one pops up as soon as you knock another out.

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  8. p.s. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

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  9. A very ambitious undertaking to be sure! Oh the plant shopping... I'm drooling over all of that available planting space but don't envy you the back-breaking labor of preparing the areas! Hope your Thanksgiving was spectacular!

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    1. I still have a backlog of plants to get in the ground, yet I'm already feeling the pull of another garden center...

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  10. You and your husband have worked so hard on this project and wow! that a great effect you're creating. I love how you plant low thyme around the stepping stone paths in your garden, it is the perfect ground cover, smothering weeds and spreading its perfume as you tread on it. Have fun choosing and planting the rest of the plants and a belated Happy Thanksgiving.

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    1. Thanks Christina! This round, I was careful to choose the very short-growing (one-inch tall) thyme so hopefully the upkeep associated with it will be less.

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  11. You've done an amazing amount of work! 3,100 pounds of flag stone, that's 1.5 tons! That's backbreaking labor. Kudos to you and your husband for handling it yourself.

    Luisa made a good point about the garbage path but it sounds like you've got it under control.

    BTW, I'm a huge fan of Salvia chamaedryoides. We have one in the background that gets no regular water and it blooms all summer. The flower color is amazing.

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    1. My husband deserves all the credit for hauling and laying all that stone, Gerhard. While I accompanied him on each trip, I can't pick up anything but the smallest stones. I guess I should do some weight-lifting exercise prior to our final round to pick up stone for the front area!

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  12. I'm getting sore just reading this post. You are taking such good care of your beautiful piece of the world. I hope you've been getting some of these intermittent overnight storms (another one last night) to soften that soil for digging.

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    1. We got 0.28 inches of rain last night, Denise! I slept right through it, which doesn't often happen but I blame the tryptophan in the turkey. The rain did help soften that hideous baked clay soil - it also partially filled my rain collection tanks so I'm a happy gardener.

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  13. Wow, Kris, your flagstone path looks wonderful. I love how you are using the thyme. I can imagine how it will look when it all grows together and is covered with tiny blooms. I tried to grow thyme around some flagstones, but the area was too shady and it did not like our weather either. It is hard to believe your site was once a rock quarry! You have met the challenge admirably. I sympathize. We also have clay soil, and a large chunk of my woodland garden was once used to deposit gravel and larger rocks from house and road building.

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    1. Thanks Deb. The thyme I'm using in the backyard is a slower-growing form than that I used last year in the front yard but it only grows an inch tall so it should be easier to manage - but I'm going to have to be patient as it fills in.

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  14. Impressive result of hard work!
    So different plants against what we have, very fun to see.
    My art exhibition went very well, much better than expected.
    Mariana

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    1. Thanks Mariana! I'm glad your exhibition went well.

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  15. You've done a lot of work! Love the new plants and especially the flagstone path. I'm a bit jealous that you can still plant things. I'm about ready to throw in the towel for my planting until spring. If it's not cold and raining, it's freezing. I can't do much besides plant dormant deciduous trees now. I can't help but be a bit struck by the difference in the size of our gardens, though. Four cubic yards of soil wouldn't go nearly as far in my garden. I have compacted clay soil, too. Right now, I'm working through 5 cubic yards of compost and 6 cubic yards of a leaner mix that's supposed to be good for breaking up clay for native plants. I already know I'll need much more. I'm also taking home used potting soil from work every week.

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    1. I can't remember how big you said your garden is but I do recall that it's a LOT bigger than ours, which is just over half an acre in total, large my the standards of LA County but small relative to many bloggers' gardens. I'd guess-estimate that the backyard area we covered in this round of renovation is about 750 square feet.

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    2. I don't know, I think you have quite a respectably-sized garden compared to most of the blogs I've come across. But yes, mine is much bigger. The total property size is 5 acres, but I garden on somewhere around 1.5 to 2 acres of that.

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  16. Wow, that is a big job -- especially given your clay soil! I know how these major garden projects (along with their attendant aches and pains) can seem never-ending, but how satisfying when it is done. It looks great. -Jean

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    1. If, once planted, the area does as well as the area in the front yard we approached in a similar fashion last year, I'll be very happy, Jean.

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