Saturday, November 7, 2015

Racing El Niño

In late September, we had our remaining lawn, a long strip in the back averaging 8 feet in width and a section along the street in front, removed.  Although the service provider assured me he and his crew would do more than strip the top layer of sod, that was not the case.  As a result, my husband and I spent hours upon hours digging up the soil to clear it of grass roots, sod netting, and some of the rocks that riddle our soil.  We completed that effort in the backyard this week and also spread 3 cubic yards of new topsoil, which we tilled in to raise the soil level and improve drainage.  While we haven't yet touched the former lawn area in the front yard and still need more topsoil for the back area, we nonetheless got started laying a new flagstone pathway through the backyard.  Frankly, we were tired of tracking in dirt every time we walked through the backyard.

The new path through the backyard continues from the point the side yard path leaves off, marked here by the 2 green pots.  The new stone we've laid here represents only one-quarter of the new path through the backyard.


We brought home, unloaded and laid 1000 lbs of stone, which is the maximum my husband's truck can carry.  Now, spatial relations has never been one of my strong suits but it dismayed me to discover that it'll take at least three more trips to the stone yard just to complete the pathway through the backyard.  I suppose this shouldn't have come as a surprise given the time it took just to complete the digging process - the area is much larger than it seemed when it was laid with lawn.

The last section we dug, shown here covered by the bender-board that formerly divided garden beds and lawn, was 25-33% rock, which was especially time-consuming to "sift" out.  This property was part of a large rock quarry in the 1940s and we've found large masses of rock here and there throughout the garden.


My husband handled most of the heavy lifting in laying the flagstone.  I took care of filling in the soil between the flagstones and laying the creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum 'Minus').

It's hard to believe that's 1000 lbs of rock, isn't it?

'Minus' thyme grows only 1-inch in height but it spreads more slowly than some of the creeping thyme I've used elsewhere


I'm also responsible for plant selection once the path is completed.  I expect I'm going to have to move some of the low-growing plants that formerly lined the lawn area forward and fill in with taller specimens behind those.  In addition to replacing plants that didn't make it through our hot, dry summer, I'm going to need a lot of new plant material to fill the area created by taking out the lawn.  I'm already eyeing some of the plants I have sitting around in pots for in-ground installation.

Agave bracteosa is screen testing for a role in the backyard

Furcraea foetida mediopicta is outgrowing its pot and looking for more root space


I may take cuttings or relocate other plants.

This hybrid Cotyledon orbiculata 'Silver Storm', supposed to grown just 18 inches tall and wide, is already expanding its boundaries in the front garden and may be a good candidate for relocation


Buying sprees, by mail order and road trip, are also in the offing.  I'm racing El Niño to get what I can planted before the rain that accompanies that weather phenomenon arrives.

I have no idea when I'm going to get around to tackling the denuded area along the front of the property.

Grass is already growing back in this area but it's taken a backseat to work in the backyard


What garden projects do you have hanging over your head as winter approaches?


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

39 comments:

  1. The curved path laid so far looks very very nice. Well done! Are you using Palos Verdes Flagstone? My fireplace is made of it; has nice subtle coloring. Yours looks a bit lighter. You'll finish, barring accidents, before El Nino which is predicted to come after Christmas

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    1. No, the flagstone is called "Classic Oak." We've been told that PV stone is no longer available, although I suspect that, if we bulldozed the house, we'd find some. Some of the larger chunks of stone we've found may be PV stone but most of what we dig up is black, white and gray gravel.

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  2. That path is gorgeous! I can sympathize with your sifting of rocks, our soil here is glacial till, which means it is sandy and full of rocks. You may have noticed in some of my photos, I have lined all my paths and beds with them. Do you have any plans for what to do with your rocks? I do have a few projects hanging over my head. I have too many plants in the pot ghetto that really should be in the ground by now, but I'm still having pain in my back and shoulder, and I don't want to aggravate that. Not to mention I ordered bulbs back in the summer that should get planted too.

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    1. I remember seeing the stone in some of your photos, Alison. Sadly, the largest pockets of rock we've dug up are embedded in heavy clay soil. I've used the new supply to augment what I'd used to line paths in the vegetable and dry gardens after my earlier digging exercises. However, as those areas are now inches deep, I'm spreading the rest around plants in the street-side succulent garden. Maybe that will deter the raccoons from digging there.

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  3. It's a huge project you've taken on Kris but oh boy will it be worth it when you're done. And what a shame to have to go shopping for all those plants. Keeping my fingers crossed for a well timed El Nino.

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    1. Timing is everything in this case. It's too bad El Nino can't set a definitive arrival date.

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  4. My next project is a big one and I have no plans to get that done any time soon and it will need to be done when the weather is good or else I'd need to find somewhere to store the entire contents of my garden shed until it's complete. So no, no winter plans this year. I'm having a winter off!
    The path is looking great and whilst the race may be on Kris, I'm sure you and your OH will take this very labour intensive project in your strides. Wishing you well with it.

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    1. The idea of a winter off sounds absolutely lovely to me right now, Angie. However, the rain the should come with El Nino offers an opportunity to get plants established that I might not otherwise get as the drought continues here. According to experts, we'd need 3 or more years of El Nino conditions in a row to end our drought and there's little chance of that.

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  5. Kris, the new path looks fantastic. Instead of moving plants forward right away, you could mulch the edges of the new path with d.g. and extend the d.g. as mulch into the plantings to link them to the path. Thank goodness for your truck. I blew the suspension out of our old Honda Civic lugging supplies.

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    1. I love the look of dg, Denise, but I was put off by some of the stories I read about the damage it can do to floors if it comes in on shoes. Push comes to shove, I'll just extend the thyme on either side of the path.

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    2. I'm also mining your post on Greenlee's Meadow Grass Festival for ideas.

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  6. Reading the title of this post I couldn't help but picture you (which is difficult, since I have no idea what you look like) literally trying to out run El Nino, storm chaser style...

    Oh how busy you've been! The new path looks amazing, and I can't help but be a little bit jealous of all that new planting space.

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    1. I'm excited but also intimidated by all that new space, Loree. Creating a landscape in the front last year seemed easier because I was working with a relatively clean slate whereas now I need to integrate the new space with the surrounding borders.

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  7. the Cotyledon you can just harvest cuttings and tuck them in (so long as it's not summer heat). Very rewarding plants. Love the leaves and the flowers for our sunbirds (and your hummers?) are a bonus!

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    1. My two cotyledon haven't bloomed yet. It'll be interesting to see if the hummingbirds are drawn to them when they do.

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  8. I can well believe how heavy those pieces were. We did a similar thing in our sunken garden. Your path looks wonderful and with thyme in between the stones a delight to walk over as you crush the wandering stems. There is so much satisfaction to be gained from doing projects like this. I love a big project!

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    1. I do get a lot of gratification from these big projects, at least when they're done. It might have been a better idea to have tackled the back and front areas at different times, though I do want to take advantage of El Nino's projected rainfall.

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  9. Dear Kris, that new flagstone path looks fantastic! But boy, do you and your husband have your work cut out. I don't think that I would dare to take on a project as big as this. On the other hand it must be so satisfying for you when it is done. It will be a lot of fun planting up all the new space that opened up for you by removing the lawn.
    By the way, I love the Furcraea foetida mediopicta!
    I have one project in the making. A small bed in the front yard needs redoing. A big rose was transplanted already and an underground clogged drain, declogged and partly repaired. Now another plant and maybe another rose has to be transplanted. After that the last little bit of remaining lawn in the front yard will be removed and then I can also plant up this new bed. Yay!
    Wishing you a wonderful rest of the weekend!
    Christina

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    1. I hope you and I both complete our projects before El Nino gets going, Christina. Best wishes with the lawn removal project!

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  10. I love the new path!! I think the series of stone paths is just beautiful. If you don't have time to fill in the area by the driveway, you might consider throwing down something that will prevent the soil from washing away in any heavy storms. At least the plants will be well watered and should settle in quickly without you having to worry about watering restrictions.

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    1. Yes, that's a good idea. I've got some mulch on hand that might be useful. My rain collection tanks are also in place to capture whatever hits the roof too.

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  11. We just completed a decorative divider fence between our patio and the vegetable garden. It is only about 16 feet long, with a path dividing it in two. Compared to your huge undertaking, it was a simple and quick project! I love your flagstone walkway, and I am not surprised that you will need much more than 1000 pounds! However, you are wise to break it up in stages, as it probably would do you in, or rather your husband!

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    1. After weeks of digging and now stone work, both my husband and I have aching muscles. The rain, when it arrives, will mean a forced retreat indoors, which will be a blessing for us as well as the garden.

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  12. The path is a huge project but is going to look amazing when complete. I love your idea of planting thyme between the stones and I think it is an excellent idea to relocate and take cuttings from plants that you know cope with your conditions. I take my hat off to you both, just look after those aching muscles.

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    1. Our current project is nothing compared to the one you and your husband have taken on, Sarah! We are pacing ourselves, as you should do also!

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  13. You and your husband are brave souls, tackling that job, Kris! Hope the timing works out great as it could make such a difference! I'm still trying to get on with adding simple pavers and ground cover for my paths, but I'm put off by the fact that apparently ground cover plants that do well here are few, that is, the really low-growing ones. I have paths in different widths, and I still plan to mix some taller perennials (say up to 18 inches or so) along the outer edges of the widest path at least. I'd love to use the low-growing thymes between pavers, but my lemon thyme looked brown and worn for many months so I'm asking myself, "is that really what I want on the paths?" - especially since most areas receive even more sun... In fact, I may just buy a few plants of each candidate over the winter, plant them out, and see how they perform over the summer. This would delay the paths by a year, but maybe less time cost than if I tried planting the whole thing in unsuitable plants! Please pardon my thinking out loud here; it helps me collect my thoughts :) Your work is so thorough; I'm sure it will really pay off in the final results!

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    1. I love the scent of lemon thyme but it wasn't particularly vigorous here either, Amy. I'm using 2 creeping thymes now, both Thymus serphyllum - 'Minus', a very low-grower, and woolly, which is more vigorous but grows a little taller. As you get both colder in the winter and hotter in the summer than we do here, I can't say how either would perform for you. Testing out alternatives sounds like a great idea. Have you seen the list here?: http://www.amwua.org/groundcovers.html. Many of the groundcovers listed may not meet your specs but there may be some ideas there. In some of my tougher areas, I've also considered filling in between pavers with gravel or smaller stones, reserving living groundcovers for the areas on either side of the pavers.

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  14. Does El Nino always bring high rainfall to you? Here we are expecting an extra cold winter because of the weather pattern it causes; I don't really understand how it all works but we did have a hotter summer than for some years and that is often followed by a very winter. Your choice of paving is lovely and will really set off your new plantings; it WILL be worth all the hard work.

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    1. El Nino's impact on rain in southern California is highly variable, Christina. We've had some El Nino years that brought only moderate rain but this year most of the prognosticators, from NOAA to the local weather forecasters, are predicting a "Godzilla" El Nino effect. The water temperatures in the Pacific off the Americas are at record highs, which is a key factor, but apparently the winds also have to blow steadily in a particular direction. There was some hesitancy about the winds for awhile but it sounds more and more like we're headed for something similar to the 1997-98 weather pattern. The phenomenon does have it's downsides - it contributes to drought in Australia, for example, as well as mudslides and floods in SoCal. I hadn't heard that it has an effect on Europe's weather but I guess everything's interconnected. I hope it doesn't get too cold in your part of the world!

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  15. Wow Kris, what a cool project! You'll love it when it's done. It's hard to sometimes enjoy the 'in-between' stages of work but I hope you'll be able to take a step back at times and enjoy the moments. Looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

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    1. Progress is slow but steady, Jennifer. I'm looking forward to getting to the fun part - planting! - though.

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  16. The path looks great and I'm totally envious of all that space you have to grow more cool plants! How I miss the days of dragging huge loads of plants home to fill new beds.

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    1. Unfortunately, the huge loads of plants must await the arrival of more huge loads of stone but I am looking forward to the planting phase.

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  17. Few things are as good as reading about garden projects, and this post is terrific. Space to fill with plants! I love natives, so I'd probably be all over the Las Pilitas website checking out manzanitas and ceanothus. And maybe a (99%) spineless opuntia like ellisiana... The flagstone looks beautiful. (My neighbors put a lovely flagstone walkway in their small garden, and it involved trip after trip after trip out to Whitewater Rock. And each time: "We thought we had enough...!")

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    1. Funny you should mention Las Pilitas. I was on their site just the other night, checking what they have available. Your friends are right about the stone - it's a seemingly endless process. We have picked up and installed our second load of stone but must hold on the third until we get our next topsoil delivery later this week.

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  18. Your flagstone path is beautiful but the amount of work is staggering. Kudos to you for taking on a project many of us would never tackle ourselves. I'll be rooting you on to finish before El Niño comes. Somebody told me over the weekend the worst of it won't come until March. Not sure who to believe.

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    1. If you look at some of NOAA's maps, it appears that the projections vary based on location (e.g. SoCal has a higher likelihood of above average rain earlier in the season than NorCal). Ultimately, I think any prediction is a crap shoot but, if you're interested, check out the maps at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/long_range/ . (Warning: the maps may make your eyes cross.)

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  19. Wow Kris, that is an impressive project. Kudos to both of you for taking it on. We did one about the size of your first section so I know the challenges and that it was plenty of work for a while.

    We recently purchased a vintage iron gazebo which is currently a stack of parts. First we have to agree on a spot, then level it.....and, well you get the idea we'll be busy.

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    1. Good luck with the gazebo project, Shirley. Fall does seem to be the time for projects for those of us in warmer climates. Had it not been for the water restrictions here, I would have preferred to put this project - or at least a portion of it - off for another year. But the drought and significant water restrictions gave me the push to get it done. I think I may need a good chiropractor soon, though.

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