Saturday, August 6, 2016

It all started with the Eucalyptus

It seems much easier to design a garden bed from scratch than it is to modify it as circumstances change.  This week I've been deliberating about what to do with the garden on the southeast side of the house.  It's evolved in fits and starts without any clear direction, leaving me with something I don't much like.

When we moved in over 5 years ago, the south side section of the garden was dominated by a giant Eucalyptus tree.  The surrounding area was mostly shade and the plants I added after we settled in were suited to that situation.

The Eucalyptus in its glory


Two years into our ownership, a neighbor complained that the Eucalyptus tree blocked her view of the harbor.  After multiple discussions and meetings with 2 arborists, we agreed to take the tree down.  (You can read that story here.)

The tree's removal in February 2013 completely changed the appearance of not just the south side garden but also views from the front and back gardens


One thing led to another and we ended up removing all the lawn on the southeast side and replanting the entire area.

View of the southeast side at the end of November 2013 with the lawn gone, flagstone laid and new plants in


By August 2014, things were filling in relatively well, although some of the plants that had enjoyed the shade provided by the Eucalyptus had already begun to suffer.

The area on August 1, 2014


Then the neighbor reappeared with another complaint and, in the interest of accommodation, we removed a second tree and thinned most of the others in March 2015.  Meanwhile, as California's drought took hold, the state placed significant restrictions on irrigation.  The area on the south side of the house suffered more than most and I started trading out perennials and shrubs for succulents.

As you can see in this photo taken at the beginning of August 2015, succulents had begun to displace flowering plants


Between August 2015 and August 2016, another tree died and other herbaceous plants came out, replaced by more succulents.

The Arbutus 'Marina' on the left was compromised when we moved in and, when it began to fail in early 2016, I had it cut down.  I also moved a large number of plants that couldn't handle the intense sun exposure in this area, including two Acanthus mollis and large clumps of Arthropodium cirratum


I haven't been really happy with the area since the spring of 2014.  While I like the succulents I've added, I think I need to add some plants with a softer aspect.

The area at present


Although this past week has been considerably cooler than the 2 weeks that preceded it, summer won't be over until October here so it's a bad bet to go on a planting spree now.  I'm trying to keep my itchy fingers under control for a while yet and use this time to plan additions, subtractions and moves.  I lost height and the red color provided by the trunk and limbs of the Arbutus 'Marina' that died so I'm thinking about adding a Leucadendron salignum 'Chief' like the one I have in the dry garden on the north side of the house.

Leucadendron 'Chief' provides height, a touch of red color, and moves gracefully in the wind.   Grevillea 'Scarlet Sprite' like the one in the foreground of this photo might also work well to add the softness I'd like to see in the southeast garden.


Some of the Chondropetalum tectorum I used in the succulent bed along the street might also make good additions.

The rush would also add height and movement 


What about you?  Has your mind skipped ahead to fall planting plans yet?


All material © 2012-2016 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

26 comments:

  1. Still amazed by the amount of people who still regard trees as something to be afraid of, or unwelcome in residential settings. Heaven forbid they block views...

    No Autumn plantings planned yet :)

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    1. In light of the serious drought here, you'd think people would be planting more trees but that's not the case. I guess I should just count my lucky stars that only the one neighbor makes an issue of them.

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  2. When I saw saw the title of your post, I immediately thought that the bitchy neighbor was at it again--so relieved to find that's not the case. I moved some things around last week when we had a couple of cooler days. I shaded them with an umbrella during the first day and watered deeply and all the transplants seem to be holding their own.

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    1. No, thankfully that neighbor hasn't reared her head since April. I'd half expected to receive notice that she was filing a formal complaint with the city but that hasn't happened. I told her that I was prepared to fight "tooth and nail" if she pushed matters.

      Coincidentally, I recently read an article on methods to create temporary shelters for plants in climates like mine. But I lost so many plants in June during our horrific heatwave, I'm gun-shy.

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  3. I have lots of plans for the fall and winter. Will I be able to carry them out? That is the question? Stay tuned. Sorry to hear you lost an Arbutus. I may have mentioned planting manzanita before, I can't remember what you said. They are very popular up here for drought tolerant beds, and many have attractive red peely bark like Arbutus.

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    1. We all bite off more than we should sometimes! I'm already questioning the scope of my own fall planting plans. Re the manzanita, I don't see them planted as often as Arbutus in my immediate area, even though there are a lot of native California species of Arctostaphylos. At one time they seemed to have a reputation for being fire hazards, creating "fire ladders" in a blaze. Some of that reputation has been disputed but it may account for why they're in limited use here as we're considered a high-risk area.

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  4. You've certainly had a lot of forced changes to your garden in a very short time. I do find myself making garden plans and changes a lot, but try to keep changes to a minimum in the heat of summer. A lot of my plans in my small lot consist of 'where do I have things that I can get rid of to plant something new?" Happily, a lot of the garden has grown without really planning and there are plenty of plants of which I have multiples from division. Off with their heads!

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    1. Yours is a good problem to have, Tim. I did a lot of cram-scaping in my old postage stamp-sized garden but I've yet to have the luxury of such abundance here. As our summers get hotter, as water use is limited, and as my foliage cover has gotten thinner (in my vain attempt to accommodate a particular neighbor), I've lost a lot of plants. I'm getting better about letting go of my classic English garden delusions in favor of plants that can survive heat and drought but my garden is still a lot less full than I'd like.

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  5. I had the same initial reaction as Emily Khan. So glad the tree hater is still quiescent. I started thinking of fall planting back in May, but only started actively preparing a few weeks ago. I have a few more areas of lawn to clear, smaller beds to connect, and lots of plants to buy. I'm undoubtedly biting off more than I can chew and if I spend too much time thinking about all the plans I get overwhelmed. I've been trying not to plant anything for the last two months, but I did just plant a few things today, some native sedums and some shade plants that went into areas that are still fairly moist anyway and easy to water.

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    1. The return of somewhat cooler weather here and a recent loosening of our water restrictions, combined with the hefty water budget I'd already accumulated, has made my fingers more itchy. But I really should be focusing on non-planting fall readiness activities as you have, Evan.

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  6. Hi Kris, I think you have done a great job with the circumstances given to you. Your garden is very beautiful and full of color! I am longing for fall. I am truly sick of the heat but even more so with the humidity. This week should give us a bit of a break, with temps only into the upper 80s and plenty of rain. I have a number of plants I am planning to transplant to new locations and several potted plants that will go into the ground once things cool down in September, but right now I am painting the interior of the house and spending almost no time in the garden.

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    1. I don't envy you the painting task but I'm jealous of the rain, Deb. We can't expect any rain until at least October and forecasters predict another light rain season with the advent of La Nina. Of course, they were wrong about the heavy rains expected to accompany El Nino here so maybe they'll be wrong again!

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  7. I'm thinking of planting all the time and putting in containers what might be too stressed in ground this time of year. Why not try a Moon Lagoon at the site of the former euc? It can go 10X10 or be kept smaller, cutting it back to keep the juvenile leaves -- and there'd be a certain symmetry to the choice, right?

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  8. Kris, I like Denise's suggestion of Eucalyptus 'Moon Lagoon'. And since I just finished reading that new Protea book, I'm on a total protea kick. Since you already have a red leucadendron, how about a yellow one? Leucadendron discolor might look great. Or a grevillea or banksia?

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    1. On your recommendation, I got a copy of that Protea book myself, Gerhard. So many choices!

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  9. We have rain promised for Friday - this is our 'rainy' season and our dams are half empty - so we really need that rain.

    And yet - I'm already seeing pictures of spectacular spring wildflowers!

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    1. I hope you get the promised rain, Diana! I know how disappointed I was by our poor rain totals last year. I'm hoping for better this winter, even if forecasters say it's a La Nina year and rain should be light.

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  10. The only thing I've planned for fall in to move several of the coneflowers out of the front of the bed - they self-sowed and now there are too many. I have a couple of plants with powdery mildew that need to be replaced, but not sure what I want to do. It'll come to me eventually!

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    1. Your garden seems much more well-established than mine, Eliza!

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  11. There are always challenges in a garden. It would seem we could plant what works and move on but it's often not to be. Our trees have grown and created more shade requiring transplanting of sun loving plants this fall. Mostly I'll be moving existing plants around where they might be happier.

    Your approach is great and I like the idea of repeating some of the plants from the street and dry garden. Of course lately it's all been a dry garden!

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    1. You're right, Shirley. After carefully selecting a plant, I hope that it'll flourish but I can't control all circumstances - in fact, lately, I can't seem to make any assumptions at all. I'm hoping for better luck next year and using plants that have already proved their durability should increase my chances of success.

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  12. I have a list of things that need to be done this fall. Eucalyptus is the smell of my southern CA childhood. I would have hated to bring that tree down. Your neighbor sounds like a pain in the butt.

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    1. I've called her worse things. The Eucalyptus had a fungus that would have compromised it eventually and the tree was uncomfortably close to the house but it probably would have been okay for years according to the first arborist I consulted. We went ahead mostly on the basis of neighborly good will; however, had I known how short-lived that goodwill would be on the neighbor's side, I might well have made a different decision.

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  13. Shade makes such a difference doesn't it?! There seem to be a lot of great native shrubs/trees in the 10 ft range, but not all are easy to locate, even here. Judging by my short experience, I would use plenty of Eremophila maculata for the hot/dry/sunny spots. Tecoma is a favorite here too as it can definitely take the heat. In any case, this has been a very difficult summer, and we can all hope next year will be easier on gardens! As for fall plans, I had the chance to grab some plants at a not-so-nearby nursery last week ;-) Desert natives, mostly, including desert milkweed for the butterflies! I think I can hold everything in containers till next month at any rate...

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  14. Shade makes a HUGE difference. As I think you also discovered, plants recommended for full sun exposures often do better with a little shade in warmer climates like ours. I've planted Eremophila glabra and E. hygrophana but haven't tried E. maculata so I'll have to look into that species. I also planted Tecoma in the front garden last year - the shrub struggled but survived and, with more time, I have hopes it'll perform here. And, coincidentally, I've recently planted 2 forms of milkweed (both California natives) here too - they appear to laugh at the heat but they haven't reached bloom stage yet.

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