Friday, December 1, 2017

A lot of work but not much to show from it

During the long Thanksgiving holiday, after the worst of our freak heatwave had diminished, I tackled 2 projects I'd been dreading: leveling out a dip in the backyard pathway and tidying up the back slope.  Neither of these projects can be considered fun, although once done they did offer a sense of accomplishment.

It'd have been difficult to show you the dip in the backyard path even if I'd thought to take photographs before I got started.  The ground had sunk in one area of perhaps 10 feet in length and 3 feet in width.  Because water tended to pool in that area, the creeping thyme that surrounded the stepping stones grew exceptionally thick, creating a dense green mat.  Lovely but not particularly easy to traverse.  Unfortunately, raising the soil underneath the flagstone meant first removing all the thyme, which was a tedious task.

With most of the surrounding thyme removed, maybe you can see the dip between the uncovered stones and those beyond them

We originally thought we could get away with moving 8 stones but we ended up moving 10


Fortunately, we had plenty of topsoil left from the batch we'd hauled in when I renovated the succulent bed in front of our garage.  There was still a pile left in our driveway, which my husband was more than happy to see gone so he helped out and did the heavy lifting removing the stones, adding soil, and then leveling and repositioning the stones.



I picked things back up there, filling in with more soil and planting 2 flats of  thyme (Thymus serphyllum 'Elfin') around the repositioned stones and the area beyond the pathway dip where the thyme had died back.

The plugs look small now but I hope they'll fill in quickly.  Rain would help but we've seen little of that thus far this season.

The pathway area in the foreground looks a little spare by comparison to the area in the distance but at least it's once again walkable


One project generally leads to another and this one was no exception.  While pulling some of the dried out thyme, I got carried away and began cutting some of what was encroaching on the succulents planted along the east side of the patio.

After chipping away at the mass of thyme that lined the patio's edge, I eventually gave in to my inner neat-freak and cleared it all away.  My initial plan was to plant new plugs of thyme there but I finally decided that the edges would look better planted in more succulents.  If all the local garden centers hadn't been transformed into Christmas tree lots, I'd probably already have this done but it may have to wait awhile now.

Part of the problem with the succulent bed area is that it's riddled with the bulbous roots of asparagus fern plants from the mass planted under the nearby mimosa tree, which I inherited with the garden.  This is just a tiny sample of what I pulled out.  Getting rid of the asparagus fern and its roots would be nearly impossible so I settled for cutting back both the plant and its roots.


My first pass at cleaning up the back slope took about 3 hours.  There's still more to do there - cutting back ivy encroaching on paths and pruning the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) among other things - but I cut back the scraggly and sprawling plants and lightly pruned the shrubs and perennials on the lower level of the slope.

I focused on the area to the left of the cement stairway but didn't touch the upper section of the slope, which is too too steep for me to work on safely.  It remains a messy mass of ivy, honeysuckle and weeds.

Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid' dies out in sections each year but spreads to create new plants.  Cleaning it up and cutting it back was the most time-consuming chore in this area.

I also picked a lot of the lemons on this tree, giving many away.  This is the "after" photo so you can see it still bears plenty of fruit.  This tree was badly affected by the horrific heatwave of 2015 at the height of our drought, when it lost all its fruit.  It took more than a year to recover.


I also added amended topsoil to the lower planting bed and planted artichoke plugs.  Against all odds, the artichoke I planted there 3 or 4 years ago has come back each year.  Last year's crop of artichokes was especially good, perhaps due to our heavier-than-usual winter rains.  Dare I hope for the same this year?

The artichoke in the middle foreground is the one I planted years ago, sticking a plug there because I had one left over and didn't have another place for it.  I really hadn't expected it to survive, much less thrive.  I've added 5 more plugs this year and will be happy if even half perform as well as the first one has.


While I haven't done anything at all with the upper portion of the slope (mainly because working in that area is too treacherous for me with one bad knee), at least the overall area looks a bit neater.  I'm still thinking of bringing in help next year to clean out the ivy and honeysuckle on the upper slope.  Terracing the area to support ornamental grasses or more succulents remains a dream.

View looking up the slope from next to the lemon tree


The back slope usually peaks in late spring when the Centranthus, Ribes and Oenothera bloom.  However, the calla lilies there usually bloom in late winter and, even with our extended heat spells, they're already making an appearance.

The calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) die down completely and disappear during the summer but healthy foliage is now popping up all around the lemon tree.


Meanwhile, work on my long awaited lath (shade) house continues.  It's now spilling out of my husband's workshop and the garage into the driveway.  I'm so excited!

The structural supports occupy the driveway.  In the recesses of the garage you can just make out the lath pieces.  


Have a great weekend, whether you're spending it in the garden or otherwise!


All material © 2012-2017 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

23 comments:

  1. Whaddya mean, "nothing to show for it?" I think it looks great and I know you must have put in hours of work to make it so!

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    1. Thanks Eliza! Yes, I worked on the path several hours here and there over the course of a few days. The results weren't of the step back and say "wow" variety, though.

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  2. Kris, it looks you had a very busy gardening day! but it's looking great! I can't wait to see the lath house finished, you could grow many shade loving plants like fuchsias, Alocasias, coleus, hydrangeas, camellias japonica, dicentras... :)

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    1. I can't wait to see the lath house finished either but my husband is painstakingly staining each and every piece of lath so it's going to be awhile. Nonetheless, I've already been eyeing shade plants for sale by on-line nurseries.

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  3. special challenges when you garden on such a steep slope. Good work on the path. I imagine the thyme will grow back quickly.

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    1. Rain would help the thyme in getting established but the forecasts keep pushing it out further. We've had just 0.19/inch since October 1st and current projections aren't showing much in December either. *SIGH*

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  4. You have done so much work in your garden - the transformation has been amazing. I'm envious of your thyme.

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    1. Thanks Barbara! Although, every time I think the garden is finally coming together, something else happens to change things up but that's gardening in a nutshell, isn't it?!

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  5. Oh gosh, I don’t need to imagine how much work has gone into that. Especially the back slope. I’m toying with the idea of covering some of my steepest slopes with grasses, tough ones such as Anemanthele which will seed themselves freely, smother the weeds and eventually take over. And look great in the breeze. It will only work in the sunny areas though.

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    1. I took another good hard look at my upper slope again this morning, Jessica. Terracing it seems a pipedream but I do like the idea of planting it with something soft, like grasses. You're right that most of those want sun, though, and that area, facing east, provides only morning sun. However, Seslaria, which I've found to be both drought and shade tolerant, might work.

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  6. You’ve been very busy and indeed have a lot to show for it. Yay for lath house progress - is the wood stained or is that its natural color? And what will you be doing to it long term? (finish-wise).

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    1. My husband is staining each and every piece of the lath house to protect it. In fact, he headed out for yet more stain this morning...I told him that the lath house should serve as my Christmas present but, before it's done, I think it may cover my next birthday too.

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  7. Of course you saved the most exciting project for last! Hooray for the lath house. I'm excited to see it starting to take shape. I spent part of November also working on a path area in my garden. It's still not finished, but hopefully soon. Working around the rain is difficult.

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    1. I can imagine the impact of rain delays, Alison. That's the only place I've seen rain recently, in my imagination.

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  8. I planted thyme and marjoram and oregano between the stepping stones in my 'herb' garden. All looking ratty, or gone. Need some TLC to provide a sinking in green carpet like yours.

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    1. This thyme spreads quickly if watered well to get it started but it does need regular trimming. I usually get to that only when I realize that my stepping stones have "shrunk" - the thyme has no problem layering itself tight over the stone.

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    2. Can you remind us what kind of thyme that it, the one providing the thick carpet? Looks fabulous!

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    3. Most of the thyme I've been using is Thymus serphyllum 'Minus', although the recent replacement is 'Elfin', which is the same species but a different cultivar. Some growers appear to list 'Minus' and 'Elfin' as the same but my experience is that 'Elfin' is somewhat denser and more compact.

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  9. Your lath house is taking shape! That's going to add a whole new different range of plants and environment to your garden, should be a wonderful project.

    Will there be a sitting area inside, so you can relax there and enjoy it all?

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    1. A lot of the interior space has been claimed for plant shelves but I should have a little room to sit - not that I ever sit much in the garden!

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  10. I so admire your industry Kris; you achieve so much, I feel quite exhausted just reading everything you've done. As Eliza says, you've made a big difference by what you've done.

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    1. Thanks Christina! I do wish I'd done a better job with before photos before I began my journey with this garden - sometimes I need reminders about how far it's come.

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