|At a glance, you might think this gravel path on the northeast side of the house ends at the fence in the background|
But, if you walk to the end of that gravel path, make a sharp pivot and look down you'd see this:
|All the area to the right of the bay laurel hedge on the left is part of my garden. My husband and I didn't even know it was there until we discovered it during the course of the final inspection prior to the close of escrow.|
The concrete block stairway wasn't there when we purchased the property. There was just a dirt path, a slippery dirt path. After I fell a few times, my husband decided we needed to create a safer way of moving through the space. He hauled in forty-one 50-pound concrete blocks to construct the stairway.
|Our property was once part of rock quarry and large rocks can still be found here and there. My husband had to work around many of these as he set the concrete blocks in place.|
I had a lot of plans for the garden when we took possession of the property but the back slope wasn't even on my radar at first. However, almost from the time we moved in, one thing kept drawing us down to the bottom of the slope.
I gradually found myself making small changes in the area. While I turned a blind eye to the ivy and honeysuckle-covered upper portion of the slope from the beginning, I took tentative steps to plant the lower section after clearing out the weeds that covered the area. Even though I knew it was foolish from the start, I used the extensive collection of wood and rubber tree rings left by the previous owner to hold the soil in place as I began to add plants.
|This photo from February 2015 shows the tree rings I used to hold the soil and my new plants in place|
|As you might expect, the tree rings have decayed over time. I've pulled out about three-quarters of them already.|
While some of the plants I originally installed rooted well, others did not and, as I begin to fill in the empty areas, another solution is required to prevent further erosion of the soil. I'm considering erosion control tubes filled with soil or compost but my husband favors a more permanent solution in the form of concrete blocks. Not only are those are heavy and awkward to carry down that steep stairway, my concern is that they may distract from the plants themselves. The debate is ongoing.
The bigger issue now is what to do with the upper slope. Ignoring it was easier when it was the mostly uniform green mass you see in the 2015 photo but extreme heatwaves in 2016 and again in July of this year took a serious toll.
|It's not as obvious when viewed from above|
|The slope hadn't yet recovered from the 2016 heatwave when our temperature soared to 110F in July, making things even worse|
With one bad knee, this area is far too steep for me to manage myself. I think I might be able to clear an area of about 5 feet all along the edge of the slope as I started doing earlier this year but there's no way I can eradicate all the ivy and honeysuckle up to the top of the slope. I've considered hiring a team to remove the troublesome vines but then I'd still have to grapple with the problem of terracing the slope in some fashion to allow replanting and, ivy being ivy, I'm concerned that weeding out new shoots will be a perpetual problem. If I can clear a workable area along the stairway, I may try planting soft succulents like Agave attenuata and shade-tolerant grasses but I still have to solve the erosion problem.
The area below the stairway was also affected by the heatwaves. Some plants died outright while others just looked like hell.
|From left to right: Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid', Pelargonium 'White Lady', and a dead Ribes viburnfolium|
I started work on cleaning up the area in late September as our summer heat abated but then I had a run-in with what I believe were fire ants and I was gun-shy about working in the area for awhile. Prior to the last rainstorm, I went to work down there again, mainly in tidying things up. I pruned the fig tree; cut back the Centranthus, Euphorbia, and Pelargonium; dug out the dead Ribes and replaced it with a manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds'); pruned the other two Ribes, the bush anemone (Carpenteria californica), and the groundcover lantana; planted Aeonium haworthii 'Kiwi Verde' cuttings and Santolina plugs; and sowed California poppy seeds. It looks neater, if also very bare.
|I'm hoping the Centranthus, Santolina and the small artichoke plants that survived July's heatwave will fill in the bare areas. There are self-seeded pink evening primroses there too that, given enough rain, may also come back.|
In addition to the ivy on the upper slope, the ivy along the property line still needs to be cut back and I have the perennial problem of controlling the Bignonia capreolata vine I inherited.
I'm not at all sure what I can accomplish in remaking this part of the garden but it's too much space to simply forfeit. And it does have it's positive aspects.
Well, that's it for the ugliest area of my garden. Any suggestions? What would you do to handle soil erosion?
All material © 2012-2018 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party