Friday, May 10, 2019

Scoping out neighborhood slopes

I'm used to gardening on flat plots of land.  Until we moved to our current property almost eight and a half years ago, I'd never dealt with uneven terrain.  While the level changes associated with our newly acquired property gave it character, it also presented challenges I hadn't envisioned.  I've managed to transform the moderate front slope without extreme difficulty but the steeper back slope remains an issue, which isn't to say that I've ignored it.  When we moved in, it consisted of a dirt path and weeds, featuring a couple of fruit trees and a very large Yucca.  We started working on it during the first quarter of 2012 but the earliest wide shot of the space I have was taken in February 2013.

My husband built the stairway out of concrete blocks purchased from a big-box store, working around embedded stone left over from the days this land was part of a rock quarry.  I used wood tree rings left behind by the property's former owner to stabilize the lower slope (below the stairway), added some amendments to the soil, and started planting.  Some of the plants have changed over time and the wood tree ring strings have mostly disintegrated.


Over the years, I continued to focus on the more manageable lower section of the slope, ignoring the ivy and honeysuckle covered area above the stairway. 

The photo on the left was taken in November 2013.  The photo on the right was taken this morning.


Once the giant Yucca elephantipes (visible in the distance in the left-hand photo shown above) was removed in December 2014, creating a flat area on the other side of the lemon tree, I did some work there too. 

Actually, the Yucca came out in stages.  The photo on the left shows the area after the main part of the Yucca's expanse was cut down in December 2014.  The crew that did that work left behind stumps that averaged 3 feet tall.  We had to bring in a second crew in January 2015 to grind down those massive trunks (middle photo).  The photo on the right shows the area today, after the addition of Pittosporum 'Silver Magic', Ceanothus arboreus, Romneya couteri, and various smaller plants.


Until last year, I left the steep upper section of the slope entirely alone.  A few months after last July's horrendous heatwave I began slowly chipping away at the dead sections of ivy and honeysuckle incinerated in that event.  The uppermost area remained green and, since I couldn't reach further than three to four feet above the concrete stairway anyway, I didn't take my effort any further.  I'd only exposed about 30 square feet before the ivy and honeysuckle responded to our substantial winter rain by stretching their vines in an effort to cover the area I'd cleared but the experience was enough to have me pondering what more I could do with the area if I eliminated all or part of those vines for good.  This week, I walked my neighborhood, looking for inspiration in what neighbors with front yard slopes have done.

Some approaches were anything but inspiring.

Artificial turf can be used effectively in some settings but this isn't one of them


In contrast, the entrance to our neighborhood, largely created using succulent cuttings donated by residents over the course of years, is looking better and better.

Calandrinia and Echium covers the flat area along the main road outside our neighborhood but ice plant, a scattering of Pelargoniums, and Centranthus add spring color to the east-facing slope while blooming Aloes provide winter color


The natural area along the street leading from the entrance also offers some ideas, at least if you ignore the mass of weeds.

I can't identify all the plants arrayed along this area but Yucca and Sumac (native Lemonade Berry, Rhus integrifolia) make up a part of the mix


Here's a look at the most impressive homeowner efforts.

Last year, this neighbor's garden crew pulled out a lot of the ivy and weeds from the lower section of this massive slope. adding bright spots of color with a mix of Pelargoniums, Euryops, and Cordyline.  The large Bougainvillea at the top of the slope and the Agapanthus along the street edge were already in place.

This neighbor's slope is moderate near the driveway and steeper as one moves along the road.  There's a wide range of plants here, including Phormiums, roses, and succulents.  It's principal difference from my back slope is that the area can be worked from both the upper and lower areas.  The massive hedge at the top of my back slope doesn't allow access from the upper area.

The entire front area of this neighbor's garden is terraced.  It's most prominent feature is a gigantic red-orange flowered Leucospermum, currently in full flower.  The area is wide enough to support not only a variety of paths but also fruit trees and a range of ornamental plants, including roses.  I adore this garden and in fact briefly argued that, since the property is once more for sale, maybe my husband and I should move there rather than remodel our house.  (That proposal didn't fly.)

Here's a gratuitous close-up of that beautiful Leucospermum.  It's funny but until I took these photos, my brain hadn't fully processed the fact that there's also a lot of ivy here.

This front slope also has a lot of ivy but the lower section has been cleared since the last time I walked this way so maybe some replanting is planned for the area adjacent to the street.  I admired the tall Cordyline midway between the 2 palms.


Closer to home, our next door neighbor's driveway slope is looking good right now.

That's my lath house in the background on the left.  The area above the stone wall is mine while the area above the smooth concrete wall belongs to the neighbors.  When the neighbors removed their sickly oleanders along the driveway, they planted Pittosporum 'Silver Sheen' and lots of ice plant (Delosperma).  The ice plant matches that in my own street side succulent bed (visible on the left).


And my more moderate front slope isn't looking too shabby either.

The roses (Rosa 'Mutabilis) and the Pineapple Guava tree (Feijoa sellowaina) came with the garden but I introduced everything else (other than the self-planted Cotoneaster).  The mainstays here are Aeoniums, Pelargonium peltatum 'Pink Blizzard', Osteospermum, and Limonium perezii.


While I continue chipping away at the ivy and honeysuckle along my back slope's concrete stairway, I'll consider my options for transforming the upper section of my back slope.  The easiest thing to do would be to let those vines reclaim the area, at least until the next summer heatwave burns them to a crisp again, but that's not a particularly satisfying solution.   Ideally, I'd like to remove at least half the vines; create a flat path through the mid-section of the slope to allow me work from above the concrete stairway as well as below; and plant the area in-between with a mix of succulents, Pelargoniums, and a shade-tolerant ornamental grass like Sesleria.  That's my dream anyway.

Happy dreams to you this weekend!


All material © 2012-2019 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


18 comments:

  1. How wide is the area of your slope to the right of your stairway in the pictures, that's still covered in ivy and honeysuckle? Is it wide enough that you could turn it into a couple of terraces? I'm just thinking that flat terraces might be easier to garden on. It is very steep, isn't it? Maybe too steep for that. Your neighbors have some beautiful gardens (except for that wrinkled astroturf).

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    1. I'm not the best judge of distances but, at its widest point the upper slope may be 18 feet (on at least a 45 degree angle). It tapers to about 3 feet wide at the upper end though. At one time I envisioned retaining walls built with gabion cages but I hate to think what that would cost to install.

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  2. Lomandra might be tough enough to handle that slope, if you want a grassy effect. I'm thinking of trying one on my slope, to see how they take drier conditions than what they've got.

    I laughed like crazy when I saw the puckered astroturf. There's a house nearby with the same thing! (It looks just as bad.)

    OMG that neighbor's Leucospermum is jaw-dropping, eye-popping, breathtaking--in every way wonderful!

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    1. Lomandra 'Platinum Beauty' would be great there!

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  3. The old painted cement yards were at least more interesting than rumpled green carpet since there were so many color options!

    There are some pretty gardens in your neighborhood so lots of inspiration. You definitely need terraces or a path for safety.

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    1. Creating a means to access the area is possibly the biggest challenge. I need another stairway but there's no way I'm going to ask my husband to build another one. We'll need professional help if we go that route.

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  4. I hope you get your path. I know you can turn that slope into something you would be proud of. You have the gift. The neighbor with the fake grass carpet must not have any imagination. I think it is a sad spectacle.

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    1. The oddest element in that front yard with the artificial turf was that someone added 9 snapdragons above it, spread at 3-4 feet intervals. In my view, that made the fake grass look even sadder.

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  5. It looks like a real challenge taking on a slope and possibly hard on the back. Although I suppose you do get a lot of exercise going up and down those stairs. Makes me tired just thinking of it.

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    1. It's my right knee that suffers most, Cindy. I can really feel it when I go up and down that stair several times in a single day. I need a knee replacement but I've been putting it off...

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  6. Oh this brings back so many dear memories of your beautiful state--from the time I lived in the L.A. area for a summer to trips for work to visits to San Diego to see family members. I agree--creativity with those slopes is incredible! There are some wonderful examples at Balboa Park in San Diego, too.

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    1. I can probably come up with creative solutions - it's the money needed to implement them that's the real challenge. And access - there's really no way to get heavy equipment or materials down there except by means of that stair or possibly seeking entry through an adjacent neighbor's garden but even that's limited.

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  7. That slope is definitely your greatest garden challenge (other than those pesky raccoons). Terracing would break up the expanse. I also thought about digging a few 'wells' for trees, possibly citrus? That would give the eye something to rest on and the shade might keep the heat off. You could buy smaller (and less expensive) ones that would be easier to plant.
    Your neighbors have some nice gardens (not the astroturf though!). Lots of ideas.

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    1. I've thought about digging "wells," Eliza, although the upper slope may not be suitable for anything that requires full sun as the area faces east and is partly shaded by hedges on 2 sides. Even if I planted a vigorous plant that can handle a bit of shade, I'm concerned that, without ready access to the upper area, they ivy and honeysuckle may overrun it.

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  8. There are many reasons to like a modest slope, but I can't imagine how on would go about tackling a large area like yours -not to mention one that is infested with ivy. Terracing of some sort seems to me to be the ideal solution , especially if it creates access, but the expense , not to mention the disruptive type of equipment needed (if there is even room for it to maneuver !) seems daunting. I wish you well in your quest.

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    1. Even if I employ professional help, the problem of access to the area may well be the major hurdle, Kathy. Bringing in any heavy equipment will be next to impossible and I expect many professionals may back away from the project based on that.

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  9. Let's just say, we all think yours is the best! By far.

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