Despite its size, my back slope, situated on the eastern side of our half-acre lot, is easy to ignore. When in our back garden, your eye stops at the Xylosma congestum hedge that runs the entire length of the back border. On the other side, the property drops down dramatically and nothing planted there shows above the top of the hedge. In fact, until the day of our final inspection prior to closing our purchase of the property, I didn't even realize it was there.
So let's pay a visit, shall we? We access the back slope through the dry garden on the north side of the house.
|From this angle, the gravel path I added after we moved in appears to end at the fence marking the property line between us and our neighbor on the north side
|But, if you proceed as far as the grape arbor support my husband built, you can see signs that the path continues to the right
|Rounding that corner, marked by a decaying tree trunk and a friendly Green Man, you see the first of the concrete blocks my husband installed as a stairway a year or so after we moved in
Once we pass the hedge's northernmost edge, the back slope opens up to full view.
Those concrete blocks my husband installed are more widely spaced than they look and, without handrails, the trip to the bottom is usually made relatively quickly watching your feet as you go, without much attention to the plants on either side.
|The stairway turns and ends with 4 more narrowly spaced concrete blocks
Once you turn the corner shown in the last photo, you reach a relatively flat area. Here's what you might notice first:
|I transplanted a few Centranthus ruber seedlings here years ago and they've gone crazy. I tried sowing wildflower seeds here too but rampant alyssum (Lobularia maritima) choked most of those out.
On closer examination, you might notice a few other things.
|Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) appear every spring following our winter rainy season. They disappear when summer's heat hits. After last week's early heatwave, most of those you see in this photo are now gone.
|A week ago, too late to take constructive action to stem its impact, I discovered that the peach tree planted at the edge of the slope had been severely impacted by peach curl disease. It looks hideous at the moment.
I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do about the peach tree. It was planted by a prior owner and, while it often sets a little fruit, that fruit never has never survived long enough to ripen. It may not help that it's irrigated by a gray-water system fed by our washing machine waste. I could thin it's twiggy growth and spray it thoroughly in the fall in an effort to stop the fungal disease that causes the foliage to blister and curl but cleaning up the area below the tree, which is covered in a thicket of ivy, would be harder to accomplish, much less maintain. I may end up taking it out entirely but I'll probably give spraying a try to see if it makes any significant difference first.
But let's forget about the ugly peach tree and focus on the more attractive features of the back slope.
|The back slope is at its most colorful in spring
Moving to the other side of the lemon tree at the base of the lower tier of concrete steps, here's what we see:
|This unknown dwarf Iris may be 'Darth Vader'. It's wonderfully fragrant.
|If you look up from this spot, above the Xylosma hedge you can see the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin, left), just beginning to leaf out now. Shifting your eyes to the right, you can see 2 Arbutus 'Marina' in the upper level of the garden.
But let's take a look at the plants on either side of the concrete block stairway as we proceed more slowly back up the way we came.
|Going up these stairs carrying anything heavy isn't fun and I almost always take the trip up slowly
|But looking to right of the concrete stairway, we see a lovely Echium webbii I planted a couple of years ago. In bloom now, it's a magnet for bees and butterflies.
|I planted Euphorbia 'Dean's Hybrid' (left) and Pelargonium 'White Lady' (right) down here years ago and both move themselves around the area willy-nilly
|The pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) planted itself here after I cleared the area of the weeds that formerly covered this part of the slope
|I planted seedlings of Centranthus ruber here too and it continues to spread on its own
|Lampranthus 'Pink Kaboom' (left) is fading while gray Santolina chamaecyparissus (right) is just getting ready to bloom
|Artichokes have done exceptionally well on this dry slope. There are 2 varieties growing here but I can't name either.
A dozen more steps beyond the fig and artichokes, we arrive back at the main level of the back garden.
|Eventually I hope the centerpiece of this area will be the Callistemon viridiflorus you see in the middle of this shot. I looked for this plant locally for years without success. In October 2018, Tamara of Chickadee Gardens in Oregon sent me a one-gallon plant. It's still small but it's just produced its first bloom and I'm thrilled.
|Thank you Tamara!!!
So that's the back slope. It offers opportunities that I find simultaneously tantalizing and daunting. Terracing the upper level of the slope has been a dream of mine but access to the back area with heavy equipment is virtually impossible. I've tried clearing small sections of the ivy and honeysuckle myself, working from the concrete block path but, given how steep it is, all I've managed to do is to crawl up on hands and knees 4-5 feet from its edge. And the ivy and honeysuckle comes back quickly so the results of my efforts in one area are mostly erased by the time I clear the next small section. Working down there during the hot summer months can be unpleasant too. And then there are the fire ants, which I've run into on three occasions now...Thus far, I've decided to focus on the upper, more visible areas of my garden.
I hope you enjoyed today's tour. Best wishes navigating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in your own backyard! Take care.
All material © 2012-2020 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party