Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Stepping back in time: The evolution of the back garden

We moved into our current house in mid-December 2010.  I started making small changes almost immediately but family concerns prevented me from taking on any major projects well into 2013.  I didn't begin documenting changes in my garden until I started this blog in late December 2012.  Taking a stroll down memory lane, I thought look at the evolution of my garden, starting with the back borders, one of the first areas I tackled.  I trolled through my photographic records but found I'd taken no proper "before" shots of the area.  The best I could come up with is a photo I retrieved from Zillow some years ago, showing the back garden in 2009, when it was put up for sale by the prior owner.

The photo's resolution is too poor to make out much detail but, given that the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) and the Agapanthus were in full bloom, I expect the photo was taken that summer

Until I started taking wide shots in the summer of 2013, the vase majority of my photos were closeups that don't do a good job of telling the story of the garden.

This photo was taken for my first wide shots post on September 1, 2013.  It reflects the first extension of the back border in 2012, which nearly doubled its width by taking out a large stretch of lawn.

From 2014 through 2016, I took wide shots of broad areas of the garden on a monthly basis, making it easier to track changes.

June 2014 - By this time, my husband and I'd removed another large section of lawn, significantly expanding and extending the border surrounding the fountain.  Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima) had been added there to mirror clumps of the same grass previously planted in the back border.  The orange daylilies (possibly Hemerocallis 'Sammy Russell') are the only plants, other than the trees, the Agapanthus and the hedges, that remain of the those that came with the original garden.




June 2015 - Our drought was in full swing in 2015 and water restrictions were in effect that year, which may account for the subdued color in the following three photos.  The Mexican feather grass was making the biggest statement.  You may note that we'd also "lost" a large peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa) since the prior year's photos.  It was removed in response to a neighbor's claim that it blocked her view of the harbor.  After its removal, she continued her campaign for further tree removals and, at that point, I refused further cooperation, committing only to have our trees trimmed annually.  I replaced the willow with a Callistemon 'Cane's Hybrid', still too small to be noticeable in the following photos.  I was putting increased emphasis on drought tolerant plants at this point, reflected in the introduction of three small 'Bright Star' Yuccas, just visible on the right in the third photo.




June 2016 - The biggest change between 2015 and 2016 was the removal of the remaining lawn and the introduction of flagstone paving stones interspersed with creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum 'Minus').  My husband and I handled these tasks entirely on our own.  The Callistemon 'Cane's Hybrid' I'd planted to replace the peppermint willow we'd removed was already well on its way to making a statement in the back border.  I'd planted more drought tolerant plants, including the Echium webbii next to the fountain.  Santolina virens made a major splash that summer, as shown in the second photo.  For some reason, I've no photo of the back garden viewed from the south end looking north during this period.



In late 2017, I switched to a quarterly schedule for wide shots so the time-table for comparisons varies in some cases.

July 2018 - In the next shots, the garden looks very similar to its appearance in 2017, although the third photo clearly reflects a decline in the health of the mimosa tree in the distance.  The front half of the multi-trunked tree never leafed out that year.  We discovered that it'd been attacked by short-hole borers.  In an effort to prolong its life, we had a large portion of the tree removed.  It also became clear to me that a native California aster (now classified as Symphyotrichum chilense) was taking over, although I still thought it was controllable at that point.




May 2019 - We undertook a major home renovation in 2019, starting in late June, and the garden took a back seat.  In the third photo, you can see what was left of the mimosa tree after it was cut almost in half in late 2018.  Although it's still bare in this photo, it did leaf out and flower in 2019.  We got good rain in the "water year" of October 1, 2018 through September 30,2019 and, in general, the garden thrived.




July 2020 - The pandemic kept many people, including me, close to home.  I did less plant shopping and less planting, at least by comparison to prior years.  I tackled other areas of the garden that had been bugging me but I didn't make many significant changes to the back garden.  I removed the large white-flowered Ozothamnus diosmifolius in the fountain bed shown in the photo above because it had gotten woody but, looking at the June 2019 photo, I'm feeling a bit regretful about that decision.  (Pulling out that blasted native aster would've been a smarter investment of my time.)  The evergreen native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) shown in the second photo, draped in reddish leaves to the rear right of the peppermint willow, died suddenly, probably due to the same pathogen than cause sudden oak death.  The mimosa tree (in the distance in the third photo) declined further and I ended up having both it and the Toyon taken out in late October 2020.




June 8, 2021 - I took the last three photos yesterday.  The mimosa and the Toyon are long gone.  The mimosa was replaced by a Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold' and the Toyon by a still tiny Olearia albida (aka tree daisy, not visible in the following photos).  I cut back the bloomed-out Echium webbii next to the fountain on Monday.  The orange daylilies surrounding the fountain have bloom spikes and should begin to open within days.  Before the mimosa tree was cut down last October, I dug up many of the Agapanthus skirting it, divided them, and replanted the best bulbs.  They're just starting to bloom but their summer show will be less splashy than in prior years.  Callistemon 'Cane's Hybrid' continues to get bigger and is currently covered in peachy-pink blooms.  That California aster must come out this year, even if I have to dig up half the fountain bed to be rid of it.




I hope this post wasn't too repetitive or boring for the reader.  It helps me track the garden's progress and provides some food for thought about changes that might be useful moving forward.



All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party



18 comments:

  1. This was a wonderful post reviewing step-by-step how you removed the lawn and increased the size of the border planting. This is inspiring! You are so talented, my friend!

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    1. Well, determined and relentless anyway ;) And, very lucky to have a supportive spouse.

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  2. Your garden is fabulous Kris. So much improved without all those expanses of lawn which must be so difficult to keep lush and green and the bonus of more planting space. You must be so glad that you have kept such a wealth of photographic records. Have you got copies of them other than on your computer? Would be great perhaps to have them printed out in a book format.

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    1. Lawns inevitably look sad during the long, dry summer-fall season here, Anna - unless you constantly pour water on them, which I don't consider responsible in our drought-plagued climate. I catalog my photos by category on my computer, which makes them relatively easy to locate and retrieve. I have no plans to create a book, however.

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  3. Even though I feel like I'm familiar with the transition of your garden over some of this time period, this was still very interesting to see. Even though you didn't start on the garden right away I'm wondering if you always had an idea what it would become, or if you are surprised with where you've ended up? (I hope that makes sense)

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    1. I was inclined to eliminate the lawn from the beginning but I knew it was a big job and not something I could accomplish entirely on my own, or all at one time. For a time, I considered keeping small areas of lawn as paths between larger beds and borders but I eventually accepted that, at best, any lawn would look like crap at least half the year unless I was willing to water it constantly, which I wasn't. I didn't originally envision using as many succulents - or drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants for that matter - as I have now. Drought wasn't a big issue/limitation in my former tiny garden but the challenge of watering this much larger property put that concern front and center, even before California acknowledged that the state was in the middle of a serious drought and established formal restrictions on water use. Although the restrictions were subsequently lifted (prematurely in my view), I've tried to manage the garden within those limitations anyway.

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  4. Ginkgo tree growth will changes things yet again. It's really fun to see a garden continuously evolving, growing, changing--it's more natural.

    So many gardens around here are fossilized--the shrubs especially treated like furniture, to be kept a certain size and shape forever. Most every property on my street has the exact same plants and lawn as they did 20 years ago--sheared down to the same size every few months.

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    1. The same is generally true here, HB, although I have seen more people in the neighborhood embrace succulents over the course of the 10 years we've been here. (When I give away succulents, they generally disappear quickly!) There's still a surprising amount of lawn, though, but as the properties slowly turn over that may change.

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  5. This is so dramatic and beautiful. I agree with the others that you are truly talented--such an amazing improvement, and it really sets off your amazing view of the city.

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    1. My husband thinks some of the plants I've chosen infringe on "his" view of the harbor but I've tried to strike a balance. I'm a little less impressed by our industrial harbor views than he is, though ;)

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  6. That was fun Kris ! At the end I scrolled up to the Zillow pic and then back down. All that lawn ! Hopefully more people will begin to come around to the lawn free life.In any case you can feel great satisfaction in what you've accomplished.

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    1. The Zillow photo of the back garden shocked me a little when I found it, Kathy. Once we got started removing the lawn, section by section, I pretty much wiped it from my memory.

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  7. I always enjoy seeing before and after pictures. Reading what you think is interesting and knowing your thought and decisions often gives me a different way of looking at my own garden..

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  8. Fun to see the progression your garden has made over the years, Kris. Lots of blood, sweat and tears, right? ;) It is a stunning garden, you've done yourself proud!

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    1. Thanks Eliza. The blood, sweat and occasional tears continue...

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  9. I think I have been around for most if not all of these transformations, though I think it took a while before I left a comment. You are probably on of the first blogs I started reading and gosh, I've enjoyed seeing the changes. This post is great because it shows the transition in an easy way to follow.

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    1. Thanks Barbara! I appreciate your visits (whether you comment or not)!

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