Friday, August 6, 2021

Stepping back in time: Transforming the south side garden

I've published prior posts on the development of my back garden and my north side garden.  This post provides an overview of the development of my south side garden, which we transformed over time from an area dominated by lawn to a drought-tolerant landscape punctuated by succulents.  

Once again, I discovered I'd taken no wide shots of the area during the first two years in residence here.  However, I retrieved a photo off the internet via an old real estate listing.

I'm guessing that this photo was taken in either 2009 (when the house was first listed) or 2010.  We acquired the property in December 2010.


My earliest photos, taken in February 2013, focused on the tall Eucalyptus tree that stood just feet away from the house.  The tree was a source of contention nearly from the date we moved in.  I discovered a growth at its base and called in an arborist to evaluate it.  That person found no reason to take immediate action but suggested that I continue to monitor it.  The tree's removal was ultimately prompted not by my initial concern but in response to a neighbor's complaint that the tree interfered with her view of the harbor.  Apparently, she'd been campaigning to take down the tree for years based on a local community "view conservation" ordinance.  Her persistence, combined with our concern with having a potentially unstable tree so close to the house, led us to agree to take the it down.

I took this photo on February 3, 2013

This was the area three days later.  Even after the tree was gone, there was a dense mass of foliage along the property line, consisting of a laurel hedge, a peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa), and several massive shrubs, including a tree-sized native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

 
I initially focused on planting the area formerly occupied by the Eucalyptus but within months I significantly expanded my effort to transform the entire area on the south side of the house.

My husband built a short concrete block wall (visible on the left) to level the bed.  I supplemented the soil and planted Festuca glaucus, Helichrysum petiolare, Loropetalum chinense, Pericallis, and Argyranthemum, among other things.

In August 2013, we started removing the lawn between the small side patio and the narrow south border containing the preexisting shrubs

I actually created a detailed plan for the area, showing a flagstone path surrounded by creeping thyme, shrubs, grasses and flowering perennials.  Some of the plants identified in the plan were never installed.

This photo, taken in late November 2013, shows new flagstone paths and plants viewed from the front garden looking east toward the harbor.  I'd removed the original Wisteria on the right side of the arbor and replaced it with a Clematis terniflora.  To this day, I'm still trying to get rid of the Wisteria planted on the other (left) side of the arbor.

View of the newly planted beds from the side patio looking south.  The multi-trunked Arbutus 'Marina' shown in the background was eventually removed when half the tree died.

This is another photo of the newly planted area, also taken at the end of November 2013.  I see just one Agave, a 'Blue Glow' (bottom, far left).

There were very few succulent plants in the mix installed in 2013.  That slowly changed between 2014 and 2016.

In March 2014, we removed another large stretch of grass, extending the small bed surrounding the backyard fountain all the way to the garden's south side, connecting it to the bed adjacent to the south patio

This photo was taken at the end of March 2014.  I love how lush and green everything looked at this stage, before drought was a serious issue.  I'd planted a Japanese maple (center foreground) but the wind that blows through this area ultimately proved to be a problem, resulting in its removal later that year.

Photo taken in early November 2014 looking east

This photo, taken in late February 2015, shows the south side garden viewed from a dirt path behind the backyard border, looking west.  You can see the yellow flowers of Bulbine frutescens on the right in the area connecting the extended fountain bed to the south side patio bed.  The shrubs in front of the Bulbine are Rosmarinus 'Gold Dust'.

This photo taken in late May 2015 shows the addition of more succulents on each side of the flagstone path.  State-wide water restrictions were put in place in 2015 in recognition of severe drought conditions.

I didn't take many photos of the area in 2016 but this photo dated October 1st reflects the addition of more succulents, including an Agave 'Blue Flame', more 'Blue Glow' Agaves, Agave 'Mr Ripple', a variety of small Aloes, and a Dasylirion longissima to the bed on the left.  Two Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' (not readily visible) were also added.

By 2017, the southernmost bed had more clearly become established as a succulent garden.

This photo, taken in June 2017, shows three Agave medio-picta 'Alba' pups I received from Gail of Piece of Eden in 2016, as well as three Hesperaloe parviflora 'Brakelights' I'd added as small plants in late 2014

I included this photo, taken in early January 2018, as it shows the lath (shade) house my husband built for me in the distance.  The lath house sits in another area of the garden, several feet below the level of the south side garden but it's now part of the landscape in this area too.

This photo, taken April 1, 2018, had me asking myself why I haven't continued to plant large swaths of the red-flowered Lotus berthelotii 'Amazon Sunset' along the walkway from the south-side patio bed around the curve into the back garden

This November 2018 photo provides a closer look at some of the succulents on the south side, surrounded by the softer foliage of other drought tolerant plants, including Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt', Leucadendron salignum 'Summer Red', Hymenolepsis parviflora, Metrosideros 'Springfire', and Pennisetum 'Skyrocket'.  All those plants remain in place to this day.

This photo, taken in May 2019, shows how large the three "dwarf" Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' shrubs adjacent to the side yard patio had become since they were planted in 2013

This August 2019 photo shows the mimosa tree in the distance in the back yard, when it still looked somewhat presentable.  (It was removed in October 2020 after shot-hole borers contributed to its rapid decline.)

In 2020, the bed closest to the patio got a renovation of sorts.

In January, I cut the overgrown Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' back hard and planted a mix of small succulents, mostly Aeoniums, along the patio's edge

Photo taken in late March 2020 of the view from behind the south side border looking toward the house.  A few months later, I removed a dense tangle of Bulbine frutescens, pulled out four of the five Rosmarinus 'Gold Dust' shrubs I'd planted in 2014 in the area that connected the south patio bed to the extended fountain bed (shown center right), and moved a Leucospermum 'Sunrise'  into the gap.  It was a gratifying pandemic project.

These two photos show the former "Eucalyptus bed" in April 2020.  In addition to a some succulents, the area includes Agapanthus 'Stevie's Wonder', Arthropodium cirratum, three varieties of Cistus, Coprosma 'Plum Hussey', Grevillea 'Moonlight', and Pennisetum 'Fireworks'.

June 2020 view of the south side garden with the focus on the plants making up the back border.  Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' was in full bloom at the time.

This view, also photographed in late June 2020, provides a clear view of the tree-sized Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) in the background.  It died rather suddenly, possibly from the same pathogen than causes sudden oak death.  (The Toyon is a susceptible species.)  As shown in the foreground, the Agonis flexuosa 'Nana' had no problem rebounding from the severe pruning it received back in January.

That brings me to the garden's current state.

This photo, taken in early April this year, looks more exposed after the dead Toyon was removed.  I planted a daisy tree (Olearia albida) near the spot previously occupied by the Toyon but it's still tiny and struggling to get established despite regular watering.  I may need to try another tree.

This photo was taken at the end of June.  That scrawny tree in the background on the right bugs the heck out of me.  It sits on the property of a neighbor on a nearby spur road.

This photo looking east, also taken at the end of June, reflects the prominence of the Agaves (and indicates that I should probably be pruning the Agonis shrubs on the right on an annual basis)


More than perhaps any other area of my garden, I think the south side area most clearly reflects my gradual response to our hotter summers, punctuated at intervals by blistering heatwaves, and the pervasive drought conditions.  While I still appreciate the lush look the area had back in 2014, it's clear to me that many of those original plants couldn't have survived the intense sun exposure here, especially on a low water regimen.


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

28 comments:

  1. Looks great now. Fun to see how you developed the present beauty by trial and experimentation. The 'Blue Glow's look just right along the path.

    The last photo has 'Springfire' on the far left with new foliage? Getting itself established.

    The big now-gone Eucalyptus no doubt cast a lot of shade (and litter) but best it is gone, for safety reasons. The "scrawny tree"--what the heck is that? A Euc.? So sad! It would drive me nuts, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm concerned that the Metrosidero's foliage may be a little too pale. I haven't decided whether it simply needs more water or perhaps a dressing of compost or fertilizer. I won't fertilize when it's this hot but may address that when temperatures grow cooler. In any case, it seems to be producing new foliage and it flowered earlier this year.

      Yes, I believe the scrawny tree is a Eucalyptus. It's always looked like that but, until the Toyon came down, it wasn't in my face like it is now.

      Delete
  2. You have created a beautiful garden where there was none. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the before. It sure put things into perspective. Well done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Lisa! The wide shots I've taken for years now came in handy when it came to putting the post together.

      Delete
  3. What a transformation from the patch of grass! I love seeing the progress you made over the years - it's so inspirational. It really drives home the idea that our gardens are always evolving, sometimes through our own ideas and other times through circumstances beyond our control.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true, Margaret! The 2013-2014 edition of the south side garden reflected the plant preferences I'd formed in dealing with my former garden, which although just 15 miles away, was cooler, shadier, and less impacted by drying winds. The garden today reflects what this garden taught me. The ever-deepening drought was a big factor as well!

      Delete
  4. Definitely a much more interesting garden now. Gardens are always changing so neat to see the progression. Changes you make now will just be part of the garden's evolution. After our incredibly hot dry summer my goal is to establish a lot more decidous trees to provide some shade.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd like to find spots to plant more trees myself, Elaine. Of course, that blasted community "view conservation" ordinance (which I knew nothing about when we moved in!) is a potential impediment but then I may be long gone before any trees I plant now trigger complaints ;)

      Delete
  5. Such a transformation! Taken all at once, it seems extreme, but over many years, of course, it was more gradual. I love this end of your garden, particularly with the Blue Flame Agaves. Your use of texture and color makes it exceptional.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm nervous that several of those'Blue Glow' Agaves, planted within a fairly narrow window, may one day all up and bloom at the same time, Eliza!

      Delete
    2. At least there will probably be pups, right? But I get that going back to square one isn't much fun in a mature garden.

      Delete
    3. Unfortunately, 'Blue Glow' isn't known for pupping. However, as I recall, Hoover Boo (Piece of Eden) had one bloom and the plant produced bulbils, which she harvested. They'll take years to get big enough to plant out, though.

      Delete
  6. I've so enjoyed following along as you've dug out grass and planted so many plants. As others have said it's fun to look back and see the evolution of our vision - what we think we want and what the garden is willing to give us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's clear to me that the results are seldom what we plan at the outset, Barbara!

      Delete
  7. The arbor provides such a good reference point through the years as the garden changed around it. I love your current version so much I can't really imaging any other look to the area. I am curious if you ever wish the eucalyptus were still there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eucalyptus are known for coming down in rainstorms without notice here, Loree. Our sandy soil may be an issue in that regard. I felt bad about taking down the tree back in 2013 but I don't regret it now. The worry about it coming down on the house is gone and its removal opened up a very productive garden area. However, I deeply regret removing one peppermint willow in the backyard border in a futile effort to placate the same neighbor who complained about the Eucalyptus. Thank goodness she moved after I refused to take down any more trees!

      Delete
  8. From the first East facing photo in 2010, I've paid close attention to all the other photos taken with that view point. It is easy to see the impressive transformation that way. Although I hate to see a mature eucalyptus tree come down - I love eucalyptus - it had to be done, and it really opened up the space (and stop the neighbors from nagging...). Its interesting to see how we all have a plan for our garden, and the gyrations that take place throughout the years, always looking different from what we originally envisioned. A constant list of garden tasks and reevaluations. Thank goodness the work never ends! :-D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the garden - and Mother Nature - make their own demands and ignoring these imperils our pocketbooks, if not also our satisfaction with our gardens. When I added the first few succulents to this garden (a single mass of Agave attenuata was the only succulent that came with the property), I never envisioned how much space they'd eventually take over, and I'm not sure I won't see more still in the future.

      Delete
  9. Wow, you are an expert, for sure. How interesting to see the before and after re: the Eucalyptus. I'm always sad to see a tree cut down or fall, but sometimes it makes sense, as yours did. We have several large Oak trees close to the house, and I worry with every storm that one will fall. We are getting closer to having an arborist evaluate them, as several neighbors have lost Oaks in the past couple of years. Your designs are incredible. Amazing, amazing work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Beth! Evaluation by an arborist is a good thing to do given the increased severity of storms all over the US. I hope it provides reassurance - or at least a plan for moving forward.

      Delete
  10. Oh what a magical transformation Kris although no doubt much hard work was involved! It looks fabulous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Anna. If only I'd envisioned how dry and hot my area was steadily going to get, I'd probably have saved myself a lot of time and work. I need a better crystal ball!

      Delete
  11. This was a really fun post, Kris! Love seeing the transformation over the past decade. You have done an amazing job, and I commend your response. We're hitting 106F this week (again) and I'm becoming more and more aware of how vulnerable my garden would be without the water I give it. With this kind of heat, not even our natives hold up well. Well, some do, and some don't. These kinds of temperatures scare me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even though we've continued to dodge the horrendous heatwave bullet so far this year, Anna, my garden is showing the severe strain that comes with extreme dryness. It's very scary. I'm hoping that the coming winter won't be a repeat of the last one but, if it is, I'm going to need to make further changes in my plant palette. As it is, I've been ignoring (i.e. not watering) my back slope. I went down there yesterday and felt like crying.

      Delete
  12. Thank you for all your work in putting this post together. The transformation is amazing and inspirational. It is cool to see your own garden plan. Your winding flagstone pathway is well designed to create those garden beds. Did you and your husband also install the flagstone pathways? I see how the Dasylirion has progressed since 2016 and serves as a marker along with the arbor for your garden transformation. I believe I see the makings of a book!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Taking regular wide shots to create a historical record helped me put this post together relatively easily, Kay. Yes, my husband and I made multiple trips to the local rock yard to pick up the flagstone, haul it home, and maneuver it into place in one area after another. That was almost as hard as digging up the sod!

      Delete
  13. That first view of a lawn and a few uninspiring plants, by 2014 is clearly YOUR space - the view opened up and the plants fascinating. You have a gift for making a garden sing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Diana! It's certainly been through a series of changes.

      Delete

I enjoy receiving your comments and suggestions!