succulentNow the fun begins! We went through the arduous task of sheet mulching, then we spent weeks planning, rounding up plants and, finally, shopping for decorative elements and doing last minute prep work. When I say “we”, I basically mean “Ranch Manager Louis” who was the mastermind here with his right hand man, DJ. But I rode around in the truck on several trips and took pictures, so I guess I made a contribution. To recap, we’re taking out the lawn we inherited when we moved to San Jose and replacing it with a drought-tolerant, all Native California garden. We were going to be extremely strict on the definition of “Native” with only denizens of the Bay Area allowed. Instead, we broadened the scope to allow some Southern California succulents that we’ve had great success growing in Sonoma, but still don’t tip the look too Southwestern. So shoot me, I love succulents.

Hey, remember all that Gorilla Hair mulch we put down during the stage where we were trying to smother the lawn? Well, I ordered that, and I stand by the order. It was cheap and it matted down to create a real barrier. But Louis will not tolerate Gorilla Hair. He claims it’s a fire hazard and he doesn’t like the way it looks. I’m not going to argue. He’s the guy running the show here. So an extra first step was raking all that up. I put a notice on Nextdoor.com offering it free to anyone who would haul it away. In ten minutes, one person took all of it! The next discovery was amazing, at least to me. I think deep down, I never really believed that the sheet mulching would work.

When we started sticking spades in the former lawn, they went in like butter. Lawn, roots and cardboard were completely dissolved to earth.

When we started sticking spades in the former lawn, they went in like butter. Lawn, roots and cardboard were completely dissolved to earth. So sheet mulching actually works as advertised.

Before we got too far, the neighbor's irrigation went on drenching us. Folks, this is why we fight.

Before we got too far, the neighbor’s irrigation went on drenching us. Folks, this is why we fight.

Next job was to yank out the Azaleas that bordered the house and were outside the sheet mulched perimeter. I know Azaleas have some fans, but I’ve always hated those bushes. First of all, they have flowers like little bits of toilet paper that get tracked into the house. And these Azaleas had been massively over watered, then starved of water, so they were in rough shape. Sure enough, when we tried to carefully remove them to give them to a neighbor, the root ball dissolved into a mass of fungus-y rot. We ended up taking out only one row of the Azaleas. We’ll leave the rest for when our larger Ceanothus plants come in to the nursery.

And guess what was hidden behind those rotting Azaleas? This nice little Japanese Maple. Not a native, but we decided to grandfather it in.

And guess what was hidden behind those rotting Azaleas? This nice little Japanese Maple. Not a native, but we grandfathered it in.

Now things picked up steam. We had a new load of mulch delivered from Evergreen Supply and Louis started laying out plants.

This is the good stuff: the untreated Redwood bark chunks.

This is the good stuff: the untreated Redwood bark chunks.

This is "painting with plants". Louis lays out plants roughly where he wants them, then tweaks his design.

This is “painting with plants”. Louis lays out plants roughly where he wants them, then tweaks his design.

One thing Louis likes to do is create interesting groupings. So he’ll pair something that will grow tall with other plants that will spread and creep.

Then add a nice feature like a rock. A succulent on a rock is kind of Louis and DJ's signature. You'd be surprised how well they grow.

Then add a nice feature like a rock. A succulent on a rock is kind of Louis and DJ’s signature. You’d be surprised how well they grow.

Even a broken bird bath was repurposed for visual interest.

Even a broken bird bath was repurposed for visual interest.

We weren't even halfway through planting before the other Natives started showing up.

We weren’t even halfway through planting before the other Natives started showing up.

Louis brought some wonderfully Seussian plants. Also a variety of colors and seasons of bloom. I should have year round color with this garden.

Louis brought some wonderfully Seussian plants. Also a variety of colors and seasons of bloom. I should have year round color with this garden.

The two curbside medians feature low plants and lots of stepping stones.

The two curbside medians feature low plants and lots of stepping stones. Also all our empty water bottles. This was hot, thirsty work.

Almost done with this phase!

Almost done with this phase! Remember the last of the Azaleas are going to be replaced with Ceanothus.

As I tried to photograph our work, I realized a photograph, at this point, doesn’t do it justice. With Natives, it’s always better to plant babies and let them grow up. Many of the plants will spread and cover much of the ground cover. And once we get in the Ceanothus (replacing the Azaleas) with their electric blue flowers, that will be something to see. We also have plantings designated for those two pots and a few holes we need to fill with more plants. All that happens next Friday. But for now, we’re happy with the results. Our irrigation is set for ten minutes of watering on Mondays only. Once we get out of normal rainy season, say around late April, the irrigation goes off until late October. Since these are babies and we are trying to get them established, I’ll give them a little extra if they are looking peaked. But San Jose, like Sonoma, has some heavy dews, even on days that turn into scorchers. And I have these same plantings in Sonoma that have grown up full and lush without having any irrigation at all for the last three years!

I think a later phase may include little plant identifying cards. That would be fun. So come by University Avenue and see how it’s going. The bees have already shown up.

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