We continue the slow progress of building our home in Sonoma — well, besides the living loft above the barn that we stay in now. So far, we have completed a cabana and a very large retaining wall. These structures went up relatively quickly because they aren’t in what Sonoma County considers a “scenic view area”. Basically, the county doesn’t want houses perched up on ridge lines of the rolling Sonoma hills. Now if you look up in the hills above Sonoma, you’ll see a lot of large houses breaking the ridge line. That’s why the scenic view area was put in place — effectively shutting the barn door after the horse had bolted. No matter, for those of us building now, the rules are much tighter and the county wants us to screen anything built near the ridge with trees and shrubs. And that’s okay, we basically agree with those rules. We walk the line. So much so, that when the County inspector voiced concerns that she could see our wall and cabana — even though they are fully approved and are not in the “scenic view area” — we sprang into action and started deploying with plants. Actually, it was always part of the plan, but we’ve been holding off on our planting until the drought ends. Ha! It’s never going to end, so we may as well plant.
Unfortunately, I can’t skim over the fact that we had to undo some previous and very ill-advised planting. Planting that was not on the advice of Ranch Manager Louis. But it illustrates a lesson you’d think I’d have learned by now. Always plant Natives. And when you plant Natives, plant them in the conditions in which they naturally grow. I have to hang my head in shame and say that I asked for Agave. I like their sculptural form. I think there are some Agave that are native to California, but not necessisarily to Northern California. What got planted isn’t native to this area. What’s worse, the planting area between the two walls was filled with richer soil than they would usually find and they were irrigated. As a result, this variety, which is known to proliferate like large spiny weeds, went absolutely wild. They grew taller than we ever thought they would and for every large one, we had three dozen babies surrounding it and threatening to grow just as big just as fast.
So out came the Agave and in came loads of Native plants and “could be Native” plants — plants that we know are going to do spectacularly well since the soil in this area is richer than such Natives would be used to. But we’ve picked Natives that still won’t go out of control. The first order of business was to find a hardy plant that would drape over that wall and wouldn’t be phased by strong Sonoma sun beating on it all day. We’ve already had great success with just such a plant along our vineyard wall.
In the vineyard, the Ranch Guys are training this Rosemary to grow in nice “water falls”. But on our retaining wall, it can be teased out to cover more of the wall. The Ranch Guys are putting dozens of Rosemary plants along that wall. The Ranch Guys are all over that wall.
For other areas, we are looking to our old favorite, Ceanothus or California Lilac. There are so many varieties from low creeping shrubs to those that grow almost tree-like. They are also very amenable to pruning and shaping, which will be great for getting them to cover the areas of the cabana we want covered.
We’ve only just started and there is a lot of planting to go. But we’re excited about how it’s all shaping up.