Now 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.
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.
Now things picked up steam. We had a new load of mulch delivered from Evergreen Supply and Louis started laying out plants.
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.
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.
I LOVE what you’ve done! Glad to hear bees have been sighted. I have a space where I can only do container gardening, but I can apply some of the principles you’ve used to containers, yes?
Congratulations, well done for Homeland Earth and all of us.
Your neighbor at Plant 51 (across from Whole Foods)
Lisa, that is going be beautiful. And I can just imagine those baby plants snuggling in and stretching out. Thank you so much for this post. We are seeing nothing but snow around here.
Good job! I’m sure it will be lovely when it fills in, and you are “walking the walk” that we all need to follow, especially after this sadly dry (again) winter!
Thanks all. Nadine, the only thing I’ve found out with container gardening — and I’ve learned this from hard experience — is that it does take more water than planting something in the ground Since the pot dries the earth on all sides, it seems to require more irrigation than usual. So I tend only to put desert plants in containers. Although we’ve had some success with broken containers. We bury them in the earth so only a little of the container is showing. That seems to keep the earth cooler and we can plant unirrigated plants in them. I’m going to plant some non-desert plants in my containers up on my porch, but it gets very little sun, so I’m hoping I won’t have to give it too much extra water.
Exceptional work? I look forward to watching this project evolve and mature. I do love the classic green lawn and hedges gardens; but let’s be sensible. 2015 looks just as tragic as 2014. I don’t know how much more of this stress I can take.
How can we convince your neighbor to be water wise?
Whoops. Here’s what I meant to type:
THe ranch guys had a little talk with the neighbor and he’s turned his irrigation down. I like lawns and hedges too. In England, where they belong. They look completely jarring in a semi-arid Western landscape.
Very beautiful job. I’ve only just started reading your blog, focusing on the “project lawn be gone” posts. We are in the process of figuring out what to do with our front lawn, and seeing your success is a real motivator. Maybe we will walk by and check out your progress as we are in the Cory neighborhood. Again, beautiful work and great job.