It’s that time again, the cusp of what we hope will be our rainy season. That means it’s time for landscaping. You see, if you are planting California Natives, and you want to keep them as drought-tolerant as they should be, you do your planting in October through November. That lets your plants get settled and — hopefully — get plenty of water from Mother Nature, then wean off water with the natural progression of the seasons until they can survive a long hot California summer. Of course, for us here at Rancho Los Dos Terriers, landscaping means rocks. Because, boy, do we have rocks. It’s wonderful that we love rocks and always incorporate them into our landscaping. Because we’ve got rocks and rocks and rocks. Big rocks, little rocks, rocky soil and huge rocks in between you and any hole you ever want to dig anywhere. That’s why we quickly learned to embrace rocks and landscape with them instead of fight against them. Because the rocks would win anyway.
So when we decided to landscape an area at the back of the site where we are building our house, the first thing Ranch Manager Louis did was take an inventory of all the rocks he’s been finding, stockpiling and saving in his special rock repository. Maybe I should step back and explain why Ranch Manager Louis is the point man here and not a Landscape Architect. I probably have the record of firing more Landscape Architects and contractors than anyone else in Sonoma County. It could be because of my particular view of “landscaping”. I’ve always hated landscaping that consists of coming in and making the area around a house or buildings look like something different from the context of the property. You know what I mean if you’ve ever seen one of the psuedo-Tuscan estates that dot Sonoma and Napa Counties. All around the house, it’s Tuscany with all the usual Mediterranean suspects: Cypress trees, oleander, Pride of Madeira… Then, BAM! Right at the property line, it butts back up to Sonoma oak and scrub grassland. My philosophy is that, if I wanted to live in a Tuscan garden, I’d live in Tuscany. I’m in Sonoma and I want to be in Sonoma. Right up to my doorstep. In fact, if my “landscaping” looks like a slightly more organized version of what’s here already, I’ll be perfectly happy. Most landscapers just don’t believe me when I say this. And they dismiss me when I say I want only Native plants from this particular area. I got tired of looking at Pride of Madeira going in and then confronting my Landscape Architect with the fact that Madeira is actually somewhere in Portugal and not anywhere in Sonoma.
I kept finding myself looking at plants that I was pretty sure weren’t Native and asking Ranch Manager Louis to confirm my suspicions. Because there aren’t many as knowledgeable about California Natives and California habitat as Louis with his long resume of working with the State and other outfits on large habitat restoration projects. It took a little while, but I realized that paying someone to plant non-Natives I hated and having Louis pull them up and replant Natives made no sense. Cut out the middleman. So Ranch Manager Louis is now wearing a Landscape Architect’s hat.
But before he puts his extensive knowledge of Native plants to work, Louis is all about the rocks. And the water flow. Because Louis has also done extensive work with major erosion control projects. So he can look at a piece of land, figure out what is going to happen when an El Niño flood hits it, and put in the diffusion controls that will stop a hillside from sliding down.
Our first surprise — which should have been no surprise — came when we looked at addressing what we thought was a big berm of earth on the area to be landscaped. We’d thought it was something pushed up by the contractor’s crew when they graded the house site. It took five minutes of digging to find out it was an extensive ridge of rock. Not a problem. We’ll use it as a landscaping feature.
Next, Louis had to walk around with furrowed brow and imagine what will happen if we do get the Mother of All El Niños, as we’ve been promised (please, please, please, God!) One thing we do know, even from our past scant rains, the main area we were looking to landscape turns into a muddy swamp with even a moderate rain. Then the water shoots down the hillside eroding out a channel. The solution, of course: ROCKS.
Throughout our construction processes, whenever a large rock was dug out, Louis was on the scene demanding it be turned over to him. He has quite an extensive stash down by the barn of interesting retrieved boulders. But there are never enough rocks for Louis. He quickly located more around the property. Naturally, they were on inaccessible hillsides where earthmovers couldn’t go.
Now we had a sizable collection of rocks on the site. But, for Louis, there are never enough rocks. So we went down to the local materials yard to buy rocks. Because the first thing Louis decided for that area was that trucking in dirt and trying to plant was foolish. When the rains came, we’d have a large mud puddle, then the earth we’d brought in would go sluicing down the hill. The solution? Cover the area with ROCKS.
Since the earth on our landscaping site is packed as hard as concrete, we had planned to plant only succulents and shallow rooted natives, saving hours of backbreaking work and loads of tears. Louis is also going to make a little drainage channel of larger rocks to direct the water away from the site and into a non-erosive path down the hill. I think we’ll have to call it Arroyo Luis.
So the trip to buy rocks proved to be interesting. Especially since you buy rocks by the ton. We bought tons of rocks. Including this wonderful Nevada Quartz boulder that will have pride of place somewhere.
And so we rock on! It’s one of the most exciting projects we’ve had going on around here in quite a while. Louis hasn’t finalized his planting plans, but so far the plan is to be heavy on the succulents and bunch grasses in the rocky areas, feathering out to our existing Oak and Scrub grassland which we’ll supplement with California wildflowers and other plants that will be happy under Coast Live Oaks. Louis has a way of taking his cues from Nature. So if we come up against more buried rocks, he’ll amend his design to incorporate them. Because, you really can’t have too many rocks.