We moved into this (rented) home in December 2018. Did I mention that it has a garden? And even a greenhouse?!? Best of all, it was not already landscaped, nor did the landlord have anyone coming in regularly to take care of it – it’s all up to me, and I am thrilled. The garden has kept me very happily busy for much of the year (in addition to all the other things that normally keep me busy, plus a wedding).
The Lay of the Land
During the big California drought a few years ago, I noticed some houses in the neighborhood replacing most or all of their lawns with mulch, gravel walks, rocks, drought-resistant plants, and even (in one case) astroturf. I also saw a lot of xeriscaping in Colorado, which seems like a sensible way to reduce water consumption.
This house doesn’t have a back yard – what used to be a pool is now covered over with a wooden deck, with only about a foot of plantable space around the perimeter, much of that already planted in creeping fig vines. At times the back and sides of the house have been a tropical paradise of vines, hibiscus, cannas, and even a banana tree, but watering system failures over the years had let a lot of it die, leaving bare spaces on the fences that needed filling in.
Our landlord, Basil, had given up on having a lawn in front before we ever moved in – a decision I agreed with as I had no desire to water and mow an expanse of grass we’d likely never use. (I remain mystified by the energy, attention, and money that Americans lavish on large patches of grass that they are never seen using!) The turf had been dug up, then covered in weed barrier and about six inches of wood chips. Basil had a new white picket fence installed for us – not something I had ever aspired to, actually, but he said there’d been problems with people letting their dogs crap on the lawn, so I’m glad we have the fence.
Basil said I could do anything I wanted with any portion of the garden (except cactus – he’s not wild about cactus, but neither am I). I began thinking about it immediately, through the dark, rainy days of the California winter when I couldn’t actually do any gardening.
In mid March, after a lot of travel, I got to work on my garden. Before the trip I’d had a session with a garden consultant, who came and looked at the place and developed some ideas, especially for the flowerbed on the side of the house near the kitchen. It was an expanse of mud after last winter’s heavy rains, with some mysterious green thing that volunteered profusely. (I never did figure out what it was, but it never developed flowers – just went straight from leaves to a stalk of green berries.)
We learned early on that the weed barrier in the front yard did not deter some kinds of weeds:
But those were pretty, so I left them alone, and made plans for a vegetable garden.
Michelle the garden coach had ideas about the side and back yards, but the front yard was mostly up to me. Mitchell and I made a trip to the nursery and bought a few flowers for a front flower bed:
The pansies didn’t last long, but take note of those pink petunias on the far left next to the garage wall.
In late March I made a buying trip to a local plant nursery with Michelle and we came home with a truckload.
That Saturday Michelle came over and did a lot of the heavy labor of planting – I was happy to pay her to do this, as I knew that my energy and know-how would not match my enthusiasm. But I also worked hard alongside her, and learned from her.
One of our favorite finds at the nursery was this lovely pink clematis. It has now grown up a supporting pillar and onto the fence – I can’t wait to see what it will look like when it blooms this spring.
I was doing a lot of other work around the property, including doing battle with a long-standing infestation of morning glories. Don’t ever plant morning glories. Just don’t.
While I was working in the front yard one morning, a neighbor stopped by to ask: “Do you like what Basil did with the yard?!?” “Yes! It’s going to be a vegetable garden!” She went away shocked, but later in the year people would stop by to compliment me on the vegetables and flowers.
We had a lot of basil in the greenhouse, but by September it was starting to yellow and bolt, so I tore it all out and made pesto.
In mid November my green thumb was itching, so I bought and planted bulbs: daffodils and ranunculus. Also planted onions both in the greenhouse and outdoors.
Not much to do in the dead of winter, except start to think about next year!