In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
July, 2009
Regional Report

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Heidi, Jean (center), and Teddy take a break from digging in the mulch.

Garden Installation

My dear friend Jean asked me to help her redo her father's front yard. The garden is located in South City where the wind has teeth. It was a typical front yard with a battered lawn, brick planter boxes full of weeds and a plastic seagull on an old piling near the gate leading to the back yard. "The seagull has to stay" was our only instruction. Well that, and it needed to eventually be maintenance free. No new garden can survive on its own, at least for the first summer.

The Inspiration
I had in mind the ocean shore with a long curve of dune, complete with waving grasses, a gravel path leading to the seagull/piling thing, and a small mock beach of ground shell covering a substantial layer of landscape fabric. My thinking was that the grasses would have a lovely uniform look and add height to an otherwise flat garden. They would also grow large over time and require very little maintenance. There would still be access to the back gate through the gravel path.

The Removal and Improval
Jean hired someone through the local paper to come and do the rototilling. Schedules were arranged, the tilling was done, and so Jean and I proceeded to rake out the clumps of remaining lawn. The debris filled two of those big green recycle canisters plus two 50-gallon garbage bags!

Next, Jean measured the area and we headed down to the local garden supply to pick up compost and landscape fabric. We spread the compost over the area to be planted and then laid out and pinned down the fabric. The wind was howling, of course, and we had a devil of a time getting the fabric to lay flat. We also ran out of pins (those little buggers are so expensive!) and were a few feet short of fabric. I know there are still clumps of lawn under there, waiting to make their escape.

After pinning down the fabric and laying anything heavy we could find on top to keep it from blowing away, we headed to the nursery. I went straight to the grasses, but Jean had other ideas. She liked the beach idea, but wanted to add some color. We selected purple fountain grass, striped zebra grass, blue salvia, yarrow, and two Mexican sage with six or seven gaura to border the sidewalk to the front door.

We brought the plants home, watered them well, and with that finished, I went home to fall into a heap.

On Your Knees Please!
The next morning we started planting. Jean and I cut holes in the fabric and then started to dig. We cursed the person who did the rototilling. The soil had only been tilled to a depth of about 4 inches, not nearly deep enough. It was hard going, I can tell you. There is one thing to digging a hole when you have plenty of room to work, but we were trying to go through a 6-inch hole in the fabric. Oh well, it's done now and everything was eventually planted. We then jumped in the truck and headed up to Junipero Serra Boulevard where there are piles of free mulch. Of course Jean got the back tires stuck in the soft mulch which set us off into a fit of giggles. We were both tired from the day before but carried on like good little troopers. Jean kept saying, "This must be enough, don't you think?" We brought our hard-won spoils back to the house only to find that we were yards and yards short. We mulched around the plants so they wouldn't dry out in the wind, instructed her dad to turn on the irrigation and drove off to to look at material for the hardscape. Have you ever priced this kind of thing? It was going to cost over $1,100 just for river rock and gravel. We thanked the nice people for their estimate and headed back to the house to rethink our hardscape plans.

It's Only Money...
We decided to use mulch under the planted area and $200 worth of salmon river gravel (one ton) for the beach with stepping stones leading through the mulch to the back gate. We are not quite finished yet, but it has been a bundle of fun and Jean's dad is tickled with our progress so far. The best part is that project only took three days of hard work, with plenty of laughs thrown in for good measure.


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