The joy of small projects

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This could be the start of something -- small.

Of the three acres we live on, which straddle a ridge near the coast in Central California, about an acre and a half was disturbed before we got here.

It is my goal to remove the weeds that have opportunistically colonized that disturbed land, encourage any local natives that have survived, and add more (propagated from seed gathered within about a mile or so). And also plant some other eye-pleasing, non-invasive, non-hybridizing garden plants that are beneficial to human and beast.

My vision is of a self-sustaining, low-maintenance and beautiful wild garden through which I will wander like the poet Mary Oliver, notebook in hand, now and then resting in one of the artfully placed and comfortable seating niches, which of course are replete with sculptures, twisted driftwood, and thrift-store wonders that all look amazing together. There I'll write masterpieces and relax, surrounded by the sounds of wildlife enjoying their ecosystem services, punctuated perhaps by the occasional tinkling of teacups and enlightened laughter as my friends join me to admire everything I've done.

My current reality is, of course, quite a bit different.

Oxalis pes-caprae - aka Bermuda buttercup or sour grass -
making its annual resurgence.
Along with legions of other ecosystem-disrupting weeds.
-- Is there less this year? Am I making any headway? --
You know I had to look for a while to find a big cluster for this photo.

The alien grasses in the huge swathe of north-facing land I haven't yet "gotten to".
 Lush and green. And pretty, it must be said.
Look. There's even a seating area!
And a focal point! (Plastic bag full of weed seeds.)
But there is lots of potential here, you have to admit!

I'm in total overwhelm as I contemplate all the work I have yet to do before my miraculous mirage can manifest in all its magnificence. Which of course, it never can.

But I have found a remedy! Or at least a palliative: while in such a state of suffering, completing a small project brings cheer to the soul. The project I have undertaken is to plant a tiny pie-slice of slope between our road and our driveway, as shown in the photo below. Doesn't it look lovely and rainy? Ahhhh!

I've planted the groin between the road on the left and the driveway on the right.
It's an area that doesn't get much sun, but still more than you might think.
In summer it does get mid-morning - midday sun.

I've wanted to do this for a long time but have been held back for two reasons. One, there is no soil there. It's mostly gravel and clay. And two, this area lies far from a water source. I did try irrigating and planting it many years ago, with less than satisfactory results. Rodents chewed through the tubing, and -- like I said. No soil.

Then suddenly I had a flash of brilliant insight (AKA a "duh" moment): just add soil! Build a little wall along the road and fill in behind it with planting mix along with some native soil from an area where there is plenty (to bring in some microbes and fungus etc).

Here are two sets of three photos showing before, during, and after completion of the project.

Well I say completion but I'm sure I'll be twiddling with it some more.

Set 1:

BTW some time ago I  put some rocks at the pointy end just because vehicles, dogs etc, kept running over it.

Actually I had to stop for a few days because I tweaked a muscle or two in my neck/shoulder from moving the stones.

Like the teapot? It represents all those little artistic touches I see others do so -- artistically.
Hm... I've got those Dudleya-planted garden boots...
They could potentially be placed just so.
If only I knew what "so" looked like.

Set 2

Notice the bank on the other side of the driveway? I also planted some Dudleya lanceolata there too.
Thus does one small project spawn others!

(FYI here are some of the lance-leaf dudleya planted on that near-vertical bank
on the other side of the driveway.)

Like my garden gnome?
(Yes, he is looking at his smart phone.)

Astute viewers will notice some interesting wild locals growing to the left...
...of which more later in this post.

I planted whatever came to hand in my shade house.  Now that there are things are planted there, I'm motivated to take care of irrigation, one way or another. Here's the plant list - a typical cohort of local natives I can grow:

  • Woodland brome -- Bromus laevipes
  • Rush -- Juncus patens (or similar species)
  • Fernald's iris -- Iris fernaldii
  • Sedge -- Carex sp.
  • Alum root -- Heuchera micrantha
  • Lance-leaf dudleya -- Dudleya lanceolata
  • California fuchsia -- Epilobium canum
  • Dog violet -- Viola adunca

Of these I have not before planted woodland brome or dog violet. The brome seeds I gathered locally and grew in the greenhouse.

I like woodland brome. Its inflorescence has a pretty drooping curve to it. I'm going to plant it a lot! It  is prettier than the other common brome, California brome grass - Bromus carinatus, which I like OK, but it's just not that "garden-pretty."

One clump of dog viola has been growing in the pool garden since before we got here. Dog viola is a native that's common in the west, and it could have just grown there. Or it could be a look-alike species someone planted. I grew some more from its seed anyway. Many violet species are native to Santa Cruz county. I've tried with two that grow within a mile of here - two-eyed violet, Viola ocellata and redwood violet, Viola sempervirens. No luck so far. Always something still to be achieved when you're a gardener!

Here are a few closer-up photos of the planted species. I hope in six months or a year from now I'll be able to show you how these babies have grown up.

Woodland brome, rushes, and in the foreground, California wild fuchsia.
With also an opportunistic, and likely doomed, toyon that just appeared there.

Rushes behind, young Fernald's iris in front.

Alum root (like a coral bells) and unknown species of sedge (Carex).
I'll probably plant more sedges as they mature in the greenhouse.

Lance-leaf Dudleya. Some are as big as dinner plates!
This is my first year growiong these lovelies.
I'm looking forward to seeing how they do in the longer term.

Just to the left of the planted section, three young shrubs/trees have sprouted: a toyon (see photo above featuring the California wild fuchsia), a madrone, and a wart-leaf ceanothus. I'm not sure if any of them will survive. Some small oaks are growing nearby too, likely coast live oak, or a hybrid of coast live oak and some kind of scrub oak perhaps. On this steep slope, I'm not sure if any of them are viable where their seeds have sprouted.

Oh madrone! You won't be able to grow big here!
Can I bonsai this madrone in place? I fear not.

Sweet little wart-leaf ceanothus! Will there be room for you?
Can I prune you to be small?
There is a large leggy one close by to the left of this planting. 

Oh and there is this lavender bush lupine.
It's an offspring of one I planted there some years ago.

I love how the plantings integrate with natives already there, and how the weeding makes room for the local natives to grow. Encouraging signs to fortify me for the months of weeding I've got ahead of me!


James Kempf said…
Great post CM! I especially liked the garden gnome. :-)