Yard Work

When we bought this house, the front yard was a jungle of sticker-weeds. It was one of the first things the neighbors said to us, after “Hello” and “Welcome to the neighborhood”—”So…what are you going to do with that yard?”

At the time I said something breezy about having it landscaped. And in fact I did set up an appointment with a landscaper. She said it would cost five thousand dollars to haul away all the trash and put in a front yard of drought-tolerant grasses and shrubs with a drip irrigation system and extensive soil amendment. I said, “Hmm, thank you, we’ll think about that.” And we did. We thought, very briefly, about the fact that we do not have five thousand dollars, and if we did, we would have a better use for it than setting up a irrigation system for plants that don’t mind drought.

So between the time we moved in and now, we have done very little to the yard. We hacked down the big thorny things, and then we just kind of waited to see what would happen. Over the dry, hot summer, of course, nothing happened: around here, most plants and grasses go dormant over the summer unless they’re being watered. Now the fall rains have started up, and greenery is sprouting everywhere. So to help it along a bit, we ordered a few things from a native plant nursery, and we have just finished planting them.

My fondest hopes are pinned on the manzanita tree. Here it is, as of today:


It’s the little shrub cowering behind the rock in the foreground. It doesn’t look like much now, but if it thrives, it will eventually grow to be about ten feet tall. In January and February it will bear clusters of beautiful pink flowers that the hummingbirds will fight over. The rest of the year it will have splendid red bark and glossy green leaves, and it will provide berries for chipmunks and shelter for birds. I really hope our manzanita tree is happy here.

That unsightly dead trunk you see in the background will be cut down, one of these days. After some consideration I’ve decided to let the jade plant (the bush on the right) live, even though it is not native to California. Neither am I, after all. If it doesn’t ask anything of me—because it’s not going to get water or fertilizer or any other kind of intervention—then I won’t ask anything of it.

My second-fondest hopes concern our new mountain lilac bush. I took a picture of it too but it was so small as to be effectively invisible. If it grows, though, it will turn into this beauty.

I also planted a couple of different wildflowers, just as an experiment, to see if they can compete against the volunteer grasses:

wildflower plantings

If they do well I’ll get more, and I’m also planning to sow some California poppies from seed. Those guys are really hardy and I think they probably will be able to compete.

In the back yard, my camillia bushes are glorious with flower. Well, one of them is:

healthy camillia

The other one Sam butchered with a pair of gardening shears, despite the fact that I begged him to leave it alone. I literally wept when I saw what he’d done with it.


He says he “got carried away.” I don’t know how a person can reduce a lush, full shrub to a skeleton without realizing at some point what they’re doing, especially when their wife is pleading with them to put down the shears and step away from the plant: I think he kept going just to be contrary, because he didn’t want to be told what to do. I am still heartbroken about it. As you can see this bush is hardly bearing any flowers this year. I think it will grow back eventually, poor thing.

I am obviously still harboring a grudge over the camillia bush, but I have mostly forgiven Sam, not least because I want to get more work out of him. This weekend his dad is coming down to help us put up a fence around the back yard, so I am looking forward to admiring the menfolk as they do all the hard manual labor on that one. Maybe I’ll put on a nice apron and serve lemonade.

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