what to do to offset the prison look?

michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)April 13, 2012

Hi all, I usually frequent the home forums and i originally posted this over in the home decorating. It was recommended that I try seeking the advice of some expert gardeners, so here goes!

I am looking for some ideas to help me improve my driveway retaining wall. Originally we were going to build planter boxes on it, but found the measurements are off and that rearing our cars out would be too tight. we do plan on having stucco over it, and will need to put a metal guard rail above it. I think it would be a huge, plain wall without the planters. I would love some of your creative ideas on how to spruce it up! thanks!

Here is a pic

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Some vine may work.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 7:07PM
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    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 7:24PM
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Have you looked into vertical gardening? All kinds of systems out there for you to research....

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 7:54PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It would be useful to know which direction the fall faces, ie, how much sun it gets at what time of the day. Also where you're located in the bay area/what Sunset zone... It also isn't clear how much width/depth of soil you have back of the top of the wall, and whether you intend to irrigate it or not. From the looks of it, the access is pretty tight, and unless you have code requirements to have a guard rail up there, it doesn't look like anyone would have a reason to pass by there except to weed/prune.

If you just wanted a fast growing plant to drape over from the top of the wall, there are quite a few things for either sun or shade, and depending on what you use, it could even drape all the way to the driveway below if you used something like Algerian ivy, which I wouldn't really recommend as it would also grow up onto that wood fence and try to flower/fruit and spread itself around.

Other scandant shrubs/vines for sun might include Bougainvillea, Cape Plumbago, Trailing Rosemary, Ivy Geranium, Star Jasmine, Pink Jasmine, Bloodred Trumpet Vine or Wisteria.

Vines that attach/cling to walls are generally reluctant to grow down a wall to much extent, but things like Boston Ivy or similar clinging vines could also be used.

If the wall is mostly shaded, things like Star Jasmine, Lavender Trumpet vine, Clematis armandii, Asparagus densiflorus sprengeri could work well.

This doesn't look a likely spot to lavish a vertical wall planter application on, which require more complicated irrigation and maintenance up keep to keep looking good; but if you wanted to go that route, the whole wall could be made green or colorful with an almost unlimited plant pallette ala Patrick Blanc. Personally, cascading/hanging vines wouldy be the direction I'd take with this wall, and choosing one that looked good with not much effort to maintain. Star Jasmine or Trailing Rosemary are proven performers for such applications, with at least a 2' x 2' depth/width of good soil and an automatic drip irrigation line for watering.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 8:32PM
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Just how sensitive are you to charges of environmental irresponsibility?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 9:25PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Hire a muralist to paint a trompe l'oeil garden, then add a tracery of trailing rosemary or lotus or sweet potato vines to enhance the effect.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 9:48PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Cat, I like the mural idea, but Lotus berthelottii and cousin are typically only short lived perennials here in the SF Bay Area, usually only good for 2 to 3 years at most. The Sweet Potato is typically only an annual here, it rots out over the winter. As filler for bold color the first summer, they could look spectacular. They bring to mind the equally colorful Clock Vine, Thunbergera alata, which is equally colorful but can be permanent in zone 16/17 locations.

And Whitecap, a vertical trailing wall of ivy is perhaps the ideal application for ivy; no chance of harboring rats, quick coverage with little need to prune, and least possibility of flowering and fruiting to become a neighborhood pest. I still wouldn't use it myself, as there is nothing to prevent it from climbing that wood fence beyond and becoming a thug.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 10:41PM
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Well, now I'm thoroughly discombobulated. When I asked my "just stirring the pot" question, I had assumed that English Ivy had been designated as "invasive" by California. The website of the California Invasive Plant Council, however, seems a bit equivocal on this point. As best as I can puzzle it out, they seem to be saying that it is "invasive' only in riparian and coastal areas. I don't see that they're making any distinction between Algerian and English Ivy. Perhaps we might inquire what lies beyond that wall.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 10:55PM
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Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

there are a lot of decorative metal ideas you could use to skip the planting and watering altogether. maybe use some interesting designs made with trellis or metal piping attached up high and protruding just enough to to cast interesting shadows as the sun moves. you could also add some decorative tiles. i would check out some yard art on gw or google, or find out if any art students could give you some ideas. min

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 10:58PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Bahia, thanks for keeping my recommendations in line. Since I was always in the habit of changing things up in the garden every now and then, it never mattered to me if something had a short life. The Lotus berthelottii lasted about 3 years for me before it got buggy and ugly, and it was so beautiful until then, it was worth it. The sweet potato vine has that wonderful shock of color. But yes, for something more permanent, can you grow Distictus buccinatoria? Rather woody, but the flowers have a lot of wow power. Down here Pyrostegia venusta can be massively overwhelming -- is it more controlled in the Bay Area?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:01PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Knowing your planting zone and sun/ shade exposure would be helpful in order to be able to suggest some site specific trailing plant options.

I like the vertical planting wall panels but they require too much maintenance in my experience. - but the look can be stunning.

Attached is a photo of project where we used GLECHOMA 'Variegata' a trailing perennial also known as creeping charlie. It's great in containers and spilling over retaining walls
From Raised Garden Beds

For full sun and low water usage you can't beat Rosemary 'Irene' , a personal favorite for its intense blue flowers.

Another fave is Lotus berthelotii -
From Raised Garden Beds

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:15PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

designonline, thanks for the vine recommendations and the photoshop pics! i will take a look at them.

bahia, thanks for the many suggestions! the wall faces west. i don't know what sunset zone i am in. I am on the peninsula in the bay area. the pic was taken at 1pm. there is about 5 to 10 feet of land behind the wall, we will use it mostly to plant a row of some tall, fast growing trees per neighbor's request for privacy as we have a deck. other than that, we have no plans on using the space, as it is fairly inaccessible. oh also, because you mentioned rats, our neighborhood has had a lot of issues with roof rats, so anything that would attract them would definitely not be good and i would definitely want to avoid those!

whitecap2, i am not sure what you mean by environmental irresponsibility?

catkim, thanks for the mural idea. i would love to do something like that, but DH is not as into art as me unfortunately.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:20PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

deviant-deziner, your landscapes are beautiful! thank you for your suggestions! i really like that beautiful red vine. i will have to see if it would work for my location.

min3, thanks for your suggestion, i think maybe the ironwork would work. my house is mediterranean style (and i am fairly ignorant of gardening, lol!)

catkim, thanks for your suggestion, i will google distictus buccinatori to see if it will work for me. it sounds really nice if it is low maintenance and also has wow flowers!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:41PM
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The more I think on it, I can't see ivy passively cascading down that wall. It's ornery, with a mind of its own, and there would be no way to tie it to the wall.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 11:49PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Gravity can beat even willful Texan ivy, it would most definitely grow down that wall, especially Algerian ivy.(the comment about environmental irresponsibility is referring to the contentious other recent thread about English ivy)._ On the other hand, it would also want to grow up that fence, creating all the potential problems both English and Algerian ivy are known for. On the San Francisco peninsula, it would be potentially invasive.

Sorry to get off the track of the posters question,(go with the. Sun list of plant suggestions, and look up your Sunset zone to see if you are mild enough for Bougainvillea). Parts of the peninsula regularly freeze and rule out the most tender plants, depends on which town you are in and your elevation.

It shouldn't be rocket science to deduce why either species of ivy would be invasive in coastal influenced or riparian environments in California, it is called being in a Mediterranean climate with a 6 to 8 month long dry season without any rain. Or maybe it assumes to much that people who don't live/garden in California would have
some general idea of how we're such a unique climate compared to
the rest of the country. Coastal areas get summer fog and less heat so they don't get as dry, and certain locations with the right species of native or exotic(Eucalyptus globulis) trees can even harvest moisture from the fog and cause it to "rain" on the ground below their canopy.

Nothing wrong with the concept of temporary plants for a changeable garden, but a difficult access situation such as this tall wall would seem to call for something more permanent with minimal pruning/maintenance preferred. The Distictis buccinaoria/Bloodred Trumpet vine would certainly work here, the Pyrostegia is rarely seen here in the bay area because it is borderline hardy here, and our winters are a bit too wet and cool to promote the best winter blooms. It also occurs to me that Lantana sellowiana could be another very long blooming purple flowered draping accent at this wall.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 2:25AM
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I found myself in the sunken courtyard of a local courthouse a while back (having been pulled for jury duty) and noticed some type of trailing cotoneaster cascading down the walls a good six to eight feet. Cotoneaster is a rather drab plant, but it looked nice with trailing rosemary. I suspect adequate light on the walls of this garage is going to be problematic.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 7:13AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think that, given the limitations of plants (aging, seasonality, space-use), I would put some effort into simply making the wall beautiful. Stucco sounds good, but will have to accommodate those drain holes (at least, I hope those are drain holes!), and if the colour is light, you may get dirt streaks. You see this wall from the deck, right, as well as coming and going? So I wonder if using tile, alone or with stucco, would be better. You can probably get some little grates or something to space the tiles around the drain holes, or otherwise make them a design feature. An artist designing in tile would probably have a field day with this space.

That way, you have something nice to look at when plants are too young or too old, and even if you decide to have no plants at all. Although periodic cleaning may be on your to-do list.

Plants will also create debris at the base of the wall.

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 10:49AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Hello Karin,
You gave me a bit of a giggle by seeing the tie back holes in the concrete wall as drain holes. I can see how they would appear like drain holes , but they are intaglio images from the form boards. A good stucco job will cover these up nicely.

Original poster :
Bahia has a good point in noting that a sturdy long lived vine might be the answer is access is difficult. The lotus b. that I mentioned is good for about 3 or 4 years then it starts to decline and has to be replaced.

The rosemary Irene that I mentioned earlier would be a tough as nails long lived plant that requires little maintenance and water. It also looks well in a Meditt. landscape ; Here is a photo of rosemary 'ken taylor' which is a pretty good substitute for Irene, but the form can go a bit more upright and the flowers aren't as deep electric blue
From portfolioMay08.jpg

From Loropetalum chinese

the same garden in the winter.

- love the vision of trailing red trumpet vine as suggested above.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 12:22PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well I obviously wasn't sure, but I gave it some thought... I have seen stucco walls on houses, and I have seen free-standing stucco walls, but I don't think I have ever seen a stucco retaining wall - at least, until your photo above, DD. Certainly not as big a one as this. How does stucco (or any applied facing including tile) hold up under those circumstances?

I also wanted to raise the question of how the wall drains. It's obviously engineered and not just an off-the-cuff DIY installation, so I'm sure some provision was made, but if none of those dimples are holes, I don't see any. And if the plan is to grow trees up there, then there will be more water above than what the environment delivers.

Regarding plants, though, is there any reason that no one has mentioned good old clematis? A type C would actually be really easy - it would vine down quite nicely and bloom, and the mess could be cut off altogether at the end of every season leaving a clean wall for winter. You might even be able to do that with a long pruner from the deck.

The more I think about it (and about roof rats), the more I think maybe I wouldn't want a woody plant mass that stayed in place from year to year, especially not an evergreen one.

Maybe something that reduced to just a woody stem each winter... like a grape vine. But that look is not for everyone, and may require some pruning.

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 3:10PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Being this is California, there is normally a bit of bias in favor of evergreen foliage, especially when you have a large blank wall you want to screen. No recommendation from me for a vine like deciduous Clematis species that frankly look like crap in winter and would require pruning back. Why create an additional annual task or settle for looking at a blank wall with dead twiggy limbs when it is equally possible to have vivid evergreen foliage or beautiful blooms at any season? The trailing rosemary would be in bloom all winter, and could be combined with a trailing spring blooming Ceanothus such as Carmel Creeper or a trailing type with variegated foliage, and also a summer into fall blooming Plumbago capensis Royal Cape if one wanted an evergreen trailing cover in tones of blue with year round bloom. One could add accents of trailing Lantana montevidensis or Hardenbergia violaceae Happy Wanderer for purple/lavender tints, and perhaps some bright sunshine yellow spring blooming Fremontodendron 'California Glory large shrubs/small trees as screening at the fence and color foil to all that blue/purple/lavender.

One could as easily pick a combo of trailers in other colors using flowering evergreens with year round good looks.

If one wanted to make this wall fruitful rather than just green or colorful, I could also see using something like fruiting Kiwi vines with their tropical looking foliage and abundant fruit in fall. The Kiwi vines would probably benefit from the addition of added horizontal cables on eye hooks drilled into the walls to help train it across the whole wall. Rampant new growth each spring, similar to a Wisteria vine, would require more maintenance to keep it looking neat and contained.

A single uniform planting of either trailing rosemary, Cape
Plumbago or Ceanothus 'Carmel Creeper' would seem more
pragmatic/easier to care for.

An additional easy way to warm that space up might be to add a paint on or chemical stain to the driveway itself, to get away from the cold prison grey color.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 4:22PM
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Now this is what I call an 'outdoor room'. There is no space for furniture and no windows so the interest must be stuck on the walls or the floor. Personally I would give up on plants (sharp intake of breath) and put some down facing lights over textured stucco and treat it like stage scenery.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:24PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Ink, I think you've glossed over the function of this space; it's a driveway that has been shoehorned into a tight lot with significant grade changes to create the access. The views of this wall are from the cars entering/exiting the garage out of view to the right, and from the second story deck which overlooks this wall at approximately the top of wall height. Sure, one could treat said stucco coated wall as its own architectural feature, but it easily provides planting opportunities to screen/soften it at the top of the wall. With typically fairly small lot sizes compared to Ontario, and a climate that permits turning this eyesore into a hanging gardens of Babylon; I'm curious why you'd opt for the 1970's Brutalism Design approach?

Another design solution might incorporate tensioned wires spaced above the driveway running from the garage/deck to the wall for a flowering vine. Or if softening/planting had been considered during the wall design, it would have been quite easy to incorporate small planting pockets with good soil for a fast growing vine such as Creeping Fig or Boston Ivy, giving faster coverage of the entire wall with minimal upkeep required. Hanging plants of any sort will tend to call attention to the wall, while vines completely covering it from the base would tend to make it visually recede as a backdrop.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 7:36PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Apologies to OP for the small side track.

Thanks for bringing up the subject of drainage, stucco and retaining walls.
It's a subject that I enjoy and often find myself working on due to the steep terrain that I live / work in.

Stucco holds up very well on retaining walls so long as there has been a proper drainage system designed and installed.
There are also several different types of stucco and stucco application systems , like EIF's that are extremely effective.

The drainage system most likely has a geotextile fabric ( Mirafi is a common trade name ) pinned to the back of the wall. At the bottom of the wall there is a rock filled drainage trench with a gradient sloped perforated and possibly a closed line pipe system set just above the footing ( in the project below our footing was almost five feet wide) The surface water coming off the hill will flow down the geotextile and then be filtered into the drain pipe at the bottom of the wall . That drainage water will then percolate up into the drain line and be transported by gravity to a tight line system or may daylight out into an open culvert or rip rap dissipator. These systems are engineered by both a geotechnical and structural engineer. They work in tandem together and are required by the planning and building department when any wall is 3 feet or taller.

This project below was designed for a very steep site. There are a series of retaining walls undulating down the hill - the tallest is 14 feet .
From Pools

Finished with the temporary faux doors ( will be core drilled for a wine cellar later on ) stucco walls and pool - Lantana was planted above the wall.
From Pools

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 7:39PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

Karin, the wall has no holes because it is actually part of our foundation. It extends all the way in to form the actual walls of our house. I believe that they had to put a giant drain pipe all along the back of the wall, place a water barrier, then fill in drainage rock and gravel, then backfill with dirt and then compress the dirt. The driveway is also sloped to a sump pump that takes any water overflows out to the sewer.

Bahia, very astute analysis of my situation! I really appreciate all of your advice. It is sounding like the rosemary irene is the way to go. i want to plant something and forget about it so to speak.. but don't want the potential to have roof rats or other invaders. The kiwi is also an attractive suggestion, but i am afraid it might attract rodents?

Deviant-deziner, your landcapes truly amaze me! thanks for sharing all of your pictures. i will have to do a gardenweb search in hopes to see more of your beautiful work!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 10:04PM
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I'm kind of really liking these dramatic walls and the enclosed courtyard feel. Very European. And although this is kind of OT, a question - when these tall retaining walls cut into a steep slope in California, is there any concern about their safety in an earthquake?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 10:53PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I've personally never seen roof rats attracted to eating kiwi fruit, but kiwi vines are rather labor intensive to keep manageable, trailing rosemary is certainly more in line with your preferred plant it and forget it. The cultivar Irene is particularly vivid deep blue, and was a discovery and patented introduction by local Bay Area landscape designer Phil Johnson in Walnut Creek, a mutual friend of both Michelle(Deviant deziner) and myself. I quite agree that Michelle is an enormously talented landscape designer, who has generously shared her work and informed professional advice here on this forum over the years.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 10:54PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Michou, my sense is that many plants that you plant and forget will develop into a mass that is woody or twiggy underneath even if it has nice flowers on top, and will become a place that creatures can go. Whether it will matter, given that they likely also have many other places they can forage, nest, or play, I can't say.

This is why something like the clematis (and I did specify a c-type which would be cut back to ground every fall) would be kind of a clean solution - just snip the whole thing off in fall and let the mass fall to the ground and get rid of it, and have a clean wall for winter and especially in spring when nesting season is. Bahia, I didn't picture leaving the dead foliage in place over winter.

My other reason for suggesting something you can cut away every year is that I wonder if having a mass of foliage at the top might make the space seem a bit claustrophobic, almost putting a roof on it eventually as it bulks up.

Of course I don't know all the plants you have available and so I'm working from how the average plant would behave and what maintenance task I think I'd rather do if I were you. So Bahia (also a talented designer) and DD obviously have more options to offer. But I will mention that Inkognito is a talented designer as well :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 11:09PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

Bahia, I sure would love to see pics of your work too! You have been so kind and generous with your knowledge and time with your lengthy posts. I can only imagine that you would create well thought out and beautiful spaces as well!

Karin, and Inkognito, thanks for your additional thoughts on the maintenance factor. I never really thought through all the issues regarding upkeep.

Whitecap2, i am not sure how much light i really get as i have not lived here yet-- we are still building. I will have to set aside some time to really study the light. but the lighting probably is as you suspect from the looks of it, as it has always felt dark in the garage area whenever I have visited our jobsite.

Adrienneb, my structural engineer's opinion is that there is sufficient rebar and because it is one solid concrete pour, that the retaining wall is designed to withstand earthquakes. He says the foundation is built like a bomb shelter. Luckily we are not too close to a fault line, so the impact from an earthquake would not be as bad as those located on a fault line.

Wow, I feel like I hit the jackpot in getting advice from all of you talented people! I am feeling overwhelmed with all of the discussion. It is gardening 101 for me literally. I plan on printing out this thread and really studying it. and also figuring out how much and what type of gardening work I would realistically have time to do (currently have twin toddlers to run after). Many thanks to all of you!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 12:18AM
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Here's a pic of a blank wall - with just one little functional detail added:

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 2:06AM
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This has really turned into an interesting thread - I learned a lot. Thank you. In my part of the country we don't have a lot of these type of retaining walls.

And I also want to say I am having some serious hardiness zone envy with the mention of all these terrific vines for the wall. I wish I could use some of those wonderful plants.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 8:34AM
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Brad Edwards

Stain the concrete? I would create an anchor system and mount planting racks on every level, keeping it pretty modern, growing things like succulents and herbs.

You could create some large pots that go around the base with hypertufa and grow bamboo.

Great advice again by deviant.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 3:14PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

Bahia, to be sure i will search for more of your posts on these forums, especially since you are in my neck of the woods?

Timbu, thanks for the pic. I couldn't make out what that little house on the wall is though? Is it a birdhouse? It looks very tropical, is this in Asia?

Oceandweller, the planting racks sounds like an interesting idea. I just am worried about the maintenance. Are succulents easy to care for? I would hate to have to drag a ladder out to take care of the top racks often. I won't be able to to do the pots at the base unfortunately as we have just enough space to rear our cars out. I wouldn't want to run over any nice plants!

For the driveway floors, we were thinking of doing stamped concrete or pavers. do you think this would be ok for heavy traffic?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 12:55PM
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Wouldn't it be nice if all threads followed the example of this one in terms of the polite and enthusiastic responses?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 1:43PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

This thread was a breath of fresh spring air.
It was very nice and appreciated that Michoumonster took the time to respond to each of those who offered an opinion.
It was also pleasant that while differing opinions were made that a cordial level of respect was retained.

Personally I enjoyed the small side track question about drainage and the nature of those odd looking dents in the concrete wall that Karen brought up. I hope that the ensuing conversation might have been helpful and answered some questions that others may have had about these poured in place concrete walls. I also hope that no one was ticked off , especially the OP , that this side topic occurred.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 3:44PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

inkognito and deviant-deziner, being a "newcomer" on this particular forum, my impression was that everybody was super friendly and helpful. i definitely hope to get more tips in the future, when i am ready for more landscaping (our house is still in the construction stages), but will be ready for the hardscaping soon..
and on the contrary, I was not ticked off in the least by the sidetrack regarding drainage, i assume drainage is always an important consideration where gardening (and building) is concerned.
i am super appreciative of everyone's time and am quite excited to try out a few ideas suggested here. i promise to post "result" pics later whenever i can get to that stage! thanks so much!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Michou, I'll explain -
it's a mailbox, and if the pic was bigger, you'd see there's a rock holding the letters in place, because the door has disappeared. The wall surrounds a banana plantation. Photo taken in Tenerife, Canary Islands - this was my postcard to folks at home.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 3:50AM
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Brad Edwards

You could use pallets and hang them off the concrete and stuff them with soil and spanish moss, it was recently in southern living. Succulents or small natives would be a great option for the top of those, so you wouldn't ahve to water. I would do spillers in between those racks and something tall along the wall in between to fill in the gaps. Thats just me though.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 12:37PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

I am so NOT one of these great pros who have contributed on this thread, but since I live in a somewhat similar zone (I'm East Bay/Oakland hills so similar to much of the SoBay), I thought it might help the OP if they could see what a couple of the plants suggested look like on a retaining wall.

There is one plant I didn't see, but I think might do well in this situation - aptenia "Red Apple" evergreen groundcover. It's rightly listed as invasive, but I have found that although it will spread "out", it vastly prefers going "down" due to the weight - once those stems get long, they're heavy and it pulls the plant to trail down. I have been surprised to find it does not root as readily along the stem as one would think (based on its invasive designation). Easy to keep under control with minimal pruning, very easy to remove.

I have aptenia in two spots and in the location that isn't shown, it goes happily down a wall as far as it's got room, but only needs to be pruned back maybe twice a year on the flat side. It is much prettier than ivy and needs almost no summer water (like 1 gall per month in summer). Note that the cute red flowers attracts bees; some people find this a disadvantage. Me, I'm all for anything that keeps bees alive and happy, so this doesn't bother us.

My wall is smaller, but the lantana shown (both white and purple) are in a very narrow planter box. Due to its lightweight stems, lantana is as prone to go "outwards" as it is "down". It is easy to prune - stems are brittle so they just break off. Because even trailing lantana mounds, it tends to die underneath. I have found this to be mildly annoying as a clean-up task every year: dusty and messy, LOL.

Anyway, retaining wall 2001:

Retaining wall plants 2004 (they don't look any different now, since I keep them pruned to stay off the driveway). LH side is the aptenia - a single stem can easily get to 5' or more. The purple lantana is in the middle, with the white lantana to its right. Both of these would easily reach the middle of the driveway if I didn't keep them cut back.

I have to agree with the negative on clematis. It's a 1 month flower wonder in the Bay Area, and butt-ugly six months out of the year. I planted one and will never bother again.

Hardenbergia 'Happy Wanderer' is gorgeous - two full months of purple racemes. But I did find the evergreen leaves a rather dull dark green the rest of the year. This is a big, heavy, aggressive vine. I had to take mine out because it started to travel over the fence and the neighbor hated it.

It was a pretty little thing at 2 years old....

...but only a year later, see that "hump" in the back? The hardenbergia was almost half as big in her yard as it was in mine, smothering her Bird of Paradise and euonymus shrubs:

If you don't mind regular watering, there's nothing more fun than passiflower - after a few years you'll have Gulf Fritillary butterflies dancing in the sun for 6-7 months. It needs a grid of some sort, though, it needs something to hold onto to go sideways.

I have both the coral and the standard purple passifloras. The GF prefers the purple very slightly over the coral, but I think the coral is much more gorgeous. This is a big vine (estimates up to 30'; I keep mine around 15') but it is very tough. I almost killed it when the planter box it's in didn't get watered while we were away on a trip. A heat spell hit and the passiflora shriveled down to a single stem of tiny leaves. It's recovered completely and is back to its big bully role once again. There's a lot of dead undergrowth to the passifloras over time, but not as bad as the lantana.

There is one other evergreen vine I use but I wouldn't recommend it - Solanum jasminoides. Carefree and needs little water, but it gets super thick/dense very quickly and really requires heavy-duty cutting back once a year or it goes out of control. In the right location, however, it definitely fills a need.

This is what S. jasminoides looks like less than 7 months after being cut back to a 1" height. Fair amount of dead-leaf litter underneath. This one lives entirely on runoff going underneath the house. I never water it at all:

The flowers are beautiful, though, and it flowers almost continuously:

I have the star jasmine groundcover in my furthest back yard area. It twines with big thick stems like ivy does, and with its mounding growth is, like ivy, a roof rat palace. Doesn't take much water, smells wonderful, prefers bright shade but I've had it in partial sun conditions where it did very well.

Anyway, hope the visuals help.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 3:55PM
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Very nice, jkom!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 4:47PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

jkom, thanks so much for all of the plant suggestions and photos. i really appreciate your input especially since you face the same climate issues. Your garden is so lush and beautiful!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 1:39PM
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michoumonster(SF Bay area, CA)

oceandweller, thanks for the ideas on the wall garden structure. i was trying to find that southern living article but have not been able to find it. do you happen to remember the name of it or date it was published? thanks so much!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 3:50PM
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