Latest thoughts on 'Shrubby low-water/full sun slope'

melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)May 24, 2012

This is a follow-up to my previous post, when I described the front yard as "cottage style" LOL. It's getting too hot to really plant anything -- I think all the little rosemary "Tuscan Blue" I put out either died or went into shock, maybe they will surprise me with new growth but right now they are dried up kindling! So I'm focusing on clean-up/weeding/removal, and I want to have my plans finalized come cool weather this winter.

I've been working on clean-up in the front, and spending time looking at the overall shapes (and the fact that I have small stuff near the Crape myrtle, big stuff near the sidewalk) The more I look at it and think about it, the more I am ready to do a more serious overhaul as far as shrubs go. Here's the pic, just to refresh those memories, but I tried to label the "major" shrubs :-)

I'm planning to take out all the artemesia (not labeled but it's the clumps of grey shrub); maybe they need to be grouped together better. They are easy to move around/divide etc. I also limbed up the "Majestic Beauty" b/c my original goal was for it to be tree-like. My DH doesn't like the shrubs that have branches on the ground -- he says that they provide cover for vermin :-( So he was really happy that I limbed it up. The little shrub to the right of the Crape myrtle is a Rose of Sharon. I really don't like it, so I might try cutting it down this winter and seeing if I like it better if I keep it bushy and about 5 feet tall/wide. My kids have climbed on it a lot, but it keeps on trying to grow :-)

Considering the Cistus: I LOVE it, but it has covered a Grevillea ground cover, and it grows onto the sidewalk. I'm not sure how well it will transplant, but I think it needs to be closer to the Crape myrtle or at least higher up on the slope. But I don't want to move it right now, so I'm planning to trim it way down when it finishes blooming.

The small Indian hawthorn that I labeled "Ballerina" has done well, I'm wondering if I should plant a few more around it b/c its really not a specimen shrub or anything. I dont think it's "Ballerina" though, the flowers are white.

Then I'm looking at adding (if I can find them) "Valley Violet" Ceanothus, "Goodwin Creek Gray" Lavendar, and Bush Germander -- all recommended for the area on the UC Davis "all stars" plant list (so I'm hoping they will also be at the nursery). The ceanothus and lavendar will be near the sidewalk, the Bush Germander toward the middle or top.

My photo doesn't show it well, but the bare area on the left is about 5-8 feet wide (wider at the base, narrower at the top). I've always imagined putting in wide concrete steps there but I don't think it's going to happen. I might try carving out some steps and topping them with pavers...not sure if that would work though, when I tried to describe it to DH he didn't get what I was talking about. We use it as a walk-through area a lot, so having steps would probably look better than a mulched, sloping pathway.

We are also going to buy the shredded redwood mulch in the fall, before it rains.

How does this sound?

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"Cottage gardening" not falling too much in my area of interest I'll not comment on all the details, but I'll commend you on getting the crape myrtle, et al, limbed up and separated from the shrubbery below. It/they look much better. Once the tree-forms develop bigger thicker, fuller heads, they'll start to look more meaningful. I like the separation from what's below. It seems like progress to me.

I take it that winter is the time of rains out there? Does that mean that the warmer parts of it are the main growth periods?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 1:00PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Yardvaark it's the same photo, just with labels on the plants...maybe the labels make it look cleaned up! ;-)

Yes here it is hot from May to November, and it rains mostly in January to March. That front slope is a death trap to anything I plant once it's hot...even if I try to water every day I usually forget and then the plant doesn't make it. So I am feeling about done with planting anything else, and mainly doing clean up and/or maintenance.

I think summer may be a dormancy part of the year for some of the plants. I certainly don't like working out on that slope. It's way hot. I am super pale, too, and don't like the heat. ;-)

However, your comment about separating out the Crape myrtle makes me think that I should go ahead and take out all the little things under/around it. I have daylilies (miniature ones), bearded iris, and society garlic planted under it. Maybe that's too cluttery and I should have only mulch.

I wanted to bounce my plant ideas off the forum. I may take some more photos and play with Photoshop.

Any thought on cutting steps into the slop, topping them with pavers? Is there a name for that type of project?

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden steps

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 2:11PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

I just put in a little more time, dug out several Peter Pan agapanthus that were hidden under the branches of the indian hawthorne. I don't know what I was thinking, I guess I just stuck plants in wherever and hoped it would turn out. I don't have the time to want to keep playing musical plants until I figure out what will look nice.

Which forum would be appropriate for getting encouragement/moral support on what I think is going to be a bigger overhaul than I anticipated?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 4:15PM
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"Yardvaark it's the same photo"

It's been a while. I was mixing it up with your photo of the birch tree that was nearly indistinguishable from the shrubs below. If't it's still like that I wouldn't be able to say nice things about it. Oh well.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 7:22PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Understandable ;-)

I haven't pruned the birch tree canopy...yet! I will update with a photo when we take care of that. I agree, the photo of that area looks horrible, way overgrown. But when you are standing in there, under the trees, it's almost like being in a little teeny forest :-)

I did lightly prune the Coleonemas under the birch, and I found that a few have grown wide and others are still small, so in the fall/winter I'm going to take out the ones that are small and place them somewhere better.

I also added more plants down by the sidewalk: Peter Pan agapanthus and Society garlic -- hoping for them to act like groundcover since I was advised to put in more groundcover. The area gets full sun in the afternoon but the agapanthus and society garlic do well as long as I water them a couple times/month.

I have a few "Bumblebee" Abelia shrubs there, too, and I am going to move them in the winter and probably replace them with the Peter Pan agapanthus; it looks nice along a border, even if it's not very unique.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 7:51PM
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Do not "limb up" the crape myrtle. It will grow in its own time and not look like crap in the end.

Moving some of the small shrubs would be nice. But what you need now is more PERENNIALS there, so if you go to the perennial forum, you'll get tons of suggestions for filling in the space to make it look complete.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 9:15PM
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i planted vitex,texas sage,and desert willow last fall.very little maint.rarely watered and they are exceding what i hoped for in a hot by road,sun baked slope.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 4:34AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Melle, you have nailed what I think should be - but rarely is - the focus of front yard landscape design. Rather than curb appeal. it should be about how it FEELS to be in the space. Sadly, the only photo shown in requests for advice is often of the curb view, and although most people who give advice here have lots of experience being in landscape spaces and assessing them in 3D, all of us to some degree succumb to the temptation of dealing with the 2D image.

Of course, perhaps the signal lesson from your previous thread was that a place that feels great does not always automatically look great, and that doing both takes some design work. But I think a line is crossed when you sacrifice how it feels to you in 3D in order to make it look better to strangers on the internet in 2D.

Watch out for that line - only you and your family know where it is.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 10:56AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

You would also find that transplants and existing plants are likely to do better, especially if you want them to fill in, if you add a simple drip irrigation system on a timer. If you are only hand watering, it's unlikely you're giving enough water to get them growing well. If you're not able/willing to add irrigation; confine your transplanting and new plantings to late fall/beginning of the rainy season. As I look at your photos, adding a flowering ground cover such as Teucrium cussonii or dwarf pink Myoporum parvifolium is one way to give a less chaotic look and knitting it all together. Also, get that mulch applied thickly now to save ground moisture and reduce weeds. You asked on another post if it is still a good season to plant; if you want to minimize water use it really
should wait until late fall, but if you add drip irrigation on a timer and also mulch, you can get new plants/transplanted plants to establish and grow. I'd suggest a visit to the UC Davis Arboretum to see the plantings in their display garden featuring the best picks would really help sort out your possibilities.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 12:25PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I often put rocks/flat stones over the roots of newly planted plants if it's a risky time to plant. Keeps them cool and moisture condenses under the rock. Of course it also encourages surface rooting, so remove at end of hot season.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 1:01PM
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melle_sacto(Z9/Sunset 14 CA)

Hello! Thanks for the additional comments -- it's nice to get some feedback. Over the weekend I had an opportunity to view several front yards that don't have grass, rather more of a xeriscape like I've been aiming for. They do have quite a few perennials, something I do not have down on the slope. The perennials are mainly in the foreground, and in nice groupings. I have a better idea of how I should use them in the fall, which is when I plan to do the rest of the planting/transplanting.

Karin -- I agree, I want to keep the feel of the front, from the perspective of being in the yard, pretty close to how it is now. But I think I can improve the street views w/o affecting MY view too much :-) We can't really see what's down the slope from the house/yard, nor can we see the front of the birch tree area. But from the street I can see that the birch tree area is overgrown and weedy, and the slope is haphazard/incomplete. Taking photos has been the biggest help, when I saw them I though "Oh wow, that really DOES look bad".

bahia -- yes I started that thread b/c I was curious how many people go ahead and put their plants in, even in dry hot summer, and who holds back. I'm definitely planning to hold back. If I find some plants to buy (which I have not, yet...) I will maybe put them into larger pots but keep them in an area of our yard that has afternoon shade (the rear side yard next to our garage/dryer vent/waste cans).

We don't have drip irrigation on that slope, what I have is a soaker hose that is covered by mulch. It runs around the top area and works out really well (when I remember to connect the hose to it). Our front yard sprinkler system doesn't work, but maybe that is something my DH will look into.

Here is an updated photo of that area in the very front of our house, where I was considering planting the mandarin and lime trees. I have taken out all the plants I wanted to keep; for now, I decided to make it VERY low maintenance since it was growing a bunch of weeds. ;-) We will make a decision in fall/winter. Hopefully it will be a relatively clean slate by then. The artemesia and the yarrow in the foreground will probably get new homes on the sloped side of our front yard.

I've started waffling about whether or not we should make a patio w/interlocking pavers, or if I should go for a nice evergreen groundcover. I'm thinking a groundcover will be nicer in the hot sunny afternoon. I want to keep the path that goes around the right side, leading to the fence gate, so we may use interlocking pavers there, instead.

It's been very helpful to chat about the yard and what to do with it. Thank you :-)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 3:42PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Hi Mel,
I just drove past a commercial landscape that we installed last year that is surrounded by a sea of hot asphalt ( it's in a mega mall ) .
Somewhat similar climate conditions as yours ( Novato) though not as many hot days.
I'm bringing it up because this landscape has received zero / zip/ nada maintenance since it was installed last April ( the restaurant went out of biz shortly after it opened ) and they haven't turned on the irrigation system since last year.
Surviving and doing well are : Salvia leucantha, lavender, coleonema, stipa arundinacea, westringia, phlomis, anigozanthos and two unusual varieties of citrus - New Zealand finger lime and a Yuzu , both were requested by the former chef.

You've got a great resource with Ernesto manning the helm at the UC Davis Arboretum. He's extremely knowledgeable and very approachable.

I'd probably hold off on planting much of anything now that your hot weather has kicked in unless you have a good irrigation system and a generous covering of mulch. From California Gardening

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 7:18PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Sounds like a smart move to wait on planting until fall. It is probably even more efficient to add a battery operated controller/valve at the hose bibb and use drip soaker lines at individual plants rather than the off the shelf soaker hoses which water everything. Automated drip irrigation makes a huge difference in hot summer areas.

Michelle, I find it incredible that plantings such as your design could survive without irrigation all this time, in addition to being planted at the end of the rainy season! Are you sure the irrigation has been turned off since last summer?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 1:33AM
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