Shallow bed, ugly retaining wall

manifest(USDA 11a, Sunset 24, CA)May 24, 2013

We recently had a 2' 1/2" high retaining concrete wall built. We then built a 6' redwood fence on top of it, created a curving bed out of retaining blocks, and put in a paved patio.

We're now ready to plant and the area that we're having trouble planting is where the bed is narrowest. It's only 1' deep to the retaining wall (to the right of where the shovel is in the photo). The footing of the retaining wall only allows for a depth of about 2' in the ground.

In retrospect, we should have built out the narrowest portion of that bed so that it wouldn't be so shallow. But it was a DIY project and by the time we realized the tricky planting problem, we were too far along to attempt to correct it. Hopefully I can get some great ideas from the experienced gardeners.

I'd like some suggestions for Mediterranean/drought tolerant perennials or some tidy climbers to obscure the block wall. The area gets morning to midday sun and then is in shadow after 2 pm. I currently have some Muhly grasses, feather grasses, Euphorbia 'Blackbird' and Lotus maculatus as groundcover planted in the rest of the bed. The cats love to lay on the Lotus and play/hide in the grasses. In some ways you could say we're doing all this hard work for them!

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manifest(USDA 11a, Sunset 24, CA)

Here's another view of the bed:

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 3:15PM
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manifest(USDA 11a, Sunset 24, CA)

And just for kicks, this is what it looked like a year ago. Amazing how much life a new fence will give!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 3:19PM
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Have you considered parging or adding stucco to the wall prior to planting? It will making it a much more neutral background and then the attention will be on the plants rather than just trying to cover up the wall.

I won't even attempt to suggest plants for you since I know nothing about CA gardening.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 10:41AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Ooo how lucky, Sunset zone 24 ! - The horticultural world is your oyster.
So much to choose from and so many wonderful nurseries to purchase from too.

I'd start by looking at David Feix's photo stream to get some ideas. Check out the Burgmann set of photos, it has a lot of similarities to your project

For the narrow and shallow area you might consider the wonderful world of bromeliads - tons to choose from.

As far as vines you might want to check out the San Marcos Growers website - click on the vine section.
too many to list.

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape designer David Feix

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 1:13PM
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Stucco on the wall was the first think I thought of too.

That us a pretty dramatic before and after pic. :)

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 2:50PM
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manifest(USDA 11a, Sunset 24, CA)

This is where emotional maturity when it comes to gardening and landscaping comes into play.

Yes, we considered stuccoing the wall...but after we planted. I know, I know, it doesn't make any sense but having lived with a rotting, termite eaten fence and not being able to plant anything for the last year...I've been itching to get some plants started.

But now that several posters have mentioned stuccoing the wall, I'll have to take a look into it to see if it will be more beneficial to hire out the job once we have funds to do so, or to attempt to do it ourselves. It seems easy enough to do it from the videos I've looked at online, but you never know until you try it yourself.

David Feix has a stunning portfolio, deviant. Many thanks for the link. We relocated to SoCal from the Bay Area and I wish we'd known about him while we lived there. Truly, he paints a portrait with his landscaping talent - the textures, colors, and volume are breathtaking.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 3:26PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

If you plant near the edge of the blocks, the plants will almost certainly overhang them and the blocks will virtually "disappear".

I have a lot of narrow beds and I can assure you, plants have a natural tendency to lean away from the fences and expose themselves to as much open space and sun as possible; e.g., on top of and over the blocks. The only time people notice mine is when I've yanked a plant out for replacement!

There's no need for stuccoing - just plant lavishly, and enjoy the year-round blooms.

I hope your lotus lasts long in your area than up here - mine only live a couple of years and then peter out :( Short-lived perennials up in the Bay Area, it seems.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 3:42PM
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Out of curiosity, how did you attach your fence to the top of the retaining wall? I am getting ready to build one myself and I was trying to figure out how to put my fence on top.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2013 at 7:40PM
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manifest(USDA 11a, Sunset 24, CA)

Bakosho, when we had the retaining wall put in, we requested that PostMaster wood fence posts be set into the concrete blocks set every 8' on center. What's great about these posts is that they are pre-drilled and a 2'x4' rail can be set flat against it.

Once the retaining wall was set, we used redwood 2'x4' for the top and bottom rails. Then we mounted the fence boards onto the top and bottom rails.

Here's a photo showing the posts set into the wall with the 2'x4' rails attached:

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 4:51PM
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manifest(USDA 11a, Sunset 24, CA)

Here's a photo showing the frame side of the fence. You can cover up the PostMaster with a fence board so that the entire fence looks congruous.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 5:08PM
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Wow. Thats perfect. Thanks for the extra info. This is exactly what I needed. I will be starting a post about my upcoming project since it involves pretty much the same thing, a 3ft high retaining wall with fence on top.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2013 at 8:42PM
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