Happy Plants

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This past weekend I dropped by a client’s house to check on a planting I’d done earlier this year. The plants looked great. There were a couple I recommended removing—they just weren’t thriving—but everything else was bursting out of the ground. And the clients were thrilled. They’d especially come to love their new Leucadendron plants and were trying to figure out where they could add more.

I quickly snapped a photo with my phone—I’ll need to get some better ones later on.



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Immediately after the planting.




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Before the planting.

Less Lawn

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After revamping my friends’ backyard they asked for help with their front yard. 

We started off by removing some of the lawn—its flat expanse gave the feeling of the street or sidewalk going right up to the house—and in its place we added water-wise plants like Australian natives, rosemary, lavenders, grasses and other graceful, meadow-like plants.

Many of these will grow big, in an open, airy way. Eventually creating a soft, substantial border, making the yard feel more connected to the home and less like an extension of the street.

And of course, we added a tree. That large space was just begging for a tree. It’s small now, but has a big future.



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Before

Playhouse + Plants

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"I’m just going to deck my entire backyard."

Those were the words I heard while eating Indian takeout at a friend’s house on a Friday night. And of course, I couldn’t help myself. 

"What about plants?"

So we walked outside and stood in the middle of his backyard for awhile.

"If you make the deck just a bit smaller,  I could add plants all around it. They would soften the edges. Spill out onto the deck. Eventually cover the fence."

He thought about it.

The he called Saturday and said the idea of plants was sounding good to him. He called Sunday and asked how much room I’d need for the plants. He called Monday to have me come over and help determine the outline of the deck. He called Tuesday night to say the deck was done and he was starting on a playhouse for the kids.

I was floored by the speed.

So then it was my turn. I pulled together a mood board to illustrate the overall palette and texture I was thinking for the plants. His wife loves the look of roses, peonies, and all those plants with an unquenchable thirst for water. But she was very receptive to my claims that the same lush feeling can be achieved using plants more suited to our Mediterranean climate.

She bravely approved the mood board and I went to work, using plants that would eventually feel like they were bursting from the borders. Colorful, playful plants that would complement the new playhouse, but also tie-in with the feeling of my friends’ newly remodeled home.

In the six months since, the plants have begun billowing from the edges, creating a free-flowing space that’s both useful and beautiful. 


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Before

Designing for DIY

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I loved working on this project. Rather than hiring a crew to install the plants and irrigation—which is what I typically do—I worked with the homeowners. Jamie and Michael wanted to transform the entrance of their yard and wanted to take part in the process—they wanted to get their hands dirty.


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I handled the design for the space. (Succulents immediately came to mind. The right kinds of succulents could weave themselves around the existing rocks.) I also gathered all of the necessary supplies (plants, irrigation materials, mulch, etc.) and brought everything to their house one Saturday.


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That Saturday turned out to be one of the coldest days we’ve had in a couple years. (I’d stored the plants in my garage the night before to protect them from the frost.) It was so cold that I crossed my fingers the succulents wouldn’t get frostbite during the drive.

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Once I arrived at their house I placed the plants according to the design. I also installed the basics of an irrigation system—a timer and mainline tubing. 


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Then Michael and Jamie joined me. I worked with them for about an hour, showing them the best way to put a plant in the ground, the things you can do to make the transition a bit easier for the plants, and the basics of installing drip irrigation.

That’s Michael above starting to install the plants while looking dapper. Jamie was equally as stylish. I looked like a homeless person next to them.


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After I left, they got the plants in the ground and covered the succulents with a frost blanket to protect against the unusually cold weather. Once the weather warmed up the following weekend, they added emitter lines to the various plants, so they’ll never need to be watered by hand.


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And last week Jamie sent me the two photos above. Made my day. I love how it turned out and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all grows and weaves together.  

Three Cacti

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Until recently, walking up the steps of our porch wasn’t terribly inspiring. It offered a terrific view of the peeling beige paint of the neighboring apartment building. So I came up with a solution: Opuntia subulata. These tall cacti—from Cactus Jungle—now greet us as we walk up the stairs. And they grow fast, like six inches a year, which is warp-speed in the cactus world.

The pots—which are a matte black when dry—are incredibly lightweight. Super easy for me to carry up the stairs. Once they were in the desired location I just filled the cleverly-designed reservoirs with sand and the pots became quite sturdy. They’re made by Crescent Planters.

I used cacti because I didn’t want anything that required frequent watering. Not just out of pure laziness, but also because I didn’t want to return from a trip to find dead plants on our porch. That’s not a concern with these guys—they just need water every 3 or 4 weeks.





Santa Barbara

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While in Santa Barbara last month, I finally snapped a couple photos of my brother’s garden. It’s been about nine months since I installed these low-maintanence plants and they’re thriving. I’d forgotten how easy it is for things to grow in this warm, mild climate. 

I used Woolly Pockets to soften the transition from the cement wall to the wooden fence and love that the once-tiny plants are now spilling over the top. In another six months the fabric should be completely hidden. And a trumpet vine is already beginning to cover the wooden fence.

It’s a little oasis that’ll keep getting better and better.


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The backyard now


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The backyard in 2012








Backyard

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I’ve been toiling away in our garden, catching up on a backlog of projects, when I realized I’ve never posted “before and after” photos. The one above is from this spring. Below are some earlier shots, all the way back to 2009, not long after we’d bought the place.  



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Last summer


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During the filming of To Say Goodbye about a year after installation. This was when the backyard was loaded with California poppies — I’d scattered seeds to fill any gaps while the perennials were still young and small. (Photo credit: Ronny Knight)



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A shaded corner with Soleirolia soleriolii (baby tears), various Aeoniums, and Aquilegia (columbines)



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Succulents and Chrysocephalum apiculatum (common everlasting)



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About six months after installation



 
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Shortly after we moved in

Sidewalk Garden

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My favorite “house” project to date—we’ve replaced about seven squares of cement with colorful plants. It makes me happy every time I come home.

Our neighbors seem to be enjoying it too. One has taken to patrolling the plants every morning, looking for any trash that might have blown in and helping with the watering.

Another neighbor saw an elderly woman trying to steal a succulent and scared her off, and has been keeping an eye out ever since. (The bandit made off with a Kalanchoe marmorata and a Sempervivum arachnoideum prior, but no thefts since my neighbor spotted her. Surprising behavior from a white-sneakered, backpack-wearing senior citizen.)

That’s been one of the best things about the new garden—not the thieving senior citizen—but seeing our neighbors rally around it.

If you’re in San Francisco and interested in installing a sidewalk garden, this site is a good place to start.



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A close up of the plant that looks like a small dandelion tree—Sonchus canariensis. This one is a bit of an experiment. I’ve seen it grown in Southern California, but never up here in the bay area, so I’m curious to see how it fares.



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Cordyline banksii ‘Electric Pink’



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Carex testacea (Orange Sedge), Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass), Senecio cylindricus (Narrow-Leaf Chalksticks)—I love how the colors of these plants contrast each other, so I used them throughout the sidewalk garden.



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Cerinthe major purpurascens (Blue Honeywort) and Cerinthe retorta
—two fast-growing annuals I’m using to fill space while some of the perennials are still small. 



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Phormium ‘Evening Glow’




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Senecio cylindricus (Narrow-Leaf Chalksticks) and Senecio mandraliscae




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Cordyline Festival Grass, Yucca Bright Star, Cordyline banksii Electric Star and Yucca desmetiana
'Blue Boy'



Updated Photo (June 2014)
Plants are thriving!




Bottled Soap

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Some friends gave us a nice little bottle of gin that was too good-looking to throw out once the booze was gone. So I’ve turned it into my new dish soap dispenser. It’s easy to do. I just added some soap—mixed with a little water—and topped it off with a chrome pourer.

Going Dark

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It’s been awhile since I posted. Mostly I’ve been busy with work, but I have been able to squeeze in a couple creative projects, including fixing up the front of our house.

We’ve known since we bought this place that we wanted to replace the painted-gray shingles. Our street is awash in gray—the bulk of our neighbors having painted their homes various shades of it, although a few went a little crazy and painted their houses light beige. (Those people throw the wildest parties!) Mix that with gray sidewalks and a gray street and you’ve got a block that’s begging for some color.

So when it came time to replace the gutters, we decided to go ahead and tackle the shingles too. The job was moving along smoothly, the new cedar shingles looked great. Then one night I came home and discovered our painter had stained the shingles THE WRONG COLOR. Instead of a natural brown, the shingles were black. Here’s a picture when I left that morning:

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And here’s when I got home:

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I cried.

My husband was out of town and I debated telling him. Should I call him now? Or let him have a nice trip and tell him when he returns? I opted to tell him, rationalizing that it would be better if he had a heads-up before he arrived home and had trouble recognizing the house. But really, I just wanted to commiserate with him.

He was great. He said we should think of it as an opportunity to make the house look even better than we’d planned by coming up with a creative solution. He was super optimistic.

Then I sent him the above picture and there was a noticeable downtick in his optimism.

And there wasn’t much optimism from the public. Our street gets a ton of foot traffic and people had opinions poorly disguised as questions. A lot of them starting with: “Why did you…..?”

In an effort to gain perspective, I told myself that if I could go back in time and explain to my twenty-something self that the shingles on my house had been stained the wrong color, my twenty-something self would have said, “A HOUSE?! I’m going to own a house someday?!” And that made me feel better. That is, until I went outside and was accosted by a pedestrian with an opinion.

Meanwhile, we were trying to figure out a solution. We definitely needed to get rid of the white trim. We wanted a paint color that wouldn’t contrast as much with the black shingles, but would also work with the red windows.  (The windows had to stay red since they were clad…we’d purchased them based on our original plan.) So for the next couple weeks we spent an enormous amount of time standing in front of the house with paint chips or painted boards. I can’t count how many times my husband jumped on his motorcycle to get another paint sample. Here’s what our kitchen countertop looked like during those few weeks:

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After trying ten or more paint colors we still hadn’t found a solution. Some colors looked good with the dark shingles, but not the red windows. Or vice versa.

Then we tried putting an oil rubbed bronze metal sample from Rejuvenation against the shingles and the red windows (yes, we were getting that desperate) and realized it looked pretty good.

So my husband headed off to G&R Paint and had them whip up a custom batch of paint based on that piece of metal. We painted it on a board and realized we were close. The folks at G&R tweaked the paint for us a couple times and then we had our trim color. We’re calling it “Hail Mary Bronze.”

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And now we love it! We think it turned out even better than our original plan. Plus, it gave us a dark background for our new sidewalk garden. (Post about that to come in the next week.)

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Shrub and Vine

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Some weeds are useful. When we moved into our house, the backyard was little more than a rectangle of sand. But this shrub was thriving in the corner and mostly hiding the view of a dilapidated shed in my neighbor’s yard.

So even though I was told it was a “weed” there was no way I was removing it. Instead, I added a clematis vine near the base. And two years later there’s plenty of blooms on this “weedy” shrub. And enough height to completely block out the shed.

There’s sometime to be said for embracing the weeds.



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An Old Branch

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I was more than a little sad when a very old ceanothus in our backyard finally kicked the bucket. But there was a silver liningI was left with a couple beautiful branches, artfully covered in lichen. One of them now resides in the dining room, adorned with some air plants.



 

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The Lookout

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Here it is. The last post about our remodel. It’s a little bonus attic room at the top of a ladder. Two twin beds laid out in an L-shape. Great for reading. Or storing guests.

Heating ducts needed to run through this room, so before building the casing that would hide them, we figured out measurements that would allow them to do double-duty as “headboards” for the beds.

We bought this mattress for both the beds because it arrives compressed. Which meant we could get it up the ladder. If we’d tried that with regular mattresses there would have been a lot of swearing. And zero success.

The bed covers are just canvas drop cloths. We wanted to keep this room very simple.




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The view through the skylight, which we can crank open on warm days.


 

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Installing a traditional wood floor wasn’t an option because we couldn’t get any machinery up the ladder. I started thinking about a painted floor after seeing this post on Door Sixteen. Ultimately, we went with a whitewashed plywood floor. (The plywood “planks” are cut about 7.25” wide and spaced using a coin between each one. Then we used a mixture of 50% wall paint and 50% water to paint them and then sealed them with a clear coat.)




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The ladder up to the lookout. My husband wanted something simple that came straight down the wall. My fear of heights wouldn’t have it. Instead it is couched into the wall at an angle with handles cut into each step.
 



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The ladder to the lookout is tucked into one of the walls of the laundry room.

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