I just found this essay that I wrote a few years ago. It reminds me of how it all started. Hope you enjoy it.
My eyes scan the emerald green yard when we take possession of our ninety year old Craftsman house in 1998. Both the house and yard are daunting. I never pictured myself living in an historic house of this size, with a third of an acre of suburban yard. There are five mature trees, casting welcome shade in the front and back yards. The rest is grass with small foundation beds around the house. Colorful but thirsty impatiens make the house look like Ozzy and Harriet live here. Copious amounts of water are needed to keep it bright, and an ongoing regiment of mowing, edging, raking, and sweeping – not to mention the recommended fertilizers and weed killers – to keep it neat.
Since we arrived in southern California I knew I wanted a wild garden. My taste veers toward the wild side. My desk, my clothing, my purse, my mind, all exhibit untidiness, with interesting objects scattered about. Pencils and paper clips in an array of colors, a snapshot of my family all smiling into a camera set on a timer capture the moment, a plastic paper weight with glitter floating around a picture of my daughter and our dog are a few of the objects surrounding me at my desk right now. And my desk is currently in a state of extreme neatness. For me, a comfortable garden needs this mix of order and interest. Unusual plants, textured rocks, sculptural pieces of dead wood are objects that capture my interest and attention.
But I digress. The front yard is shaded by two large trees, an avocado and a deodar cedar. Somehow, the previous owners were able to keep the lawn beneath them green. I doubted I would be so skilled but this was no place to start a new garden. First of all, an abrupt change to the surface near these trees might be harmful to them. Until I am more familiar with these specimen trees I prefer to make as few changes as possible. The back yard is similarly treed with a large coast live oak and two large fruit-bearing avocados. Not only is there a limited amount of sun, but again, I prefer not to mess with the mature trees until I have lived with them for a while.
The house is on a corner lot. On the east side is a long strip of ground, six feet wide and 182 feet long. It is interrupted by a southern magnolia near the south end of the strip. North of the magnolia it is pretty much a straight shot of about 170 feet. The sprinklers in the strip are partially functional. Water sprays everywhere, some reaches the grass, but much of it lands on the street and the sidewalk. Mowing is easily completed in four long laps, but edging is interminable. The electric weed-whip that was intended to make short work of this job gets tangled frequently. With only one tree, the bed gets quite a bit of sun. Whatever I plant will not have to compete with established trees and shrubs for sunlight, water, and nutrients. It is perfect. The parkway will be my first wild garden.
So the project begins with the long strip between the street and sidewalk, a curb garden. I pick up a shovel and start digging out the grass. Just as I finish removing a small rectangle of lawn, my neighbor stops by to mention that there is a city ordinance that regulates parkway landscaping. I thank him for the information and think nothing more of it.