It’s planting time and I’m not ready

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The only thing that I have been avoiding and neglecting more than my blog is my garden. In the last few days, I have cleaned house, watched one whole season of Breaking Bad on DVD, and more productively, spoken to five high school environmental science classes about the importance of creating habitat in urban areas. But the front parkway remains brown and tan. This is not a good thing. Planting season is just about upon us.

Wheelbarrow ready to receive some brown weedy lawn. Unfortunately I was tempted by my daughter-in-law and new grand daughter to go sit in the backyard with a cold beer. Time well spent.

Okay, so here’s where it stands. I have a new appreciation for people who want to go down this road of creating a sustainable garden where lawn currently exists. I am starting to freak out. What am I going to do with the front parkway?  Best start with a list of what matters most to me.

  1. Create habitat.
  2. No additional irrigation – well, very little anyway.
  3. Lower in height than the side parkway garden and not as wild.
  4. Very low maintenance by the first year after it is planted.

Notice that I do not care whether it is colorful all year long. I’d like wildflowers next spring, but after that, neutral colors – brown, tawny, green, gray –  will suffice.

Native deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) in front of sagebrush (Artemisia californica) going dormant, with green leaves of California lilac (Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue’) in back – my idea of beauty.

To satisfy my number one concern I will have to select not just native plants, but locally native. I know I cannot get ones that were propagated from plants growing naturally in my watershed, but I will try to select local species and attempt to shun cultivars. Extreme? Yes! I’m told this is a function of age – as we get older we get crazier, but our craziness was always there, hidden away. With age, we just let it show more… and we ramble on.

Little additional irrigation means no riparian plants, those that grow along a stream, creek or other body of water. Lower in height eliminates my beloved deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens). Well maybe I’ll slip in a few. And finally, very low maintenance by the first year after it is planted means nothing that needs careful attention when young and tender.

Impossible? No. Grasses to the rescue. After consulting the 1904 Flora of Los Angeles and Vicinity, by Le Roy Abrams, and Consortium of California Herbaria, I have decided to go with the following:

  • foothill needlegrass (Nassella lepida)
  • melic grass (Melica imperfecta)
  • June grass (Koeleria macrantha )
  • purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea var. purpurea)
Needlegrass (Nassella sp.) flowers dance in the sunlight in spring.
After the needlegrass went dormant, I pulled out my trusty electric lawn mower and tidied up real quick and easy.
Many new needlegrass plants have grown from seed along the edge of the sidewalk. I will dig these out and plant them in the front parkway.
Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha ‘Barykoel’) at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. This small, dark green, stiff bladed grass has done very well in the Cultivar Garden. Although it is locally native, I am not sure where this cultivar came from. I will try to get some non-cultivar plants for the parkway. By the way, the fencing is not there to keep the grass from running away, rather it protects the grass from the ravenous hunger of bunny rabbits.

 Mix in a bunch of river rocks, maybe some decomposed granite, sprinkle generously with wildflower seeds, and voila!

Now all I need to do is finish digging out the lawn.

Needlegrass seed heads wrapped with the blades of  beargrass (Nolina parryi).

3 thoughts on “It’s planting time and I’m not ready

  1. So happy I just read this, Barbara. Now I don't have to fret over what doesn't get done here before I see you. Having a bit of "I'm not ready to plant them" blues, myself!… And life goes on! See you soon.

  2. I think for us, planting season just arrived, along with almost 2 inches of rain! Fortunately this year I'm not as behind as last year. Now if the rain will let up, I can go plant hunting! I'm looking forward to seeing your planting strip come together. I think the grasses will work beautifully. I especially love the melic grass, ours here is tough stuff, and pretty too!

  3. @Janis – never fret! My garden is a very slow work in progress. Looking forward to seeing you.<br />@CVF – it&#39;s raining here now. As I watch the water pour off the roof to the paths and out to the street – gotta love old houses! – I am thinking rain garden. Next post on that.

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