Planning for the Fall Planting Season

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In March, my last month of work at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about how great my yard was going to look once I had time to work on it. It is now July and I must say it is probably not much better than when I was working. So last night while sitting on the back porch after dinner I asked my husband and daughter what I could do to improve the backyard. After an animated discussion my husband sheepishly asked whether I was okay with all they had to say. In fact I am. The backyard needs work and I know it. So here are some of our thoughts and plans.

Rough plan of yard.Green circles are existing trees, larger circles are mature trees.

From Wild Suburbia

Outside the fence, purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea var. purpurea) feather the path into the yard. Roger’s Red grape (Vitis ‘Roger’s Red’) is draped across the gate into the yard.

Gate (Roger’s Red grape draping over it) looking out into street with purple three-awn

From Wild Suburbia

Once you pass through the gate you see to your left the “secret garden,” a small space with riparian woodland plants. Sandstone stepping stones draw the eye and guide the foot into this garden. Shrubs and perennials reach into the passage making it cozy and inviting. The path widens to a small circular space with a couple of chairs and a table.

Secret garden to left of gate.

From Wild Suburbia

The area to the right of the path is a problem. My vision was to extend the look of the secret garden into the sunnier backyard using coastal sage scrub plants. Pozo Blue sages, California fuchsia (Epilobium cultivars), monkeyflower (Mimulus ‘Eleanor’) and a volunteer coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) line the fence to the right. Continuing into the yard toward the back porch is basically a place that I dump avocado leaves. It was covered with lawn but now is messy and brown. My family clearly identified the problem when they asked, “And what is that supposed to be?” It is too wide to be a comfortable passage, and too unstructured to be a garden. It’s just ugly.

East Garden to right of gate. See what I mean about ugly!

From Wild Suburbia

So this will be the area of focus. I plan to enlist my husband’s help to create a neater, more functional path. The area is 18.5 feet wide and 30 feet long. It gets reasonably good sun, especially in the summer. I will definitely need to plant more to give this space the cozy feeling of the secret garden. As one looks north through this rectangular bed, a small green patch of lawn remains. I planted deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) to transition between the bed and the lawn. I want the lawn to mimic a pond, only in green, ringed with large bunchgrasses.

Once this bed is landscaped to provide an inviting transition to the back lawn I will turn my attention to the beat up old deck surrounding the avocado tree. If you have any suggestions, please comment. I am receptive to and need as many new ideas as I can get.

Sometimes I am frustrated that my garden is never complete but most of the time I enjoy the challenge of making it work, and the peace and quiet I have already achieved.

17 thoughts on “Planning for the Fall Planting Season

  1. Maybe succulents would be fun? I have a succulent area, mix of native and exotic, and it&#39;s fun year round and takes little work. <br /><br />Or a ceanothus garden? Some taller further back, lower-growing in front? Or salvias? Ah, so many choices. I usually start with the Alrie Middlebrook book and decide which habitat I want to work on, then look at that list and pick what I can grow in the

  2. I like how you&#39;re thinking of the lawn as a pond, both visually and philosophically.<br /><br />Here are a few random ideas from me… I find the edges between lawn and not-lawn to be some of the more difficult transitions to pull off. I could see a broad lawn-side &quot;landing pad&quot; edging of a stone that would be used for the walkway, and I could see that landing pad narrowing

  3. Do they all have to be native plants? And how much are you willing to water?

  4. Hi all. Thanks for the very interesting thoughts. Rebecca, it doesn&#39;t have to be all native, though I am very partial to these plants. As for water, there is a spigot nearby. North of it is the large rosemary bush and south of it is an orange tree. So, near the spigot will be plants that can take more water. Mostly, though, the area will not be watered, until you reach the lawn. <br /><br />

  5. James, I had a bladderpod in the front yard. It did okay for about 2 years. It may have gotten too much water. It&#39;s a great plant but I am a little concerned about it. But the gray leaves, yellow flowers and large green pods – I think I may be talking myself into trying it again.

  6. Anonymous

    If one could ever finish a garden, wouldn&#39;t one have to give up dreaming garden dreams. I personally like the suspense of your &quot;ugly&quot; spot. I&#39;ve been thinking of asking you a question about what plants I might move around in my garden in the fall, assuming that summer-dormant natives might survive replanting just before the rains. Have you any advice? I&#39;m hoping I can

  7. I like color; I might put some california poppies along both sides of the walk (lining the secret garden side as well as the east garden). Behind them, what about a salvia chiapensis? Mine grows in some shade, and is about 4 feet tall and wide with gorgeous hot pink blooms most of the year. I&#39;ve also had a great time with centranthus ruber (although it reseeds with incredible enthusiasm).

  8. Dear Anonymous, I have tried to transplant natives with little success.Grasses and other perennials work best, shrubs and trees are harder. I have been successful moving Lavatera purissima. Of course if you can get most of the roots, it may work. It is best to do this during the winter. A temporary shade structure after transplant may be helpful too.<br /><br />I agree that a completed garden

  9. Dear Rebecca, thanks for the suggestions. Poppies — of course! Salvia chiapensis is intriguing. I know it comes from Mexico and requires regular water. I may just squeeze some in near the spigot since that area does get more water. A vegetable garden is also an interesting thought. It does get a good amount of sun, especially in summer. Wow, lots to consider! Thank you for these great ideas.

  10. You could combine a couple colorful perennials with the veggies, too! I noticed your neighbor was giving you grief about the veggies along the parking strip, so the vegetable garden would serve 3 purposes–get the city out of your hair, make the east garden productive and structured and maybe even ornamental, and open up the parking strip for other plantings. Plus, one of the things I love about

  11. There is even a 4th advantage to this. Much of the east garden is shady in the winter. So if I go with annual veggies, a few perennials for color, and wildflowers, then I don&#39;t have to come up with plants that can take 6 months of shade. I will need to add hardscape structure so that it looks good in the winter. Thanks for the ideas.

  12. One idea is to make the hardscape itself colorful–here is a pic of the pavers I made for my gravel walkway:<br /><br /><br /><br />They&#39;re the mosaic tile ones–the brickish ones I found when I was digging in the yard. I love that–it&#39;s like discovering buried treasure!

  13. Trying the pic again:<br /><br /><br />3460/3723750953_66028b<br />1426_b.jpg<br /><br />:)

  14. Anonymous

    O.K., so now I can&#39;t resist a wild, out-there suggestion I&#39;ve thought of trying. Because all the talk of &#39;hardscape&#39; and veggies makes me think of a novel version of a raised bed but so much more ornamental. I ran across it while web-surfing (actually, I got caught in a serious cyber undertow…fun, though!). You may have already heard of &#39;keyhole gardens&#39;, but here&#39

  15. Hi Rebecca – very, very nice. I really like that mosaic stepping stone.<br /><br />Anonymous – I did not know about the keyhole garden but I like it! This is so exciting! I love the idea of the compost area in the center. It really makes sense on our hot, dry climate. If I decide not to do the compost in the center, I could plant something tall like corn or sunflowers. Very cool.

  16. Anonymous

    Or you can put compost in the center AND plant zucchini or related squash! I&#39;ve had zucchini and pumpkin volunteer more than once in my not-quite-cooked compost.

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