Friday, May 20, 2011

The Evolution of a Garden

Some people sit down and plan their garden by developing a layout map – how plants will be grouped by flower color and how they will integrate together… Our garden has been developed in a much more flexible manner.

This is what the back yard looked like in the early years. The dominant feature for many years was the "medieval castle" made of scrap lumber – built over a large dirt hole that the boys and their friends took years to dig. It was possible to go from the “dungeon” to the main floor to the “tower” by means of trap doors and ladders. It was never really finished but kept evolving over time.

The "Castle" complete with tower and dungeon - and internal trap doors

It’s a big back yard so there was room for a vegetable garden and flowers. But the main use of the yard was for kids and dogs.

This is what the back yard looked like at this time. It had a few young fruit trees and a lot of empty space.

We planted the fruit trees when we first came - then added no more plants for years....

My sister in law Deb Flory is a leading influence on our garden, giving me a sense of creating a garden to enjoy for its beauty. Deb has introduced me to the concept of growing plants in beds - mass planting or plants interspersed for effect. – She has taught me to try to model the plant arrangement found in nature. She has introduced me to the idea of pathways in the garden to define spaces. She also suggested using a "horse tank" as a water feature.

Steel horse tank- makes a wonderful low maintenance pond!

I went to the nearest farm supply store and purchased the largest horse tank I could carry in the back of a pick-up truck and set it up with mosquito fish and water lilies. Around the outside I have planted plants normally associated with a moist environment. Since the only food the fish get are the insects they catch, there is no nitrogen build up - and there are not problems with algae growing.

When we travelled to Southern Mexico, I noticed that gardens there tends to use plants suited for their seasonal conditions and low water requirements. I thought, ”I wonder what plants are adapted to the climate of Fremont California?” With a little research I discovered that we live in a true Mediterranean climate – the same as the countries around the Mediterranean Ocean, the same as parts of Chili, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, etc…

The "perennial collection" as it looks today - but it is constantly changing - Looking East

Each of these areas, over the millennia, has evolved their own plant varieties suited naturally to those areas – but they will live equally well in any other Mediterranean climates. The problem was were to find these plants – most nurseries only sell plants that are in demand – and most people still want thirsty plants that belong in Western Europe, England, and the East Coast of the US…

Looking south

It has been a gradual process – first to educate myself to plant characteristics – then to find sources for them. I have started going to the plant sales at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park… Volunteers propogate plants and sell many unusual plants for bargain prices. Due to the influence of the people that I talk to in those shows I have been slowly moving toward introducing native Northern California varieties – only because I like their appearance , textures, and variety. I place the plants apart the distance found in a natural setting – also with a little space between plants it is possible to see and enjoy them more. A benefit of many Mediterranean and Native Plants is that is is quite easy to produce more plant from cuttings and root segments.

Two years ago our son Peter helped me remove last vestige of lawn. We rototilled, shaped the soil, covered with weed guard, spread large gravel, and planted small low growing native plants. The garden has matured in two years and it looking unusually attractive this year.

Front Yard - 2 years old - limited to low growing perennials

So now that the rains of this season are finished, there is still moisture in the soil and my mediterranean/native plants are full of life - it is the season for flowers and exuberent growth. As summer progresses they will sink into seasonal inactivity - but they maintain their own special beauty and charm.

Mexican feather grass