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It’s November 19, 2012, and the garden at little yellow house is now as blank as it will be. The big square section on the right of the front walk is about 50% bare ground. The biggest plant is the pittosporum bush  near the house on the left. To its right (near the truck) is the bare space where the giant silk tree came out.

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On the left side the big wisteria looms over three just-pruned daisy bushes. On the right are some grayish French lavender bushes, and on the left a butterfly iris and a low Santa Barbara daisy. Directly in front are some decorative strawberries and English violets.

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The right side street strip contains purple-blooming lantanas, still unpruned and just recovering from the damage done during the great big silk tree removal. Also present here, buttercup oxalis and some annual grasses pushing up between the step stones at the street edge. At the upper right, the street strip is temporarily shaded by a street-side recycling bin.

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In the left side street strip the blue mailbox post rises near a massive clump of red-flowering stonecrop, also known as sedum, currently not blooming. Beyond, a wild-looking mix of white flowering sweet alyssum, creeping oxalis, California poppies, and much more. This small section of the garden is already one of the most diverse, ecologically healthy areas.

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Between the big pittosporum bush and the front of the house an old flagstone walkway is being deconstructed. These stones will be reassembled into a more eco-friendly mortar-free patio where mosses and other small plants can establish their own kind of ecosystem between the stones. Beyond the remains of the walk way is the blank space where the silk tree was removed. This is where the next major action will take place. Let’s fast forward a couple of weeks to December 5…

140510-0917Here in Menlo Park we are very tree-aware. When a large old tree comes out (a “heritage tree”) the law says you have to plant a new tree that can grow as big.

At right, two trusty garden experts from Roger Reynold’s Nursery put in in a strapping young red maple. Sadly, Roger Reynold’s has since gone out of business.

We chose a large-leafed deciduous tree to replace the old silk tree. While this maple will drop its big crinkly leaves all over the garden, they will be easy to remove from the tops of bushes and smaller plants, and easy to redistribute under the bushes and in other deserving parts of the garden. Unlike the old silk tree, it will not drop tons of fine debris, smothering everything beneath. It will also experience a wonderful annual cycle, being beautiful in different ways around the year. A big improvement!

For now, the new garden citizen is small and bare. In coming episodes of this series of posts you’ll be able to watch as it leafs out, grows a bit, drops its leaves, then leafs out and grows some more. We’ll prune it now and then as its branches reach out into the air. It will be quite a few years before it reaches the garden-shading extent of the old silk tree!

Below: On December 10, 2012 the garden at little yellow house basks in the slanting winter sun. Even now, it is mostly a blank slate. Its deep nature evolution has only just begun!

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Next: the garden greens up with massive diversity, and the first frost of the winter.

By September 1 the project at little yellow house was well under way. Did you miss the previous episode? You can also jump back to the first post in the series.

Let’s focus on the front yard, starting right out at the street.

street strips: lantanas, violets, sedum, alyssum, agapanthus

There are two strips of garden between the sidewalk and the street. Like many such street strips, they receive lots of sun and tend to be dry and hard-packed. In the foreground above is the longer strip containing a lot of trailing purple lantana. At this stage it is still dry and hard, but even so the lantana is blooming and there are violets (in the sun!) with green leaves.

In the background is the second, shorter strip with green sedum, white alyssum, and behind them some large agapanthus with their strappy leaves. We’ll deal with all of those another day!

Above: Along the streetside edge of the lantana strip is a zone of deeply embedded gravel. Until just before this picture was taken there was an evil bender board, secured into place by nasty lengths of rebar pounded down straight into the ground. Maybe you can see the darker area just under the front edge of the lantana, where the bender board’s removal has left a little “cliff” of freshly exposed soil. This bender board marked an artificial and definitely non-naturalistic division between the gravel and the lantanas. Out with it!

One more note about bender boards and rebar: As a barefoot gardener, I can tell you it is not fun at all to step down directly onto the top of one of those lengths of rebar.

As for the gravel, it is slated to be removed by shoveling the mixed soil and gravel into a large-mesh sieve, allowing the soil to fall through. The soil will be returned to the street strip. Later still, irregular slate stones will be placed here directly on the naked ground, adjusted with dirt underneath and between so that they will make a nice stepping zone for people getting out of cars. Because the stones will be directly on the ground, small plants will be able to grow between them, forming their own special micro-ecosystem.

You might have already gathered that I am strongly opposed to artificial dividing technologies like bender boards, underground weed barriers, and the like. A genuine deep nature garden does not require any kinds of technology to keep plants where they “belong.”

Above: The small walkway between lantanas on the left and the sedum on the right has been widened by using undercut pruning on both sides. The old limits on both sides are visible by the darker shade where the “beards” of both kinds of plants used to extend across the cement.

Undercut pruning is a special technique. If properly applied, it can tame wild mats and tangles of plants without leaving them looking “pruned.” How it is used varies depending on the type of plant. The lantana, with its tangles of brown, nearly naked stems, required a different approach than the thick-stemmed, heavy sedum. Only experience can convey the specific style of cutting needed for each kind of plant.

south corner: mugo pine, fake stream, daisy bushes

Above: The mugo pine has been pruned back, exposing the beautiful multiple trunks. Grasses have been removed in that area. As the garden evolves, various small herbs and flowers will be allowed to grow underneath the pine, filling in that space and making it look pretty.

To the right of the pine and extending back behind the daisies at the far right is a grass-overgrown fake stream created with gravel, bender boards, rebar, and a little wall made out of stacked flat slate stones. You can probably already guess how I feel about fake streams. All of these artificial barriers and divisions will be removed.

The center area in front is heavily overgrown with grass. Beneath and among the grass stems are Santa Barbara daisies, ornamental strawberries, and violets. Also there is a spiky-leaved plant (possibly an iris) with its leaves sticking up. About half of the grass (the easy half!) has already been removed. Clearing out the rest of this grass will entail several hours of careful work. The strawberries and violets, plus anything else interesting, will be preserved as much as possible.

Above: looking back toward the street from the walkway leading up to the house. In the shady foreground are some lavender bushes. Beyond them is the other end of the fake stream, and beyond that the daisy bushes. Beneath them, mixed grass, violets, and strawberries.

Next: We are just about to do a massive transformation of the back yard. Stay tuned!

Did you miss the previous episodes? Here they are:

little yellow house #1

little yellow house #2