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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

Sedges have edges and rushes are round.

I think I learned that line in high school. Sedges, like grasses, have flat, long leaves. But unlike grasses, they have three-sided stems with edges. Rushes, which also resemble grasses, have long, thin, round needle-like leaves that usually stick more or less straight up in bunches.

This sedge is probably tall flatsedge, Cyperus monandrus. Most gardeners pull these out right away, knowing they can incredibly invasive. But in this deep nature garden, many otherwise invasive plants are allowed to get a small space of their own. This tall flatsedge has a nice semi-shady place. It has built itself into a lovely little clump that attracts various interesting critters.

If you decide you’d like a small (or large) clump of sedge in your nature garden, here’s a bit of advice. If you don’t want to be pulling out thousands of sedge sprouts, cut off the seed heads as soon as they are ripe.

Here’s an idea: display them in a place that their seeds will not spread all around the garden. How about mounting them near a bird feeder, maybe over a cement deck? Little birdies like to eat sedge seeds.

Or you could be a fanatical deep nature art gardener like me and enjoy the beautiful seed heads as they naturally age in place — and I guarantee you’ll be pulling out sedgelets forever, just like me.

This series of posts begins with pictures taken on August 28, 2012. A new client and a Big New Project! Let’s call it Little Yellow House… and please watch these pages for a continuing series of updates.

Above: the house from the street, facing north. Dominating the picture is an old silk tree (Albizia sp.) which is now reaching the end of its life. One of the most important early issues of this project is that this noble giant has to be removed, because it is seriously infected by a fungus that has taken advantage of the tree’s weakness during recent dry years after the automatic sprinklers failed some years back.

In the foreground a large wisteria bush forms a rounded hump to the left of the light pole. Like the rest of the garden, this wisteria has been allowed to fend for itself for many years. It has sent out dozens of long sinewy shoots that have twined together to form this rather large mound.

At the base of the light pole to the left of the blue mailbox, a small streetside strip contains agapanthus, sweet alyssum and red-flowering stonecrop (Sedum sp.).

As beautiful as it may be with its spreading form, the silk tree’s leaves are turning yellow. Not only is it doomed by disease, but this tree has seriously hampered the vegetation below by shedding vast quantities of its finely divided leaves and flowers which cover the plants below, preventing them from fully absorbing what light gets through its own foliage.

In nature, this habit of dropping leaves and flowers benefits the silk trees by suppressing undergrowth and creating a special ecosystem of leaf mould and decomposition critters, but here in this garden we want a much more varied ecosystem.

Yes, sadly, the silk tree must go.

Above: Looking north-northeast from the south corner, in front of the wisteria is a sweet little mugo pine. In front, purple daisies and some stray wisteria runners. Some serious pruning needed here, but this south corner of the garden will be one of the easiest areas to handle.

Above; looking west from the street end of the driveway, the wisteria bush is at the left edge of the picture in the background. Just in front of the wisteria but behind the front walkway is a wildly overgrown section containing some daisy bushes and a whole lot of grass, under which are some struggling decorative wild strawberries (Fragaria sp.) that are invisible in this picture.

Below the silk tree’s branches in front of the house is an area containing old, deeply entrenched clumps of agapanthus and butterfly iris, running from the right foreground into the center background. Both of these are species that can eventually take over large areas of garden space, highly drought-tolerant and unfortunately rather invasive if left untended.

In the larger center front section are lots of violets and various other plants adapted to the part shade of the silk tree. As we shall see, there are a whole lot of far more troublesome plants here that are yet to be revealed. Just wait until I get a chance to start watering!

Above: looking southwest from the end of the driveway. In foreground at right, healthy but highly invasive agapanthus clumps. Behind them, violets and more. Further back, the overgrown section with daisy bushes and grass in front of the wisteria bush. At left, extending back along the sidewalk in the early morning shadow of the parked car, two streetside strips. The closer one contains purple trailing lantana struggling to survive in the dry, sun-blasted conditions near the street. Other kinds of “weeds” and grass also compete for that space.

Above: at the base of the mailbox, a small streetside strip containing lush carpets of sedum and some white-flowering sweet alyssum with a few more purple trailing lantana. There is also more agapanthus in there too. In the back, the overgrown, grassy area in front of the wisteria and to the right of the mugo pine.

Above: a closer look at the overgrown area in front of the wisteria mound. It is early afternoon by now, and I have already removed a lot of the tallest grass stems. Wild strawberries are now visible at the base of the daisy bushes. At far left, an agapanthus in the front strip displays a tall stalk with white flowers.

Next: we visit the back yard.

Usually, grass plants are removed from the garden with unhesitating passion. Among invasives, grasses are without doubt the most troublesome. They are so insistent, so hard to control, that they are almost completely prohibited within the deep nature garden. But sometimes I make an exception.

Above is a panicle (flowering stem) of a delicate little grass growing with minty-looking lemon balm in the shade under some bushes.

Grasses are notoriously hard to identify. The one pictured above could be bentgrass (Agrostis or Polypogon) or it might be orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) or maybe velvetgrass (Holcus lanatus) or even some type of bluegrass (Poa sp.). A detail identification could require close inspection with a hand lens. Whatever it is, it’s pretty and as long as it behaves itself it’s welcome here.

Here is another pretty little grass in the same shady patch, arcing out above a tiny live-oak seedling. This one could be a brome, possibly Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus).

Graceful shapes and subtle hues of green and yellow amply reward close inspection of the nodding flowers.

When this garden was first handed off to me by the previous gardener, it was chock full of crabgrass, fescue, and bluegrass, all left over from the time when the garden was mostly lawn, some years back.

Many hours of pulling were required to remove all the grasses, but there came a time when it was clear that not only had the crabgrass been successfully extirpated, but also almost all other kinds of grass.

To this day, the only grasses that are allowed to grow to reproduction age are small, non-threatening, interesting kinds like these two – and they are watched closely! If they get too big they are drastically limited.

You say you like lawns? Don’t get me started.

It happens almost every year somewhere in the ecogarden. A large, robust grassy plant sprouts up, growing rapidly. Although I usually pull out almost all grass plants because they tend to be incredibly invasive, there are several kinds of grass that might be left alone. One of them is wheat.

This one sprouted in a container alongside verbena and sorrel. All winter it grew, and in early spring it went to seed. Now its huge spikes are nodding, laden with heavy grain. I don’t know where the original seed came from, but this variety of wheat now seems to be a permanent part of the biota in the ecogarden.

There are several species of wheat, with complex genetics. Some have two, four, or even six complete sets of chromosomes. It has been cultivated for at least 11,000 years after originating in the middle east. Like many old food crops, it has been selectively bred by humans until it is distinctly different from its wild ancestors.

This Wikipedia article has lots of great information about wheat and its history.