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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.

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.

Knowing that I am friendly to diverse life forms, local friends and neighbors frequently drop off plants in pots, unwanted or extra seed packets, cuttings, and even bugs in jars (hopefully with holes in the lid!)

The newborn semi-dry desert container shown above contains a cactus and succulent dropped off by an anonymous friend, plus a bit of sedum from another container. All three will enjoy the expansion room in this new home, basking in the sun in a sheltered place on the upstairs deck.

This strawberry is also a new resident. It is enjoying the rich, seeded compost that has been added to its pot. Already, various green shoots are sprouting up. Most of the new seedlings will be removed, so that the strawberry plant can thrive with little competition. Some, like the edible chickweed that will cascade down the outside of the pot, will be left in.

Like these two new container ecosystem art gardens, my own life is also experiencing a fresh restart. Working with an excellent new guide, I am creatively evolving a brand new approach to the whole ecosystem gardening multi-project, and there’s a big, new, related goal in the more distant future that promises to be a lot of fun.

In the near future, watch these pages for updates on the new ecosystem art-garden offerings. With the help of the new guide, for the first time in years I can see a clear and (hopefully!) realistic path toward the goal of earning my entire income from ecosystem gardens and related projects.