Concluding the epic saga of our landscaping project (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), in April 2019, after several years of figuring out what we wanted to do, and nearly five months after the crew arrived at our house to start work, we finally started putting plants in the ground.
Early on in our planning we made the decision that we wanted at least part of the yard to be landscaped with plants that were native to Los Angeles, since doing so was a (small) way to restore part of the ecosystem and make our yard more attractive to local wildlife. While many native plants have adapted the Southern California climate by evolving to look… “scrappy” might be a charitable description…. there are also a huge variety of natives that are beautiful, have amazing smells, provide some useful fruit, or in other ways make them great options for a yard. Stout Design Build brought in a native plant expert who created the initial planting plan, but when Tom had difficulty in finding some species, Audrey and I began doing our own research on Calscape and eventually made the trek out to the Theodore Payne Foundation nursery to get the species we wanted. I’ve never been much of a plant guy, but this process triggered a bunch of my brain’s happy spots – I love the idea of restoring nature, and solving the puzzle of “what plant would work in this spot with this type of soil, this amount of sun, this amount of water, etc” made the problem-solving parts of this engineer’s cerebral cortex light up. Audrey came home some days to find that I’d figured out that maybe two hundred plants matched what we wanted in a particular spot, and then systematically narrowed it down to about three options that were the best fits. Clearly, I’m not just a geek when it comes to computers.
To this point we’ve probably made five or six treks into the valley to visit Theodore Payne. Initially we made a trip to pick up some plants that Tom hadn’t been able to find at the nurseries he usually uses, and we’ve been going back as new opportunities arose. The original planting plan didn’t include any plants for the stream, so we researched practically every aquatic plant in California before heading to the nursery to buy serpentine night stream orchids, yerba mansa, scarlet columbines, and some fiberoptic grass. A few of the plants that went in initially didn’t survive, so they were replaced by a Jones’ bush mallow, a Julia Phelps lilac and chaparral currants. We swapped some non-native choices in the original plan with island morning glories, and procured some chaparral honeysuckle to cover the walls on the property line. If you’re in Los Angeles, consider giving Theodore Payne a visit – it’s neat learn about all of the different local plants, and I can vouch for the fact that the staff will cheerily put up with a million dumb questions.
Today the landscaping project is officially complete, but we’re continuing to make a few small tweaks here and there. Audrey has been out of town on a project in San Diego, but just as I’ve made the back more native, she has plans to make the front more “alien” when she returns. My days are now spent working with the doors and windows open so that I can hear Holliday Creek bubbling along, while the view is of birds and squirrels who are constantly around to eat whatever they can find and take a bath in the stream. Tom’s plan included two avocado trees and some native California grapes, so we’ve now got bunches of grapes ripening along the wall, and we had a few avocados growing before one of the local animals found them and made guacamole. While many of the plants will take a while to mature, a few have surprised us – an Island mallow that was little more than a six inch tall twig when we planted it is now a sprawling bush that is over four feet tall. Flowers are constantly blooming, and in a few months when rains return I expect the impressive growth we’ve seen so far will be supercharged.
The project was not without its challenges, but where once we had a fairly sterile, thirsty patch of grass, today we have a nice outdoor patio, a gurgling stream, and an array of native plants that attract every bird and butterfly in the neighborhood. A bathroom remodel might have been a more typical starter project for new home owners, but I can say with one hundred percent certainty that the new outdoor space brings us vastly more joy than any backsplash or fancy shower ever could have.