When the house we are in was first built, I wanted to buy this exact house. We had moved into another house just a couple of years before, however, and there was no way for us to move at that point.
Several years later, when we heard that the owners were thinking of selling (but the house was not on the market yet), we jumped at the chance.
We couldn’t get in to see it until Monday, so over the weekend, we looked up the house on Google Maps, and I drew and designed the garden.
We put in the garden within a year of moving in.
I’ve had ideas over the years for some changes (and have made several), but I’ve also loved what we have had.
However, we’ve had some issues with maintenance over the years, and it’s time to fix those that we haven’t been able to without a major overhaul of the garden. We’ve done a lot of repairs over the years (the valve manifold has cracked and broken in two boxes twice, causing overnight flooding of the garden and the loss of trees even though we found the leak early the next morning each time), the garden has sunk in some places by as much as several feet (despite the man we hired having packed the dirt with water and a backhoe), and sprinklers have broken as the garden has sunk. The horse manure we brought in (sourced by the backhoe driver) also introduced crabgrass into our garden that has become impossible to remove (from now on, I will only use bagged sterile manure, but we need to eradicate this problem). The last few years the cost of repairs has been between $500 and $1000 per year. Changing the garden will help alleviate this expense.
In discussing the repairs, we decided to make some changes that we have contemplated over the years. These changes will pay for themselves in three to four years in reduced water bills alone and will decrease our maintenance expenses. We are removing three-fourths of the grass, and putting concrete over part of it and drip irrigation in other parts.
We will reduce the number of sprinkler heads to maintain; change the design of the valves in the valve boxes to a way that is much more stable, reducing the chance of breakage; increase our fruit and nut production; increase our vegetable and herb production, and also increase our flower production.
The water bill reduction is more essential than ever for two reasons: one, despite using less water, our bills have been over $100 higher per month this year since June (so rates have drastically increased since last year), and two, our city has received half the amount of normal rainfall this year (only 2 inches–about 5 centimeters–this year).
I will be reducing the amount of lawn I need to mow, but I will be increasing my work; I will have much more to prune several times a year, more plants to fertilize, and more edging work with the grass.
We are keeping the basic parterre shape in the back of the garden. The circle will be enlarged by two feet and the plants in it will be moved to other places in the garden. The sundial will be moved as well.
The grass walkway between the parterres will be reduced from 6 feet 6 inches down to 3 feet wide, which will allow us to widen the beds and increase our growing area. The walkway will be concrete instead of grass.
I have designed several parterre sections of the garden, making each section its own garden room. The main center section will have a concrete walkway.
The only grass areas will be right around the trampoline, the merry-go-round, and the swings.
The main visual point of the garden will still be in the center. I designed a parterre garden that leads from the patio to the back parterre section. The beds will be edged in low boxleaf euyonomus hedges (all the beds will be throughout the garden) like I have in my white garden. The four sections of the parterre will be filled with 8 trees: four almond trees and four peach trees. These will all flower pink in late February.
Below the trees, I am planting white Narcissus Thalia bulbs, which I hope will multiply over the years. Those will bloom in March in our climate. I will be planting Desdemona roses from David Austin between the trees. These should bloom in late April and again in October in our climate; though they are repeat-flowering, our extreme heat here usually stops roses from blooming during the long, hot months of summer. As I write this, it’s mid-October, and it will be 94 degrees here tomorrow. While roses need sun in order to bloom and grow, our sun here is fairly intense and can burn rose bushes in the summer. These trees should still get plenty of sun in our climate despite being planted between semi-dwarf fruit trees.
Between these beds will be two narrow beds, edged in low hedges and filled with Swiss chard. This grows year-round here, so they should be green most of the year (though I will have to pull the plants in April when they bolt, and plant new seeds in their place).
I am adding a second circle to mirror the other circle. My armillary sundial will be moved to here. I plan to grow flowers in this circle, including Narcissus Thalia daffodils. That said, if the economy is super bad in the years to come, I could easily grow vegetables in this spot. I see the circles as a place to change up colors for the year, depending on the plants that I grow there. The back circle will be similar to the front circle, but I will continue to grow Narcissus Geranium daffodils there, which are white with an orange center. I have plenty of flower seeds already that I can plant in these circles.
The back parterre gardens will change. I’m moving the peach trees that are currently there and will be replacing them with Stella cherries. These are self-fertile semi-dwarf sweet cherries. I grew these before (twice) until both times they were drowned by an overnight leak in the valve box. Now I will have two trees, and they will be in a place where they can grow larger. I plan to net them when the cherries are almost ripe. My experience with them in the past has been that they were very slow growing; I hope that with plenty of fertilizer, worm castings, and manure, that they will grow tall enough to set fruit in the garden within 3-4 years. These trees require 500 chilling hours, which is a mid-chill level, but we should get that many here (it’s the upper end of our chilling hours). These flower white and pink in February.
Below the cherries, in these beds, I will replant my yellow daffodils throughout the beds behind new hedges (rather than in front of the hedges). I’ll continue to grow the Claire Austin and Queen of Sweden roses in the beds with the cherry trees and plant more artichokes and/or poppies. In the summer I will grow zinnias between the trees.
I will add a new self-fertile apple tree (the ones I planted last year burnt in the sun) and replace the mislabeled pistache with the Kerman pistachio that it was supposed to be. I am quite disappointed that this was wrong; I was suspicious of it having been mislabeled, but have confirmed it this year. It should have put forth fruit this year, and it takes 5-7 years to fruit, so this is quite the disappointment.
I’m removing the French Lace roses from the beds, which have been disappointing; even in cool weather, they open in a single day, flat, and white–they’re supposed to be peach, and while the heat causes flowers to be lighter in our climate (for example, red roses bloom pink in early summer and late fall) these have no color, are not pretty in any way, and they burn the second day.
I will move the four Earth Angel roses (currently in the center circle in the back) to the bed near the trampoline, and also two other roses from the back beds. They should get more sun here and be able to grow larger and make more blooms. The wall and the neighbor’s growing palms are shading the garden quite a bit in that section.
In the bed near the swings, I will plant three Scepter D’Isle roses.
The back beds near the back wall will mostly be the same (minus the roses that I am moving and the pear trees that we are removing); I am leaving the Mission Fig, the All in One Almond, the Royal Apricot, and the Katy Apricot trees. I will most likely leave two of the lilac bushes in place, and I will leave the one Claire Austin rose that blooms more yellow than white, as well as the two Graham Thomas (yellow) climbing roses and the two white Claire Austin climbing roses, which are young and still quite small. I will be replacing the two pear trees with Rio Red Grapefruit trees. I have purchased these already; they’re quite tiny, and it will be a few years before they are large enough to fruit, but I look forward to enjoying them when they are large enough! These beds are shaded below from the fruit trees and not much grows here. I am planning to plant some foxglove seeds that I have at the back of these beds in the full shade (no one can reach them, as the bed is 8 feet wide, so this is a safe space to grow them).
In the center, where there is currently a bench, I will move an urn that I have in my white garden (it’s around the corner, so it rarely shows up in photos) onto a plinth and grow flowers in it in front of the climbing roses. I am planning to gow white flowering cabbage and cyclamen in late fall and winter and impatiens or coleus and decorative sweet potato vine in the summer.
Around the trampoline, I will put four tiny beds in the corners where I can plant food. I plan to plant tomatoes here every other year (one in each section) and would like to try growing peanuts below them, with squash or pole beans here every other year. In the cooler months, I will grow spinach and other greens in these beds. My daughter has requested that I grow sunflowers, so I may add a few to two of these beds that face south.
The trampoline is not perfectly centered in this area, but the cost to redig the circle and move the trampoline (which would require some major equipment) is too high, so we will leave it slightly off-center from the new design.
Above that section, I will have two beds with a center circle. This circle will be small (3 feet acrosss–the same size as the one in the front yard). I will plant food in the larger beds. This area will also have tomatoes every other year, changed out to beans on alternate years, with butternut squash between them in summer. Fall, winter, and spring, I will grow lettuce, leeks, green onions, snow peas, and poppies here.
We want to divide this section from the trampoline area with a trellis. I plan to grow star jasmine on it. This will give the effect of a separate room. I love the look of arched hedges; the vine-covered trellis will replicate that look and should grow faster than a hedge.
Near the patio, at the entrance to this section, there will be an arched trellis covered in The Generous Gardener roses.
By the merry-go-round, we’ll put in two beds, edged with hedges, where I’ll grow a mandarin tree in each bed. Between the beds will also have a trellis with roses, but it will be a longer trellis that goes to the edge of the grass. I plan to grow poppies in the beds followed by squash. I wil try a couple of tomato plants here as well while the trees are small. I will move two lilac bushes to be at the ends of the bed. They will get enough sun to flower here, but they will also burn in summer, with new leaves coming forth in fall. This is the nature of lilacs in our climate; I am grateful that they will grow and flower here at all.
On either side of the merry-go-round, I will put a bench with two pots. The pots will be filled with boxwood or euyonomus balls.
The merry-go-round that my husband built is in need of repair due to rust damage underneath, so my husband will repair it and it will be moved over by about a foot.
The benches and potted boxwood balls will be repeated under the fig tree and in the back corner. This will provide quiet, shady spaces to enjoy in the garden.
Along the eastern length of the garden, we will be tearing out all of the good soil that we have brought in and amended over the years. We’ll set this aside to reuse. We will be installing a two-foot-wide concrete walkway down the center of the bed. We will dig up the hard, poor, white soil from the other garden beds and put it in the center here to support the walkway. Then we’ll fill in the growing areas on either side with the good soil, along with more manure and soil sulfur.
My husband will build an arbor here. I will grow seedless grapes on top of the arbor; the fruit can hang down in the walkway. Beneath the grapes, in front of the wall, I will grow blackberries and possibly try growing tayberries as well. Blackberries ripen in May here; the grapevines start to leaf out in early April. I should have enough shade in a couple of years to prevent the berries from burning when they are ripe. I have been successful in growing blackberries here on the other side of the house and hope to have great success here.
On the other side of the arbor, near the swings, I will grow snow peas in winter and Armenian cucumbers and red noodle beans in summer. I’m currently designing this arbor/trellis with my husband. The side of the bed near the swings will be edged in a hedge. Behind the hedge I will grow asparagus, basil, and other herbs. Beneath the arbor, on the other side of this trellis, I will grow lettuce, spinach, and green onions.
The raised bed along the patio, north of this area, will be lowered. We have already removed the soil from it and will dig it out lower, and then fill it back in with good soil. I will grow tomatoes alternated with beans or cucumbers in this area.
The raised planter on the west side of the garden will stay mostly the same. I have to decide on a tree to replace the Asian pear we tore out; I am hoping for an Oroblanco grapefruit, but am having trouble sourcing one. This bed has two Meyer lemon trees, a pomegranate tree, and an almond tree already. It also has The Alnwick rose bushes and some young peonies. I will grow Swiss chard, lettuce, and parsley here in the winter, and plant poppies and Bells of Ireland from seed along some of it as well. The front of the bed is lined in Narcissus Geranium daffodils (the parsley is planted above them). In July I have planted zucchini seeds in the beds for a hopeful fall harvest when it should be cool enough to flower; I’m still waiting for something this year from my plants, so we shall see; zucchini continues to be fairly impossible for me to grow as my plants simply don’t produce female flowers.
Along the side of the house, I have a narrow bed alongside a concrete footer from the wall, where I grow Thomspon’s Seedless and Concord grapes at the top (with blackberries underneath). There are nasturtiums that reseed here each year under the vines alongside the patio.
My patio will be essentially the same, but I will grow all pomegranates in my pots now, as they are the one tree that can handle the southern sun and reflected heat and light from the house and the patio without burning to death. I plan to grow nasturtiums under them in winter/spring followed by bougainvillea in summer. The bougainvillea will be a new experiment for me; if it doesn’t make it, I’ll got back to growing basil in these pots as I currently do in the summer.
There are other changes as well; we will move the hose to a new spot and get rid of the two hose bibs that we currently have, move the four lamp posts that we have and run new electrical to them, add two additional lamp posts, and hang three lights in the grape arbor.
Throughout the garden, we will repeat circular shapes not just in the layout on the ground, but with the merry-go-round, trampoline, and the boxwood spheres that I will grow throughout the garden.
It’s a lot of changes and a lot of work (not just now but in maintenance in the future) that will give us more food and more flowers. My major goal in the garden is (and has been) to have something ripe every month. I also want to be able to cut flowers for arrangements without having to cut every single flower in the garden in order to make an arrangement; I want to see flowers in the garden as well as enjoy them on my table.
It will be at least three years before we start to see fruit from our new trees, new grapevines, and new asparagus plants. The berries will take a couple of years to begin fruiting. In the meantime, we’ll have all the fruit we had before (lemons, peaches, apricots, pomegranates, almonds, plus blackberries and a few grapes), more Swiss chard, more green onions, more parsley, tomatoes, more butternut squash, more cucumbers, chives, snow peas, beans, lettuce, and spinach, along with anything else I manage to grow, while at the same time, our water bill will decrease.
I will need 1244 hedge plants to edge all the beds. I’ve started 492 cuttings so far from the boxleaf euyonomus in my white garden, and I hope to be able to produce all of the plants that I need within a year from cuttings. They will be tiny to start.
It will look rather sparse at first as everything grows in, but I can picture it already, lush and in flower!