front garden retrospective | A Growing Obsession

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Agave ‘Jaws’ needs careful handling. I sawed off a couple leaves from the base this week that were crushing Yucca rostrata and now type with bandaided fingers.

Since I greedily planted the long, narrow front garden smack up against the fence that separates us from legions of parked cars and noisy, fast-moving traffic, it’s difficult to maneuver around for photos (and maintenance). Also, a lot of toothy customers are packed in these close quarters, like the fearsome ‘Jaws,’ and Furcraea macdougalii. I constantly vacillate between privacy and a more streamlined garden that’s visually open to my neighbors. The west end closer to the driveway is unhedged, but this eastern end is like a little green cloister.

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Looking east at a hedge of ‘Little Ollie’ “dwarf” olives (now upwards of 9 feet!) Curving pathway leads to east patio. The driveway is behind us to the west, past Acacia podalyrifolia.

The cotyledon I wrote about earlier in the week is in the front garden, and a young tree aloe ‘Hercules,’ and a manzanita ‘Louis Edmonds,’ and a Nolina nelsonii, various agaves, Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ — it’s a mishmash of a garden. The main criteria for a plant’s inclusion is, once established, the ability to go completely summer dry.

trunk of the triangle palm and its proximity to the house from 2010

And towering 20 feet over it all, fairly close to the house, is the triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi. I’ve noticed that when there isn’t a clear viewpoint or sightline into a space, planting is less about design than a collector’s free-for-all.

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In March reseeding Erodium pelargoniflorum carpets the ground around the succulents — you can see the little white flowers cozying up to ‘Jaws’ in the first photo. This annual erodium completely dies out when the soil dries out in summer.

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From April 2014 — a bulb with tall white flowers like a giant snowdrop, Albuca maxima, has also lightly seeded among the erodium and a few stalks are budding up for bloom this year
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Aloe ‘Hercules’ and Furcraea macdougallii
This northern boundary is fence and boxwood. Eastern boundary is a hedge of ‘Little Ollies’ Even though the garden is loaded with spikes, I draw the line at planting opuntias in the ground.

The 3-foot wooden fence is backed on the sidewalk side by a 7-foot high box hedge — a dodge to get around fence height ordinances. I’ve always hated this fence/hedge arrangement, and as of a month ago I desperately wanted it gone — but a month of sheltering in place has changed my mind again. For one thing, so many birds and small mammals love these hedges — to nest in, to duck into when danger threatens. And both the boxwood and olives are fantastic for what turns into a very dry summer garden — the olives being far more attractive than the box, which gets patchy and thin but usually recovers with winter rain. And then there’s that investment in time to grow the hedges and their abilities as sound buffers, carbon sinks, and particulate sponges to consider. And lately I can re-appreciate the psychological distance they provide too. For now, I think the hedges are winning this very old argument.

In 2010 the street was more visible — as was the smoke tree in the corner!
The drought-tolerant boxwood hedge was a useful means of ‘greening’ up the front of the house to hide the minor revolutionary act of taking out the lawn we inherited with the house many years ago, when such an act drew lots of raised eyebrows.”
From 2010 — notice how I always photograph low to avoid the choppy fence/hedge backdrop.
In April 2010 with Papaver rupifragrum in bloom before the big agaves moved in
Agave guadalajarana in 2011
April 2012 — poppies with Mr. Ripple looming in the distance
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From 2013 with phormiums, gastrolobium and ‘Blue Glow’ agaves
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In 2015 with Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ whose increasing bulk was making a nightmare out of clipping the dwarf olives and even using the path. (Mr. Ripple was removed in July 2015)

But planting and experimenting with even an awkward bit of ground is enormous fun — a leucospermum and Acanthus spinosus were planted just yesterday.

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Acanthus spinosus planted 3/27/20 near the pearl acacia
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Pearl Acacia January 2016 (Acacia podalyrifolia)
This tree draws a lot of comments and questions as to its identity

For more garden tours, both front and back, although the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour had to be canceled this weekend, they had the genius idea to share it online — and you can check it out here.

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