I recently was tasked with what I thought would be a fairly easy landscaping assignment. Simply place drought resistant plantings in a hillside garden. Easy enough? Wrong! The soil was clay and sand and then more clay and sand. The only thing keeping the hill from sliding down from under me was the thick layer of morning glory ivy that seemed to be everywhere. And, so it began… my education of how to create a beautiful garden when the odds are stacked against you.
Please allow me to to digress… I have been an “exterior designer” for quite some time. I consider myself quite knowledgeable about different kinds of plantings and have an affinity towards Southern California’s succulents. I am well versed on placement, groupings and how to create schematics that will suit most gardens.
But once in a while a tricky assignment will present itself.. Meet my challenge!
Challenge 1: The history
About four years ago the homeowners bought a renovation. The garden was then just one overgrown set of hedges and ivy. The process started with ripping out most of the hedge and the bulk of the ivy. But, as any one would know, ivy is really persistent and so it continued to invade for years to come.
Challenge 2: Keeping the “good stuff” and getting rid of the “yuck”
There were some succulents that had value and were worth keeping. Jade bushes and some cacti in particular were being stored and repurposed. They were interesting and of course why throw away something that could be reused. As for all that ivy – it was sent to the recycle bin. Gone from the garden it left me with a huge problem. Dirt that wouldn’t stay in place. I literally was losing ground. Also, this job was much more than one woman could undertake, so I enlisted the help of the owners and a few day workers. Buckets and buckets of dirt removal later … we had a fresh start.
Challenge 3: Cost
Without realizing the extent of the project I quickly had an epiphany that to do this right it would cost more than expected (and quoted). Luckily, my client were willing to add more to the budget so that major amounts of rock and stone could be purchased. Also, a lot more plantings were needed that would hold the ground in place by deep roots setting in (eventually).
Challenge 4: Bring a ladder!
Who knew that to plant on a hillside so steep and with ground that was constantly in motion, one would need a ladder. Thank goodness I had consulted with an expert, YouTube, prior to starting. First, I needed to control the dirt from sliding and weeds from growing. I wanted to make this garden as maintenance free as possible. So, I added brown weed block – that looked like a giant tarp. Stones of varying sizes and colors hold it in place along with metal stakes. The rocks needed rebar to keep them from sliding and some clever positioning.
As for the ladder? Well, by placing a ladder across the hill one is able to plant safely from a ladder step rather than hanging on for dear life on the hillside. Again, thank you YouTube for enlightening me.
Challenge 5: So much planting, so little time!
It is hard to plant on a slope. Much care needs to go in to placing the lavender and butterfly bushes at the right angle. Thankfully, rocks were able to hold most in place. The client loves gardening, or at least purchasing plants of all varieties. I forgot to mention to her that 5 gallon containers of plants is a lot tougher to secure in dirt that is not very secure than say… three gallon plants. I am now an expert with digging holes in sloped gardens for five gallon plants.
Thankfully, we managed against many odds and the result was a challenge at all but a potpourri of beauty.
Lavender and native plants are liberally sprinkled throughout this 30 foot long garden.
One of the favorite plants was the Globus Amaranth. This little beauty sneaks up on you as it grows wildly but elegantly – all at the same time!
And, how can you not like a plant named HOT LIPS! We did as reflected by the multiple times we planted this cutie of pink and white hues throughout the garden. Since it is so delicate I was sure to put heartier succulents and other plants, such as rosemary, around it. Also, having pink and orange as a favorite color throughout with many shades of purple from the lavender, rosemary and butterfly bushes – gave the garden much balance. Use of dark and light colored succulents also helped give the garden visual interest. (And, is neighbor approved!)
One more … Challenge 6: The rain!
We have had a severe drought in California, hence the need for drought resistant plants! But, as soon as I started to put shovel to dirt the rain began to fall! We haven’t gone more than 48 hours with significant rain and now the land needs to “settle” before I venture back in to the garden. So, the project is a bit on hold until we dry out.
Until then I will seek more rock and yes, the client has bought more plants. Apparently yellow is needed in the garden now! Oh boy! But, I have faith in the good Lord that all will be amazing when this project is completed.
Stay tuned for part 2 and more photos.