Since I purchased Wildlands, I’ve struggled to landscape the front yard. Everything you see in the photos below did not exist in the front yard when I purchased it—with two exceptions—-the jasmine on the porch/roof and the rosemary bush. The yard sloped sharply towards my neighbor’s yard and there was no fence dividing our yards. There was a dying quince tree between the house and the rosemary bush.

It was wild, unruly, and was overrun with invasive grasses that turned a terrible yellow in the summer. I removed the ineffectively placed irrigation system and began killing the grass. I tried to live with some of the plants that came with the house….and then, I removed them.

I worked on the woodlands side first as it had the most run off issues (towards the house. EEK!) Posts about that work can be found here.

Two years ago, I began a concerned effort to plant native and drought tolerant plants and yet, I had only marginal success. I read more. I paid closer attention to the realities of my yard. I made sun maps. I pondered…what to do with the upland side which is hard pan clay and gets intense sunlight for the majority of the day?

I changed my game plan, addressed the water run-off issues, and began tiering the yard. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pre-pictures, but I’ve pieced together a photo log of the front yard’s evolution.

Front yard 5.31.2007 Looks pretty good, right? No. The picture masks the realities behind the irises...
Upland side from steps 6.2.2007

2007: I made several attempts to get the ground covered with mulch and any plants that would grow while installing newspaper, coffee grounds, and imported garden soil to improve the quality of soil. It took two years, but the soil (at least to six inches) isn’t all hard pan clay now (2010). Having said that, the pick axe and I are still close friends.

Attempting to get things to grow in the uplands. April 2008.

2008: Mostly applied mulch, laid out new plants in the front by the fence, put down newspaper, and made every attempt to kill off the crab grass infestation.

Uplands side of yard with new privacy fence 7.9.09
Facing front yard from side yard. Sky playing in the dirt pile. 7.6.09

2009: Time to get a bit more serious. Replaced the blue privacy fence with a green arbor fence combo, installed two new french drains, broke one french drain, and waited until spring 2010 to fix the broken drain. Why so long? I needed a long winter to soften the yard—the dirt I’d piled up from the arbor installation (upper yard) and the french drain trench (upper yard and future second and third tier area).

2010: Time to really get serious.  In March, I fixed the french drain, regraded the first tier, built and planted the second tier. I would like to say at this point, thank you to my friends who came over several days, kept me company, and provided motivational gardening support.

French drain repair, facing back of house. March 2010
French drain repair, facing the street. March 2010.
Upper yard regraded, 2nd tier in the ground. March 2010
From porch, March 2010
Tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, & marigolds planted 3.31.10
Tiers in, bamboo trellis, & herb box 5.31.10
Second tier with bamboo trellis; artichokes growing tall. 5.31.10

and finally, a view from the front gate:


Plan summary:
Upper yard— most drought tolerant with lavender, two varieties of sages, and salvia. Middle tier—seasonal veggies. Third tier, veggies mixed in to the bed along with plants that can tolerate some of the over spray they will receive from watering the bed above it. Lower yard— an herb box surrounded by drought tolerant and native flowers, grasses, smaller shrubs including four types of salvia, mexican marigolds, nasterium, lamb’s ear, and manzanita.

A few items are left— I want to install a path around the herb garden, plant ground cover between those pavers, and plant the upper bed and add a few more veggies to the third tier.

Quite the transformation the last few months in the upland side of Wildlands’ front yard… looking at the pictures, I wish you could see it live— the photos somehow don’t show the beauty achieved after the years of marginal success.

Each homeowner has to accept some aspects of their gardens (sun exposure), change others (topography, slope run off, existing vegetation), and choose the form and function of their yard. For me, it’s low-water, 3 season veggie garden, and low maintenance (once established). We are limited by these realities, but only to a certain degree. My front yard is coming together after years of grading and re-grading, soil improvements (organic matter), plant experimentation, and a lot of hard work. Sadly, my neighbors detest my yard— everything from the antique theatre seats on the front porch, to the vegetable garden to the wine bottle water nannies in the window box. Conversely, I look in disappointment at their lush lush green lawn at the height of summer and their heavy use of pesticides and herbicides.

To each their own, I suppose.