Since I’ve owned Wildlands (2004), I’ve been working to improve the yard’s soil composition. The first year, I was frustrated when I hit hardpan clay at 2 inches in most places and 4 inches in a few places. The first several years, I didn’t see a single earthworm while working the front yard and broke more than a few shovels attempting to upturn the clay. It’s been a long process of adding natural amendments and organic material to break down the clay and make the yard survivable for more than crabgrass.  The yard was doing well until last summer. Between the drought and crab grass roots (which have vigorous runners down to a depth of 12 inches), I’d lost all but my most ardently hardy plants in that section of the yard. The Mexican marigold and lower-Sierra Nevada manzanita survived but the yard was sad. I’ve been day dreaming for awhile what I want there and how I would reclaim that section of the yard.

I am tenacious, resourceful, and above all else, determined. Because I’m an archaeologist by education and a biologist by training, I think these skills make me a landscaper. I’m sure we had this conversation before, back when I dug out 9 yards of soil in my backyard – by hand – through hardpan. Yes. At times I think I need to be restrained and prevented from the mayhem I bring upon myself – digging, moving yards of soil and rock – by hand.

I used my recent four day weekend to redo a small portion of the front yard (20’x20′). I took a bunch of pictures beginning on Thursday morning. For fun, I’ve included a few pics of the pack (well most of them). The ‘new’ kitty, Tecumseh isn’t allowed outside and he was not too happy to be inside while the rest of us were playing in the yard. Sullivan Walsh (the gray monster) had the most fun, heading outside with me by 7 am and not coming in until well after 8 pm. Siddhartha turns 15 this month and his age is catching up to him. He’s completely deaf. The moments I caught of him sunning himself and dozing in the garden, near me, as I worked, will forever warm my heart. I was super excited to find hundreds of earthworms in the lower section of the yard. Sky who likes to eat them and Sully who likes to play with them were equally excited.

On Thursday morning (pics above), I tore out the drip irrigation and began turning the soil down to a depth of 12 inches. I also spent a LONG three hours digging out elm tree root/stump clusters just inside the fence by the front sidewalk. Yeah, that was a real barrel of monkeys.

Friday, I screened and broke up dirt clods to remove weeds/roots and the crab grass dense root masses. To say I was a filthy, exhausted mess by 5 pm is an understatement.

Saturday, after completing ‘the hard part’ (hahaha), I went to the nursery and Home Depot to get plants and supplies. HD has begun selling more native and drought tolerant plants. Some of them aren’t appropriate for a native garden, but they do have a good selection of sages/salvias, and Ceanothuses for a good price. I also bought commercial-grade weed mat. No more hippie/environmentally friendly layers of newspaper and cardboard. This stuff is strong and while made from recycled material, it’s NOT going to let weeds through for at least a few years. After that, we’ll see. I turned my attention to the river cobble pile that’s been on the front walk for awhile (ahem) and began cobbling together a walk way and raised center bed.

Saturday, late morning. First layer of weed mat in, cobble getting moved.

I was so tired on Saturday, I finished working at 3.30 and fell asleep until 7 pm. I got up, ate something, and crawled back into bed.

Sunday, I headed back to HD with a friend and loaded up the Jeep with more small river pebbles for the walkway and a few bags of mulch. For ONCE, I’d underestimated how much mulch I’d need. However, being me, I had a few bags of cedar chips in the backyard. Ha. I love my gardening stash. I spent waaay too much time/energy sorting cobbles and laying down rock alongside my neighbor’s driveway. I then chose to move the rest of the cobbles to along side the house, so you know, I could have a nice big front walk way again. Gee, I forgot how much I love that wide walk way framed out by the arbor/gates I’d designed and built two years ago. The jasmine is growing up the arbor – perfect. It’s a tiny little cottage in downtown Sacramento and to me (and for me), even with all the repairs and the work, it’s a magical place, my home slowing becoming real… like the Velveteen rabbit.


Though I wanted nothing more than a shower and bed at 5 pm, I kept going, got all the plants in, mulched, and watered everyone.



Sunday evening at 7 pm

I selected plants and located them based on their water needs, using the sun map I’d made years ago. Down along front and on the mound, no water once established with exception of VERY occasional hose sprays. The more ‘water wise’ plants (that need weekly watering once established) were installed along the sides. I can hand water or re-install the drip irrigation. I was waaay too tired on Sunday to tinker with even a most basic drip irrigation set up. Maybe in a few weekends. The plants looked a wee bit sad after sitting out in their containers for 24 hours. I took pics tonight (Monday) and couldn’t stop smiling, so enamored by my native and drought tolerant plants. How is it I lived nearly 30 years before seeing the majestic manzanita or was delighted by the stunning blue shades of Ceanothus/California lilac?

So below are the plants. I’m enamored by them. Mostly sages/salvias and my beloved Ceanothuses.