Posted in Los Angeles

Garden update: SoCal winter edition

Winter has kind of arrived in Pasadena.  Not that it’s exactly that cold: it was 25C (77F) yesterday. There have been some changes in our garden since my last garden post in September, and this long weekend seems like the perfect time for an update.

Garden beds

Thanks to Dad, we now have beds in our yard!  After much head-scratching and grovelling around in the dirt with the tape measure we decided on two octogons, 4ft on each side.  We had to plan around the sprinkler system and the lemon tree which I planted a few months before. We got pressure treated planks from from Ganahl Lumber.

Dad pick-axed out the necessary 64 ft of rock-hard dirt to bed the planks in about 5 inches (of 10 in total).  We nailed them together (I may or may not have also hammered my finger) the watered the dirt to help it set.

Here’s the ‘before’:

Back yard - lots of space

And here’s the after:

Beds are in!

Dad went back to the UK, needing another vacation.

I then did a calculation and ordered 2.5 cubic yards of soil (not topsoil, but planting mix) from the Lincoln Avenue Nursery which duly arrived on the back of a tipper truck and was dumped in our driveway.  I had to then move this 2.5 tonnes (?) of soil the 10-20 ft to the beds. One. Shovel. At. A. Time. (And yes, I should’ve just bought a wheelbarrow, but where’s the fun in that?)


Some considerable number of days later, this was the result:

The final result.

But, then we went to Australia, then I got a job as a driver helper, then it was Christmas and I couldn’t really walk because of the aforementioned job, then I started another new job, and now somehow it’s mid-January and not much planting has occurred.  Weak, I know.

New Things

Meanwhile, here are some other things going on in the garden at the moment:

(1) Flowers on the Jade plant. I never even knew these flowered!

(2) The plant I thought was a wisteria turns out to be a powderpuff and has also flowered. These were my second favorite flowers as a kid in Australia (after the Frangipani, which I think is called something else in the US).


(3) Several of these massive green things have appeared and are getting bigger by the day. Scary.


(4) We got a bird bath thanks to my grandmother. I’ve even seen birds in it!  The other day I found the top on the ground – I think a cat or something tried to get in it.


(5) We acquired a couple of lovely big pots which I’ve put filled with some easy-do flowers and herbs and a gardenia.


(6) From the same source we also acquired a very spiky plant which came complete with corks covering the spikes.  It’s awesome but I’m not entirely sure what do with it, so I’m leaving it in it’s crumbly pot at the moment…

(7) I got a compost bin from the city.  It’s full but I haven’t dared check if we actually have compost yet.

Notice how one of the other big green plants is trying to take over the Bottlebrush?

(8) Ok, this isn’t new, but the lemon tree is still hanging in there.



We’ve had a lot of rain (relatively speaking) in the past month or so and the garden has transformed because of it.  I saw a couple of worms (I know, this shouldn’t be news but I was very excited) and we got a lot of weeds and seeds poking up.  Also, thanks to the Chinese Elms and the Oak, the garden is coated in leaves.


So the plan is to get the garden beds planted as soon as possible: pretty soon I’m going to plant some vegetable seeds in one of the beds and in the other I’m going to try to recreate some ideas my father-in-law’s Australian garden. Wish me luck!


Question: any tips for planting in a garden that doesn’t really get a winter?




Posted in Life, Los Angeles

Getting dirty in the garden

Part of what I’m doing to add value to the house while I fruitlessly apply for jobs is work on the garden.  Happily I love gardening, and our new house is the perfect place to create something from scratch. Over Labor Day I made an inventory of what is currently living in the garden, and made a plan.

Front yard

The front yard is pretty much fine.  We have grass, which I don’t like because of the massive drought, but it gives the house “curb-appeal”.  We have a huge pine tree in the front yard too (circumference: 2.9 m / 9.5 ft; number of dropped needles: infinite), some small red canna along one side, an ancient looking but massive jade plant, and a tree in a pot that I don’t know what it is (I’ve asked the folks at Bonnie Plants).

Jade - ancient
Jade – ancient
Mystery tree
Mystery tree

I’ve planted two star jasmine and two iceberg roses out the front, both of which get water from the lawn sprinklers.  Neither look overly happy about their lot in life, but I don’t know if it’s the baking heat, or too much water, or rubbish soil.  I guess I’ll have to learn about fertilizer soon.

Rose and Jasmine - struggling
Rose and Jasmine – struggling

The neighbor has a loquat tree which is putting up shoots (from the fallen fruit) all over the place.  I have to keep pulling them up.

Loquat and pine shoots
Loquat and pine shoots

The lawn needs mowing very rarely because it doesn’t get enough water due to the water restrictions.  The turf was laid just before the house was put up for sale. Personally I would have put in buffalo grass instead of this regular grass.

Lawn - brown in places
Lawn – brown in places

Side of the house

The fence-line of the northern side of the property gets sun for much of the day.  The sprinkler system doesn’t run along the fence (who designed this yard? seriously) so it’s been a struggle to keep anything alive.  There are three bushes that are the same variety – but I don’t know what they are.  I give them a deep low-flow water once a week and they seem to cope.  I’ve planted some rosemary and some succulents along this side, some of which are sort of coping.  The dirt is like concrete so I covered it with chipbark.

Mystery bushes
Mystery bushes
Succulent something
Succulent something
Rosemary - struggling
Rosemary – struggling

There is another quite large tree near the side of the house but I don’t know what it is either.  It looks like it’s been eaten by termites at some stage.  It’s currently not showing sign of fruit or flowers.

Eaten by something
Eaten by something

The rest of the non-concreted land here is just dirt.  Some of the dirt gets sprinklers, some doesn’t. I’m not sure whether I should plant anything here because I don’t want it to get too wet under the house.  We’ll see.

Back yard

The back yard is where all the potential is. Thanks to the two chinese elm trees near the house, and the gigantic American oak in the neighbor’s yard, this area is in almost constant shade. It’s still hot under there though, and a patch of sun does make it’s way across the garden and bake various parts.

Chinese elm - source of dropped leaves
Chinese elm – source of dropped leaves
Massive American Oak
Massive American Oak

Along the back fence there are a whole bunch of mystery green tree things that were obviously planted to sell the house. I don’t know what they are.

Mystery trees
Mystery trees

The garden beds around the edge are within reach of the sprinklers so there is more chance of things surviving here. There’s a wisteria that I need to cut back and start training along the garage, and there’s some kind of gunnera that tries to have leaves but keeps dying.  I’ve tried planting a jalapeño bush, a bottlebrush, strawberries, alyssum, thyme, basil, a lavender, and celosia. Some are even still alive. I also relocated a couple of the rosemaries from the side of the house to here.  They’re getting a bit leggy now (too much shade I think).  I also planted some of what we got at our housewarming: the kangaroo paw, along with a cutting of a trumpet vine and a smelly variegated ground cover that I can’t remember what it’s called.  The soil is really REALLY poor quality so I need to get some mulch and fertilizer on there asap.

The rest of the yard is just dirt, and leaves from the pesky elms.

Back yard - lots of space
Back yard – lots of space


We have a plan for the back yard – firstly once Fall comes I’m (a gardener is) going to chop back the elm trees so we get a bit more sun. Then we’re (a contractor is) going to put in a deck, then we’re going to create a path around the border of the current beds (maybe like this?), then in the middle we’re going to have a bit of a random garden.

At the eastern end I’m in the process of putting in the lemon tree we got at the housewarming, and at the western end my husband has an eye on a fern.

Lemon tree
Lemon tree
A fern like this one seen at the Norton Simon Museum
A fern like this one seen at the Norton Simon Museum

I’ve discovered that digging in the yard is like being an archeologist – you’ll never know what you find.

More mystery items dug up.
Mystery items dug up – these found about 6 inches under the surface
Dug up all this glass in about 12 inches of soil
Dug up all this glass in about 12 inches of soil

I am inspired by a little garden on a corner in our neighborhood. I have no idea who looks after it, but it’s just fantastic. I’d like our garden to look like this.

Inspiration mini-garden
Inspiration mini-garden

Lastly, in general I’m going to try to select mostly drought resistant plants.  We were given a voucher for Armstrong Garden Centers at our housewarming so that’s going to be the starting point. Check back in 6 months to see how it turned out!


Question: Do you know what any of the mystery plants are?