Front yard cleanup—and looking ahead

Let’s be honest: Does anybody actually enjoy yard cleanup? I don’t hate it, the way I hate going to the dentist, but I don’t find much thrill in it either. But it has to be done now and then to keep things reasonably orderly.

Writing about yard cleanup is similar. It’s not the most enjoyable topic in the world, but when one keeps a visual diary of one’s gardening activities—like I do—it’s a necessary thing to keep track of progress in the yard.

Since the weather has been nothing short of stunning lately and I have decided for myself that winter is over—possibly never to return, much like our rain—I decided to get cracking on cleaning up the front yard this past Sunday. My wife and two daughters helped, and we got quite a bit done in a short amount of time.

My main focus was on cutting back the grasses and perennials inside and outside the front yard fence. Here are a few “before” photos:


Miscanthus sinensis Gracillimus Nana’ next to Bambusa oldhamii


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus Nana’ next to Bambusa oldhamii


Pennisetum orientale Karley Rose’


Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’

And here is what the front yard bed looks like now:






Thank god (or the City of Davis) for curbside yard waste pickup!

Cutting back the grasses near my two almost-adult towers of jewels (Echium wildpretii) exposed the frost damage from the artic blast that swept through the West Coast in early December. There are a lot more dead leaves than I had thought. Still, the plants are very much alive, and I expect both of them to flower this spring.



When we created the front yard in 2006, virtually everything we planted fell in two categories: (1) drought-tolerant Mediterranean and prairie perennials such as lavenders, salvias, rudbeckias, echinaceas, and (2) ornamental grasses. Many of the perennials have died since then (they were fairly short-lived species to begin with) and the larger ornamental grasses (especially the Miscanthus sinensis) have been removed. In other words, a lot of the original plant material has been replaced, but what is there now is still true to original design spirit.

Last fall I started to overhaul one section that had been dominated by an emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’). As you can see in the next couple of photos, it doesn’t look like much now, but the foundation has been laid.



The shrubs and perennials I’ve planted will grow fairly quickly, and this spring I will add a half dozen agaves planted on mounds and surrounded by rocks for additional interest. This part of the front yard bakes in the sun for most of the day, so I’ll use medium-sized agave species that thrive in full sun, such as Agave colorata, Agave zebra and Agave deserti. With any luck, things will look quite different in a year’s time.

140126_frontyard_013 140126_frontyard_014

LEFT: One of the two ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’) in the front yard. The other is in the newly renovated driveway succulent bedRIGHT: The sea squill bulb I found at Home Depot in September has produced a nice set of leaves.


Most people think of globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) as a vegetable. To me it’s an ornamental with supreme architectural qualities. The area to the right of this artichoke will be home to one or two more agaves planted on a mound.


  1. I really enjoy clean up, it's the first hint that life (mine at least) will return to the garden. This year I've been at it early due to our dry and temperate weather. However the results (as you know) have been heartbreaking (so much death) and add to that the fact things are looking to turn cold (lower 20's) a week out and I only wish I could declare winter over! I look forward to reading this post agin tomorrow on my regular computer. The iPad isn't cooperating as far as reading your labels!

    1. To me the garden looks so bare after cleaning and trimming. In a perverse way, I prefer masses of dead foliage to bare dirt!

  2. Good job there Gerhard! Garden tidying and cleaning up is something we both enjoy doing and find it therapeutic. The instant impact you can get from doing so is very pleasant to see. Globe artichoke, yes such an architectural plant! It ought to be more popular as an ornamental plant rather than a vegetable.

    1. I enjoy planning and planting much more, but I know what you mean. Lots of people find doing dishes or folding laundry therapeutic :-).

  3. Cleanup is not anticipated fondly, but is so rewarding (and means that spring is near -- oh I wish I were able to start cleanup already!) The size of your Gaura always amazes me.

    Noticed the planting bed across the street -- were they influenced by your garden do you think? It looks quite new.

    1. Gauras thrive here. All I do is cut mine back at this time of year, and they come roaring back.

      Funny about the yard across the street. The former owners took out the front lawn, installed that beautiful bamboo fence, and planted drought-tolerant grasses and shrubs--and then ended up moving. But our current neighbor loves what he "inherited," and he's taking good care of it.

  4. Hey you, I hope you don't regret doing this so early! We are in for some really cold temps for the next few days and the dead material would help keep your plants warm. Your garden always looks so awesome so I bet you know what you are doing. I will wait and remove dead material until probably March. We will see! It looks fantastic and lucky you with Davis yard pick up! So cool!


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