From lawn to succulents—grand reveal
While the front lawn conversion still isn’t 100% complete, I’ve decided to pull back the proverbial curtain and show you where we are at as of February 27, 2016.
The progress of this project has been fast and furious, mostly thanks to our landscaping contractor, Díaz Landscape Construction. A big shoutout to José Díaz and his crew. They once again did a fantastic job (this is our fourth project with José).
This is what the front yard lawn looked like on February 9. Ugly and uninspiring.
Front lawn, February 9, 2016
In a matter of hours, José’s crew had removed the sod using a sod cutter.
Lawn dug out, Front lawn, February 9, 2016
Metal edging was installed to outline the shape of the two succulent mounds.
Metal edging installed, February 10, 2016
The next day the mounds were built and the paths installed. The lawn sprinklers were either capped off or converted to drip (see the white pipes in the next photo).
From turf to what you see below took just two days. That’s the advantage of having a crew of able-bodied workers who know what they’re doing!
Mounds and paths created, February 10, 2016
Fast-forward two weeks. Everything has been planted, including the Corten vegetable planter, and I’ve mulched the mounds with 3/8 inch rock. It’s supposed to be California Gold, but it looks more peach/pink that we had expected. We’re not entirely happy with the mulch, and that’s the reason I don’t want to call this project 100% complete. Ideally, I want a darker rock (brown or gray), but I haven’t been able to find anything I like yet. I’ll keep looking, but for now it is what it is.
Mounds planted and mulched, February 27, 2016
I didn’t buy any new plants for these new beds. That goes to show how many plants I had hoarded! I’m so happy I was able to plant out many container dwellers. I could almost hear their sigh of relief when their roots made contact with the wonderfully loose soil in the mounds.
Take a closer look and let me know what you think!
The focal plants of the smaller mound include Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’…
…and Yucca queretaroensis and Agave ‘Blue Glow’
View of both mounds from the fence
Corten veggie planter…
…planted with green onions, rainbow chard, cilantro, beets, Romanesco
The Corten steel has already started to rust
Both mounds, looking towards the house
Veggie planter and golden barrel cactus
This golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) was the last major addition
We moved it yesterday using the same technique described here
Large mound seen from the porch end
Agave parryi ‘Excelsior’, a variegated cultivar of Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis. It already has a baby (left).
Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) in front of the golden barrel. All the leaves you see are new since I planted it. This spot gets full sun most of the day, and my wee ocotillo is very happy here.
Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica), like the ocotillo among the plants I brought back from Arizona this past December
View from the walkway to the front door
…and zoomed in a little
Looking toward the area against the garage; the front door is on the right
The area against the garage, to the left of the front door, also received a mini makeover. The Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ that died last year left a big gap that had to be filled. I had all kinds of grand plans but ultimately decided to keep it small and easy. Here’s the finished result:
Newly planted (counterclickwise starting immediately to the right of the ponytail palm): Agave cupreata, Agave guadalajarana, Aloe brevifolia ‘Variegata’, NOID ×Pachyveria (intergeneric hybrid between a Pachyphytum and an Echeveria). The aloe next to the Agave cupreata is Aloe ‘Fire Ranch’; it has been in this spot for almost 10 years and is finally putting on some size.
This spider aloe (Aloe × spinosissima) has been in this spot for years (forgot to record when I planted it) but it’s just now blooming for the first time ever. I’m so thrilled. I love this hybrid between Aloe arborescens (a larger shrubby species) and Aloe humilis (a dwarf species).
And finally a quick look at the back yard lawn. It was a huge eye sore, and our water conservation measures didn’t help it any.
Back yard lawn, February 8, 2016. Hard to believe, but in the summer it looked even worse.
Back yard lawn, February 8, 2016, looking toward the house
The goal was to replace the “lawn,” if you could call it that, with a carpet of Dymondia margaretae, a water-wise South African ground cover. It forms a dense mat that tolerates foot traffic.
To give the dymondia additional support, I asked our landscaper to install the pavers you see below. They’re typically used for “green” driveways. We then planted dymondia inside and outside the pavers. I originally bought 10 flats (about 500 plants) but that proved to be half of what we needed. In the end, we planted 20 flats, so about 1,000 individual plugs. My wife, bless her heart, did the bulk of the work.
Right now we’re giving the dymondia a light watering every couple of days to help it get settled as quickly as possible. The plugs, while still small, have grown visibly in just two weeks and some have started to flower. Very encouraging signs.
We left the original lawn sprinklers in place for easy watering. Once every 10 days should be enough after the dymondia has become established. I’m hoping that within a year the dymondia will have formed a continuous mat that covers both the bare soil and the pavers so all you’ll be able to see is a silver carpet (which, coincidentally, is the common name of Dymondia margaretae.
February may be the shortest month of the year, but I can’t remember the last time so much has happened in such a short period of time. I’m glad it’s over, but at the same time I miss the thrill of creating something new from scratch.
We originally wanted two 3-foot Corten planters (each about 20-24” inch high and wide) but when we realized what the costs for custom manufacturing would be (well over $1000), we decided to drop the idea. After all, we have three large raised vegetable beds in the backyard. They get a decent amount of sunlight in the summer although virtually none in the winter (hence the desire to have a veggie bed in the front yard as well).
Our contractor suggested looking online, and I found a company called Nice Planter. Their fabrication is in Indianopolis, IN, with a warehouse in Southern California. Nice Planter sells premade Corten planters for much less. The downside is that you’re limited to the shapes and sizes they carry. Here are their current offerings if you’re interested: http://niceplanter.com/store/.
We ended up picking one 20″ H x 46″ W x 20″ D Corten trough, which is what you see in the photos above. It came as a kit, but assembly (using included nuts and bolts) was fast and easy. The cost was $329.99, with free shipping. The planter arrived two days (!) after ordering. Impressive service—and product.
Soil for mounds
The soil for the mounds already came amended with pumice and pieces of lava rock. However, I ended up working in additional rock material (the 3/8” California Gold intended as the top dressing) to give the soil more structure and prevent excessive compaction in the years to come. In hindsight, I should have insisted on a 50:50 split, i.e. 50% topsoil and 50% lava rock fines, but it’s too late to start over now.
Plant list for mounds
- Agave ‘Blue Glow’
- Agave guadalajarana
- Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’
- Agave xylonacantha 2x
- Albuca namaquensis
- Aloe hereroensis
- Aloe marlothii × globuligemma
- Baileya multiradiata
- Cotyledon ‘White Sprite’
- Delosperma nubigenum 2x
- Ferocactus herrerae
- Gaillardia × grandiflora ‘Goblin’ 2 x
- Lachenalia aloides 2x
- Papaper atlanticum
- Yucca queretaroensis
- Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’
- Agave gracilipes
- Agave ocahui
- Agave parryi ‘JC Raulston’
- Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana ‘Sunspot’
- Agave parryi var. huachucensis ‘Excelsior’
- Agave potatorum ‘Cameron Blue’
- Agave shrevei var. matapensis × guadalajarana
- Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’
- Aloe deltoideodonta
- Camissoniopsis cheiranthifolia
- Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ 4x
- Dyckia sp.
- Echinocactus grusonii
- Echinopsis ‘Forty Niner’
- Echinopsis ‘Paramount hybrid’ (peach/orange flowers)
- Echinopsis hybrid
- Encephalartos horridus
- Euphorbia antisyphilitica
- Ferocactus emoryi
- Ferocactus glaucescens
- Fouquieria splendens
- Gaillardia × grandiflora ‘Goblin’ 4 x
- Gasteria acinacifolia × Aloe buhrii
- Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor 3x
- Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae
- Lachenalia orchioides var. glaucina
- Ledebouria sp.
- Mariosousa willardiana
- Oreocereus trollii
- Oxalis flava
- Pachycereus marginata
- Senecio serpens
- Zinnia grandiflora