Starting on backyard makeover

In the last few years we’ve focused on the front yard, largely ignoring the backyard. This is about to change. The first project is underway: removal of the bamboos outside the dining room. I didn’t take a current “before” photo because I thought I had one in my photo library. Unfortunately, the “newest” one is from April 2014:


Since then, the chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa) had outgrown its space and needed frequent whacking back just to be able to walk to the sliding door. The Borinda angustissima to the right of it (which you never really saw) had flopped over so much that the compost tumbler was inaccessible. As much as I liked these bamboos—and they did remarkably well with what little water they got—the situation couldn’t go on. With very mixed feelings I took them out last weekend. Look how much space has been freed up:


The tree in the corner, another nasty ornamental pear, will be taken out as well. I will replace it with an Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’. It’ll be such an improvement! In the bed where the bamboos had been I’ll plant two Australian shrubs: Banksia grandis ‘Compact Coastal Form’ and Grevillea ‘Flora Mason’. There’ll be plenty of room towards the front of the bed for shade-loving perennials. But that’ll be phase 2, to be tackled next year.

While we’re in the backyard, let’s take a look at plants I haven’t shown you in a long time, if ever. To the right of the sliding door you see in the photo above is a small planting bed. It’s home to agaves and aloes, all of them doing well considering they don’t get a lot of direct sun. One aloe, a cross between Aloe cameronii and Aloe maculata, has been particularly vigorous. It produces pups much faster than I can give them away (if anybody wants one, just let me know). I like the long strappy leaves and the apple-green color but now there’s something else I’m going to love even more.


Flowers! It’s flowering for the first time ever. I’ll post more photos when the flowers have opened up.


The Dymondia margaretae “lawn” in the backyard has been much slower to establish than I had thought. This is the densest it’s gotten. In other spots, the plugs have died altogether and will have to be replaced. One good sign: There has been visible growth since the recent rains. In hindsight, we should have done this project in the fall, not in a spring that was unusually dry.


The bamboo in the stock tank below (Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’) was one of the casualties of our water conservation regime. It simply couldn’t survive on once-a-week drip irrigation. It was pretty even in death but I finally had enough.


After much thought—or hair-ripping—I decided to consolidate my three ×Fatshedera in one spot. Voilà, from left to right, ×Fatshedera lizei ‘Annemieke’, ×Fatshedera lizei ‘Angyo Star’ and ×Fatshedera lizei ‘Gold Heart’. They have a metal trellis to hang on to and will hopefully produce a wall of green to hide the fence.


More empty pots from plants that got felled by the drought. I have no idea what to plant here yet. Dry shade is difficult to deal with.


It always amazes me how just a day or two after a good rainfall we have mushrooms popping up. That must mean a good mycelium network in the soil.


This is the far corner of the backyard. The patio is on the right. Over the years I’ve planted quite a few succulents here. They’re doing great with little direct sun. Proof to me that aloes (and even some agaves) can handle shady situations much better than some experts claim.



Yes, there are some bare spots that need filling. All in due course.


Agave ‘Baccarat’, initially marketed as a cultivar of Agave montana but now thought to be a natural intergrade between Agave gentryi and Agave montana. I bought this as a very small plant in a 3-inch pot many years ago and it’s finally beginning to look nice.


LEFT: Agave ‘Baccarat’  MIDDLE: Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’  RIGHT: Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’


Agave chiapensis in the foreground, Cordyline australis behind it


Left to right: Agave ‘Nova’ (originally sold as a cultivar of Agave mitis aka celsis, but now thought to be a hybrid of unknown origin), Echeveria cante, Agave hiemiflora


Against the fence


Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ (in a pot to the right: Agave geminiflora)


My mini collection of agaves in the Striatae group (clockwise beginning in the 7 o’clock and ending in the 6 o’clock position): Agave striata ‘Nana’, Agave kavandivi, Agave tenuifolia, Agave petrophila, undescribed agave from Santiago Lachiguiri, Agave rzedowskiana (my favorite with its glaucous leaves). Many of these came from agave guru Greg Starr.

And finally the Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ that will replace the ornamental pear you saw at the very beginning of this post:


This tree, now about 5 ft. tall, was a gift from a friend. She received it from somebody who grew it from seed collected in Fort Bragg on the Mendocino coast. Quite an odyssey for this very elegant Australian native! Look for it planted it its new home soon!


  1. I removed my bamboo 2 years ago and am so happy with that decision. The bamboo got huge and was constant upkeep. I replaced it with a row of fruit trees. I love following your projects.

    1. Since my garden is small, I often have problems with plants that get too big. But nobody says you have to have the same plants forever :-).

  2. I LOVE your striatae collection ! Sad to hoik that beautiful bamboo, but getting rid of an ornamental pear makes up for it. Those are just dreadful trees.

    1. Thanks, Kathy! The ornamental pear we're taking down is particularly hideous. That still leaves us with a 'Bradford' that belongs to the city. Grrrrr.

  3. For an area you indicate has received relatively little attention, there's a lot going on in your back garden! Even as 5 feet, the Acacia is beautiful and will be a great addition. For what it's worth, I've had problems getting Dymondia established too. I'm trying it again on a small scale - it seems to need water at least a few times a week for a longer period than I'd expected and it may want more sun than it gets where I planted it.

    1. We have a friend here in Davis with the lushed dymondia "lawn." Turns out it gets a fair amount of water. So you're right, it needs more water than you think, at least until it's well established.

  4. How hard was it to remove the bamboo from the stock tank? I shudder to think of the job ahead for us if we ever have to remove ours. I think your Fatshedera will look fabulous there, I just love the way mine has grown to fill the hole between our house and the neighbors garage.

    I'm so glad you found a Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ -- I feel guilty every time I look at my plant knowing it would be so much happier with you.

    1. The bamboo in the stock tank was quite easy. I cut off the top growth first and then chopped up the rhizomes etc. in the soil using a sawzall and a 9-inch pruning blade.

      Greato know the Fashedera has potential. Keeping my fingers crossed.

      Is your A. baileyana in a pot or in the ground?

  5. I'm curious how difficult it was to remove those bamboos not just from the stock tank but from the ground too. Do they just pry up like a big clump of ornamental grass? It's strange seeing your garden all wet. :)

    1. The bamboos in the stock tank were easy. I used a reciprocating saw to cut up the rhizomes and everything pulled right out.

      The Borinda angustissima was easy to, using a long and heavy crowbar.

      I'm still working on the Boringa fungosa .The crowbar alone didn't do the trick. I'll need to start cutting up the roots with the sawzall, working my way from the outside towards the center. I was going to do it yesterday but ended up going to the Ruth Bancroft Garden instead :-).

  6. I was pruning lower branches of my baileyana acacia yesterday, and I ordered some Tanglefoot. I hadn't noticed that ants were starting to farm cottony cushiony scale on my tree, the little bastards. A lot of the scale was pruned off but the ants are still roaring up the tree. It's always something, isn't it? Love that 'Nova.' And dymondia struggles here too in summer, comes back in winter. I wonder if you can keep some dymondia pavers as stepping stones through...more plants? (ha!)

    1. I removed a dead Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens 'Compactum') yesterday and there was untold thousands of ants boiling out of the ground. What's going on there???

      I'll give the dymondia until next spring. Then I will reevaluate.

  7. For what it's worth, Dymondia in cooler Sunset Zone 16/17 conditions can be quite drought tolerant once established, but most definitely the cooler summer temps and more fog/overcast mean it isn't under as much moisture stress here.

    1. I think the key is getting it established in the first place. With its taproot, it's quite drought-tolerant here as well (I have some growing almost irrigated in a bed with deep soil).

  8. We got .25 inches of rain about three Mondays ago--it took 12 hours for the .25" to accumulate, but the Dymondia loved it, the foliage swelling up and plumping out like Aloe leaves. It's still all swelled up and gorgeous.

    Nice to see all those Agaves! The shaggy look of the Bamboo is beautiful, but serious drawbacks, too. An Acacia pendula would be lovely, if baileyana doesn't work out.

    1. Acacia pendula! Yesssss. Can I fit two acacias into that corner????

  9. I live in Riverside and my Dymondia does better in a shadier location. The Dymondia I planted in full sun looks dead from early summer until fall and then it starts looking good again once it cools off a little.

    1. Thanks for sharing that. I think summers in Riverside are quite similar to ours.


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