Coming soon: sneak peek at what's cooking

Lately it seems I've been working on a number of different projects at the same time without getting much of anything done. In reality, though, it simply takes longer to reach the finish line when you're multitasking. To make myself feel better, here's a quick peek at what I've been up to.

Ongoing work in the backyard:

The backyard has been a construction site for years now. It does present a lot more challenges than the front yard, mostly because there is so much shade. But not just any shade—dry shade. I've read scores of books and articles on dry shade but I haven't hit upon the magic solution yet.

Through trial and error, though, I've found out that many succulents do quite well in fairly shady conditions. Even more surprisingly, that also goes for shrubby plants like manzanitas, especially the groundcover types native to the coast. They like to be protected from the hot afternoon sun and enjoy a drink now and then.

Here are some areas in the backyard that are getting closer to completion:

Opposite corner of the backyard: 

In the photo below, the fence on the left separates the backyard from the sidewalk plantings and the street. If you peeked over the fence, you'd see the 'Hercules' tree aloe. On Sunday, I trimmed the Grevillea 'Flora Mason' (behind the banana) and the Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' next to it. This opened up the corner, letting in much more light.

The galvanized steel planter below was home to a zig-zag wattle (Acacia merinthophora) until recently, but it didn't really like it there and pulled a daphne on me (i.e. it died, seemingly from one day to the next). Right now, I'm trialing an Agave wercklei, a somewhat tender agave from Costa Rica that likes a bit of shade as well as regular water. The plant in the lower right corner of the planter is an Astelia nivicola 'Red Devil' from New Zealand; it's done well through our hot summer.

Cobweb removal, or not:

I've never lived in a place that has as many ants, bugs and spiders. Since the spiders eat the bugs, I put up with a lot of arachnid-related shenanigans, including cobwebs in every nook and cranny. Every now and then I get fed up enough to remove them but invariably they're back within a day or two. And now, with Halloween around the corner, I'm definitely not going to get all gung-ho about cobweb removal.

Next to the kitchen slider:

The large black-clay bowl in the next photo has been in this spot for many years. It's in deep shade until noon, then it gets blasted by the sun for a while, then it's back to shade, then it gets blasted again later in the afternoon. Few plants like this solar equivalent of Kneipp hydrotherapy.

Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light' has been a constant. It didn't skip a beat when I broke its stem a while ago in an effort to push it into a more upright position. But the begonias and ferns haven't been all that happy. I'm about to take them out and try echeverias.

More planter projects:

I've been ruminating about several planter projects. Most are just inchoate ideas in my head, but here's one that's at least taken physical form:

White-flowering ladyfinger cactus (Echinocereus pentalophus). I hope to create a miniature rock landscape in this Corten steel bowl.

Big changes coming to the front yard:

The front yard is where the biggest changes will take place. In the bed next to the front door, the bloomed-out Agave schidigera (dead) will finally come out, as will the large Yucca 'Margaritaville' (very much alive but too big now). I may tackle this particular project as soon as this coming weekend.

But the largest project will be this:

Nobody, absolutely nobody, will miss this 'Bradford' pear

The [insert any foul word you can think of] 'Bradford' pear that has disgraced our property for as long as we've lived here will finally be removed. It's a city tree so we have no say over it, but the powers that be finally realized what a hazard and potential legal liability is, considering its branches are doing damage to our roof and bits and pieces are constantly fallen off onto the sidewalk and street. The removal is supposed to happen this week, but considering it's Wednesday evening as I'm writing this and we have heard exactly nothing from the city, I'm not holding my breath. Still, this is the most progress on the 'Bradford' pear front that we've seen in the 22 years we've been here.

While the city will remove the actual tree, I'll have to dig up the plants around it that I want to keep. The replacement for the 'Bradford' pear is already waiting in the wings: a Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius).

Not all time-consuming projects are physical:

In addition to the physical work I've been doing outside, I've also been busy at my computer. I'm slaving over a big ×Mangave post detailing how the mangaves in our garden have fared over the last couple of years. In addition, I'm working on a presentation about mangaves for the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society. If you're in Sacramento on Monday, October 28, stop by the Shepard Garden and Art Center near McKinley Park at 7:00 pm and say hi!

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  1. Looking forward to the Mangave talk!

  2. Lots on your plate but bet it feels good to see your ideas shaping up. Hope your talk goes well. Any chance it could be videoed and posted for those of us too far away to attend?

  3. Fall is the best time to tackle these projects and you're off to a great start! I know you'll be doing a happy dance when that Bradford pear is gone. Is the city going to grind the stump too?

  4. Busy busy! I love that corten steel bowl and I am so excited for you that miserable tree is coming out!

  5. I planted an Acacia baileyana 'Pururea' this Spring. Fantastic colors. Any tips?

  6. The removal of a tree one hates is one of the most liberating and mood-lifting events I can think of. I'm still in the afterglow of getting rid of the Liquidambar. I like your positive report on the Astelia-I have been reluctant to try one thinking the needed more water and cooler temps than I could supply - but now you and I think either Hoov or Kris has had success so I'm going to give it a go.

  7. You are one busy guy and I'm jealous of your energy. I'm happy for you that the pear is on its way out. We had an ornamental pear along the street and in the side garden and got rid of ours too. They're horrible. The wind would break off large branches and wherever that happened the brush growth that followed would create and even more effective wind sail in the future. And they just are not so nice looking.

    As for arachnid-related shenanigans, soon large spiders will be spinning webs spanning several feet across my walkways. Like you I like having them but why must they make such large ones. For that matter, how the heck do they do it? Oh well, I'm sure I'll be walking into them soon enough. Sometimes I can take a long thread and reattach it to something on the same side of the path as the rest of the web. But more often they prefer their own placement or else they just like screwing with me. Not sure.

    Look forward to seeing the results of all your remodeling, though I will miss the Margaritaville yucca. Pretty nice foliage. But of course space is precious when there are so many plants that you like. I would love to come to your talk on the 28th. I know the photos would be worth it, and I have a friend in Sacramento I could invite along. But we'll be returning from L.A. that day and probably pretty late. Break your leg!


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