The Aesculus californica – California Buckeyes – that grow along one of the bike paths I walk on are blooming their hearts out right now. Trouble is, they’ll be done in another few weeks and by August, they’ll go dormant. Dormant as in, loose all their leaves. In August. (Just want to be sure you got that part.)
People who like this California native are generally quite passionate about Buckeyes. Speaking for myself, while I’m happy to admire its brief period of glory during my morning walk, I’ll probably never suggest it to a client. The idea of a specimen tree that runs out of steam that early in the season just doesn’t do it for me. And unless it’s carefully pruned, to me it looks a little like a big balloon head with a bad case of acne.
Here’s a money shot of the flowers, just to prove I’m not intentionally winning you over to my view point with unflattering photos.
One exception: I did fall in love with a mature specimen in the side yard of an Orinda client, and developed a dramatic lighting plan to show off its beautiful gnarled form. But the planning department nixed it, over concern that the evening light would conflict with the city’s bucolic nature (proud home of the three million dollar hillside mansion, but whatever). What can I say? Sometimes planners are poopyheads.
So is this one of those right plant, right place trees? Or just a straight thumbs up or thumbs down?
The topic of lawn substitutes is everywhere these days, my blog included. I write about them, speak about them, am interviewed about them, and yes, even plant them in my own garden. But here is the dirty little secret no one wants you to know…
There is no substitute for a lawn.
Nothing else looks so pristine, green and lush, yet takes such abuse. And while caring for a lawn means keeping to a regular maintenance schedule, it’s certainly less complicated than babying along a lawn substitute that may take years to grow in.
Lovely photo of a front yard meadow featured in the Bringing Back the Natives Tour. But does it look like a lawn? Not really.
So what’s a self-respecting proponent of lawn reduction supposed to do? Two experiences lately have got me thinking – instead of searching for the ultimate groundcover to mimic a lawn’s perfection, why not choose ground covers that aren’t meant to replicate its monotonous, manicured sameness? How about a little diversity?
Experience number one: Here is a photo of the lawn around the grounds in the B&B we stayed at during a recent trip to Mendocino.
Not certain what the white flowers are – an ornamental strawberry? – but honestly, even the dandelions look cute to me. And nothing seems to mind being stepped on, or so I assume, as I ignored the paths to stride across it every morning in my zeal to get to the homemade breakfasts before the chocolate chip muffins were gone.
The second experience came via my computer visiting Susan Harris’s Sustainable Gardening Blog. In April, she had an interesting post updating her own lawn replacement project and followed this up later with a video tour of her garden, chronicling her successes and failures. Her photos inspired me. All the advantages of a lawn, with just enough imperfection to make it look like a garden.
This perfectly imperfect lawn belongs to Susan Harris
So how do I sell this idea to my clients? “Hey, here’s a bunch of groundcovers; let’s shove ‘em in anywhere and don’t worry about the weeds!” Hmm, hard to charge the big bucks for advice like that, particularly in California, land of golf courses and 24/7 landscaping.
Most of you don’t know this, but I have a bit of a website addiction.
For the past two months, my latest obsession has been Blue Planet Gardening, an idea center created to help western gardeners apply sustainable gardening principles. Today is officially my unofficial launch. Because before I begin promoting the site, I’d love to get some feedback from all of you. Here’s an overview of what I hope to accomplish:
Who is the site for? This site is intended less for the educated blogging/gardening crowd, and more for the newbie gardener interested in incorporating sustainable principles into their garden. After six years of designing and consulting, I’ve developed some ideas about the kind of basic information homeowners need but don’t necessarily know how to find. As water conservation is a big issue in California and other parts of the west, it is a central theme to the site, but there are also articles on planting in clay soil, allergy free gardening, creating a habitat garden, how to sheet mulch, etc. so there is information for others as well.
Is the goal to make money, or just share information? As many of you bloggers who have tried to monetize your blogs know, Google ads don’t exactly net you an early retirement. I’m not quitting my day job, but am hoping to make enough off of advertising, an Amazon bookstore and ultimately a referral service and/or sponsorship opportunities to continue to add to and maintain the site.
Why did your blog name change? Remember I mentioned my website addiction? I have two design websites, one blog and now one resource website, all with different names and looks. Over the next month or two I’ll rebranding everything as Blue Planet Gardening.
What kind of feedback are you looking for? Anything and everything. Things you like, things you don’t like, suggestions for improvements and additional features, ideas on how to publicize etc. Along those lines, I’d be thrilled to have you mention this site or link to it from your own blogs. My goal is to add more articles, a section on vegetable and edible gardens, more lawn-free garden make-overs, and ultimately a resource/referral section by region, so homeowners can find designers, garden coaches, contractors, maintenance gardeners, etc. that practice sustainable principles. But, if I wait until everything is perfect, I’ll never get it off the ground, so today I’m jumping into the deep end.
And for all you bloggers and aspiring writers out there, if you have a past blog post or something you’d like to write about, please let me know! I’d like to add as much meaningful content as I can and will happily link to your site.
Comment on this post, email me, call me, send a message in a bottle, whatever. I'm waiting for your ideas!
I mentioned in an earlier post that I am planning on redoing my small, side yard garden. Just about all the existing plants are slated for death row, although I prefer to soften the blow with a few euphemisms. Our timing just wasn't right. I need to explore other options. It's not you, it's me.
Normally it’s a bit sad ripping out the old to make way for the new, but one shrub I was actually looking forward to sending to the great compost heap in the sky was my Rhododendron “Miss Lewinsky”. (Feel free to insert tasteless Clinton administration era joke here, we certainly did ten years ago when we planted it.)
So why no regrets at the thought of Miss L’s demise? In the ten years it's been here, this rhody bloomed exactly once in its second year and then never again until last week. Does it somehow know it’s on the chopping block? After all, we’ve discussed our plans in its presence. Is there an internal plant dialogue taking place right now? "Uh-oh, apparently being green and spindly isn’t enough for her anymore, better pop out a flower if we want to hang on to our cushy spot.”
Overcome by the Herculean effort of producing one bloom, is it planning on another eight year break from its labors? Sure, there are things that look like buds elsewhere on its branches, but I’ve been fooled by that little bait-and-switch strategy before.
So, I’ve decided – no reprieve, no last minute pardon. I'm ready to move on to a new life with a new plant.