Native Garden, My Left Foot and a Bit of Bad News

Our new and sustainable native garden is moving into the home stretch. The last swath of lawn is history.

native planting

Native Plantings will grow up to fill this space Design by Bergez & Associates, Installation by R. J. & Associates

Trichostema 'Midnight Magic' Hybrid Blue Curls

Trichostema ‘Midnight Magic’ Hybrid Blue Curls

This didn’t happen over night. First to go was the sidewalk strip almost two years ago. It took some convincing around here as both my husband and younger son like the look of the lawn. While I too can appreciate the lush, green swath of suburban grass we grew up with, it’s not sustainable. Four years of drought and mandatory water-rationing helped my case and the lawn is finally gone, replaced with California native plants that are more than happy to spend a summer without water.

Last fall, Mike agreed to removing halfย  of the lawn in our back yard. When the boys were young they played for hours on the grass. As teens, their interests lie elsewhere. So over the course of a few weeks, I gathered cardboard and leaves and gradually sheet mulched the area. It worked beautifully. By spring of 2015, the lawn was history, leaving behind a nice, healthy, organic swath of earth.ย  Calls for further rationing this summer meant turning off the sprinkler system entirely, leaving a sad-looking patch of dead grass in front of the house.

For years I mowed the grass myself. I had a manual push mower like my dad used to have and spent an hour each weekend mowing to and fro. I hated edging, but that had to be done too. Weeds grew among the turf, so out they went as well. Mowing a lawn week after week, I realized is less like gardening and more like mopping the floors. It had to be done, but it was tedious at best. Then I had a baby, and three years later his brother. My husband traveled extensively, sometimes gone for a week or more. We eventually hired a lawn service to come once a week and in local parlance, they did the “mow, blow and go.”

Now that all that grass is gone I feel liberated, but it’s come at a cost. I’ve put a friend out of a job. Nick took over the job of maintaining the lawn after Mr. Tran retired. Our sons went to school together. I hired Nick to build our little free library and I refer him to my clients for handyman jobs as well. Everything we do has a price.

My Left Foot

I saw my super-cool doctor again this week for my second post-op visit. She removed layer upon layer of bandages and gauze, the brace and finally the stitches. My foot looks other-worldly. The wound site is still tender but she’s pleased with the progress. They used cryogenic amniotic tissue to graft the damaged tendon. It’s supposed to reduce inflammation and speed healing while suppressing scaring and adhesions. Amazing! There’s a short video explaining the technology via the National Institute of Health I think it’s fascinating. Dr. Sheth sets a high bar for patient care and bedside manner. I’m so fortunate to have her on my team.

Dr. Sheth with student

Dr. Sheth (left) and a medical student shadowing her that day

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Two days before my foot surgery I had a skin biopsy on my arm. The dermatologist suspected squamous cell carcinoma. I got the call last week confirming the diagnosis and asking me to schedule surgery. It’s a thirty minute procedure, done by a skin surgeon in their office. They layer down till they get what they call the margins. With early diagnosis, there is a 95% cure rate. The scariest part of this for me is how quickly it appeared. I have skin checks twice a year because I’m at high risk for skin cancer. One day I was fine, and then a large, painful sore appeared on my upper arm. I was pretty sure I had some sort of insect bite.

If you’ve been putting off getting something checked, please schedule with your medical provider today. Early diagnosis is key.

new landscaping collage front

Front Garden in Process

I sat outside on the deck for about twenty minutes yesterday after the crew finished mulching. It was brisk but a welcome change of scenery. As you can see, I had company. These kitties bring me comfort every day.

49 thoughts on “Native Garden, My Left Foot and a Bit of Bad News

  1. I am so glad you got it checked and am keeping positive thoughts for you. I’m one of those that can’t be in the sun either. You don’t need horror stories. You need peaceful, healing, healthy thoughts. The yard is coming along nicely and it’s wonderful that it’s maintenance free. I know what you mean about putting a friend out of work. Happy to see you have good healing company. They are so good for you. No more bad news allowed. ๐Ÿ™‚ Huge hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good lord woman! We can’t keep having your body breaking down like this – Is it time to slow things down and take it just a bit easier?. Wear sleeves and stay out of the sun is my advice – easy enough to do here, where sun is a rare commodity….. I think there are fabrics available now for maximum sun protection that are light and airy. Maybe you could carry a parasol at all times, it’s time they came back into fashion and you are just the babe to do it!! Will they take you in to layer down relatively quickly? I have a friend who is prone to skin cancers, she says its a bit like a dental visit, in and out in no time and costs an arm and a leg ๐Ÿ™‚

    So glad to hear you are super happy with the foot process and progress. Doesn’t it make a wonderful difference when the health care provider is thorough and gentle and interested too. These are all essential ingredients for making a quick and happy recovery!

    The garden is going to look quite wonderful as it grows isn’t it – I am going to enjoy seeing seasonal reports and before and after photos of it. I used to mow my lawns with a handmower too – then I got a little man into do it for me and freed up hours of time! No lawns here though. Hopefully letting go your lawn man has meant he has lots more time to fill orders for little free libraries and the like.

    Lots of love and warm wishes for a speedy recovery on all fronts – I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a parasol!! xoxo


    • Pauline, I’ve been much better about wearing a cover up in the hot sun. Hats too, and sunblock. So much of the skin damage is done in the first 18 years of life. Then we pay as we get older. Because I had basal cell carcinoma several years ago, also removed via surgery, I’m even more attentive. I used a dermatologist-approved mineral sunblock with all the proper ingredients to repel UVA and UVB radiation

      I’ve scheduled surgery for December 9th, so not too far out. They want it done within three months. That date will be two months from the time I found the bump. It is done by a skin surgeon in the doctor’s office, in and out in thirty minutes. I’m grateful to have health insurance to cover most of the cost.

      As for my podiatrist, yes, it makes all the difference in the world. I actually enjoy my visits!

      It is liberating not to have a lawn anymore! I’m feeling so good about it. Thanks for all your support. That’s really been nice for me.



  3. Your garden is looking amazing! Once it has settled and taken I’m sure it will be a healing environment in itself. When the plants and land are as one and work in unison,can it be anything else?

    I’m so pleased your foot is mending well. I’m sure the other “issue” will also heal quickly.

    Those adorable kitties are being most excellent in helping you heal… nothing quite like a contented purr of a cat to harmonize ones own sense of well being.

    I realize in writing this comment that I have seen this as a post about healing. How wonderful!

    Much love to you dear Alys. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Thank you, Danella. These plants were a long time coming, but now that they are finally in, I’m a happy gardener.I love what you’ve said about the plants and land as one. Planting natives makes sense. I’ve learned so much in these past few years about planting sustainable.

      Thanks for your good wishes re my foot and skin. As we round the corner to 2016 I’m looking forward to a whole “new” me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Thanks for your healing wishes and thoughtful reflections, Danella. Much love to you, too.


  4. I worked in a teaching hospital for 12 years so I second your suggestion about checkups for early detection. Having seen thousands of cases the one for sure thing you learn is that it is some much better to be on top of a problem than trying to catch up to something that has progressed pretty far down the road.


    • Charlie, what a fascinating place to work. I’m sure you saw a lot in those 12 years. I’ve always tried to maintain good health by exercising, eating a vegetarian diet and getting regular checkups. Early detection saves lives in so many ways. Thanks for your supportive comments.


  5. Hi Alys. Thank goodness you got that sore skin looked at immediately. Wish you all the best with that. I know so many people who have had similar minor surgery recently, including my Dad, and it has always turned out well, so hope that is a comfort! Good news about your foot healing. And the garden is looking great! I can imagine it will fill out pretty fast at this time of year, so it was possibly a blessing in disguise that it took so long for the workers to come and do it as the summer heat would have made it harder for the plants to put down roots. Take care of yourself Alys. ๐Ÿ™‚ xx


    • Thank you, Cathy. I’m glad to hear your Dad is doing okay after his surgery. I will be glad to be rid of this, and have already scheduled an appointment for early December. That will be four weeks post-foot surgery, so I’m hoping I have more of my energy back by then.

      You know you are right about the timing of the plants! Absolutely spot on. They’ll have a chance to put down roots in milder temperatures, with some rain coming along (hopefully) in the weeks ahead. xox

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh my, more bad luck on the health front! I’m so glad you had this diagnosed early and that it can be cured. My husband has been in remission for three years now, also due to early diagnosis but of bowel cancer. Like your garden, you have hopefully seen your worst and will only blossom here on in. May your path be easier from now on – you so deserve a little luck:)


    • I’m sorry to hear that your husband has been dealing with bowel cancer, but relieved to know that he’s in remission. What a worry for all of you.

      Hurrah for early diagnosis on all fronts. Checkups are such a critical part of maintaining good health.

      Thank you for your beautiful words. I like the idea of blossoming on a path to good health. xox

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Morning Alys,
    So this was my process after reading the title of this post: Race past all the garden photos, stop at the photo of your surgeon – just how old is that child ๐Ÿ™‚ – and quickly read about your post op visit. Phew! The foot is healing. YAY!
    Then I slowed down to read more carefully.
    I’m so glad you get your skin checks and while I know you’ll be fine, I’m sorry you have to add more one challenge to what has been an over-challenging past few months. If friendship and love were able to shore you up, know that you have it!!
    Finally …. the garden looks wonderful! A lovely place to heal.
    Much to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow. Lots going on. I love your sidewalk path. So lovely. We won’t be redoing our entire acre lot in mulch but a lot of it will be large , mulched beds with natives like you have. 4 years drought. How intense. And I’m from Texas. Hopefully El Nino will help.
    I’m shocked about your skin development. I have a bump on my chest that looks like the non – malignant cancer growth in had next to my eye removed. I better get on that. Gosh, so glad you detected it soon. How sobering! Thanks for catching us up. Hugs!


    • Thank you, Leilani! Our lots in California are quite a bit smaller than in Texas. You’re a lucky woman to have an acre to work with. Our lot is about 6,000 sq feet with an 1,800 sq foot house.

      I know whatever you do will be beautiful and cleverly designed. You have that gift.

      Yes PLEASE go get that bump checked. Make sure they look at everything while you’re there, too. Often the backs of the legs, arms and neck are the worst because we just don’t/can’t see them. Wishing you all the best with the outcome.

      Hugs back your way.


  9. Oh, Alys! You have shared so much wisdom today! Caring for the earth with native plants, caring for your foot by finding just the right surgeon, and caring for your skin through early detection! There is so much happening in your world at the moment. Think positive thoughts and continue to take good care of yourself, dear one! Very, very soon everything will be OK. I can picture you strolling through your beautiful new garden, with sun protection, a very big smile, and a happy heart! Sending many blessings and hugs, Alys! โ™ก

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dawn, you always say the nicest things. I love that your take away from this post is wisdom. Thank you for that. As my foot continues to heal, I’m able to see a future of pain-free walks through the garden and hopefully nature hikes as well. The skin cancer surgery is scheduled for December 9th, so by Christmas I will be cancer free and hopefully walking around on both feet. That is my hope.

      Thanks for always cheering me on. xox


  10. Alys, thanks so much for updating us. Congratulations on the lawn re-do; you will save time, money and hopefully much aggravation. But yes, it all comes at a price. I too love the look of a green lawn, but in a dry climate it’s just not practical and often, not even possible.

    I am so glad you are in the care of a good doctor, AND that you caught the squamous cell cancer. My sister had it on her face just a few months ago but they caught hers in time too. It’s regrettable that one or two cancers seem to get all the hype, caution and donations, but some that are just as common and deadly (maybe more so) are often not mentioned by doctors. I have every risk factor for skin cancer, including siblings with melanoma and squamous cell, but no primary care doctor I’ve ever had seems worried about that, so I just self-refer for a skin cancer screening each year with a dermatologist.

    Enjoy the upcoming weekend! I’m sending you warm wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Julia. I’m so happy with our updated garden. After months of staring at dead grass, drying mulch and putting up with the heat, it is WONDERFUL to have a garden filled with native plants, healthy mulch and an efficient drip system. The rains are coming too. I’m happy.

      I’m appalled to hear that your doctors do not alert you to regular skin checks. And you’re right, skin cancer is common, and increasingly worse with tanning beds and over-exposure to the sun. I’m glad they caught your sister’s cancer early and hope she’s made a full recovery. Keep on getting yours checked. I know you’re on top of it given your history and your family dynamics.

      I hope you’re enjoying your weekend. C. is home from college for the week so we’ve had some nice catch up time. It’s still in the mid-seventies here, but the nights are finally cooler.


  11. Best of luck with the next operation. Like you, a bit of shock but thank goodness you spotted it early.

    Anyway, I’m pleased that your foot is on the mend. Interesting to know the procedure.

    As for your garden, it looks so pleasing to the eye and at least your friend has work in other ways ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Thank you, Helen. I imagine given your northern exposure and damp climate that skin cancer is less prevalent. I read once that people with my coloring (fair and freckled) were made this way so that we could absorb more vitamin D in the far northern climates, since it is essential for good health. Then if you take someone with my coloring, and locate them in semi-arid California, you increase the risk of damage. Crazy!

      I too am pleased that my foot is on the mend and that the garden is looking it’s best. Thanks for being here.


      • I’ve got the same general skin type as you and so am more at risk of skin cancer, though I don’t go to tanning studios or have sun holidays abroad. I think that is largely where people in Britain get their problems from.

        Cataracts are another – my mum has one as did my grandpa. So I guess there is a good chance I will, too.

        Anyway, keeping you in my thoughts for a swift recovery, Alys x


        • Thank you, Helen. When I was a teen, people were really into getting a tan. I now have friends my age who regret that. The sun is responsible for 90% of the aging you see on people’s skin according to my doctor. My fair-haired mother also had cataracts. Yet another thing to watch for.


  12. Good grief–do bad things really come in threes?! Have you had three (or 23?) at this point?! Overall, though, it all seems quite positive–fab plan for the yard, a foot that’s going to be better than new, and early detection of the big, bad C. I do think it’s interesting that they appear to allow 12-year-olds to practice medicine in your state . . . ๐Ÿ˜‰


    • LOL, Kerry! Yes, Dr. Sheth looks considerably younger than her years OR she graduated medical school on an accelerated schedule. You would love her.

      Since I have to have two dental crowns replaced, I’m counting that as three. Done and done! ๐Ÿ˜‰


  13. Oh, wow, Alys! Lets start with the good news first – so wonderful to hear your foot is healing as it should. I’m impressed by the youthfulness of your doc. Either they’re getting younger or we’re getting older ๐Ÿ˜‰ And your new front garden/lawn is truly just so wonderful. Very zen-like. Makes me want to pull out mine and be done with the maintenance.

    As for your skin cancer, all I can say is thank goodness you had it checked quickly! Over the years, my now-92-year-old dad who served on a ship in the Pacific in WWII has had innumerable lesions removed as the sun’s damage from those years popped up. His have been on his face and ears, and he’s come through each procedure with flying colors. Praying for quick treatment, uneventful recovery, and to having you back up to speed in short order. Sending love and healing thoughts your way. ๐Ÿ’•

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Stacy. Each day I have a bit less pain and a bit more energy. I’ve promised myself that I’m going to be the world’s best patient so that I heal properly and completely.

      I suppose you and I are a *bit* older, but clearly Dr. Sheth has dipped her tow in the fountain of youth. She wears it well.

      As for removing your lawn, I say go for it. I feel positively liberated. Further, the natives will attract more beneficial insects and birds, another win for the environment.

      Your poor dad! I can only begin to imagine the damage from all those years on the open sea. I’m glad to hear that he always comes through with flying colors, and delighted, too, to hear that he’s into his nineties and doing well. Good genes.

      Thank you for all your well wishes. The surgery is about two weeks, so not long to wait.


  14. Hello sweet Alys, don’t know if you read my message at FB yet but I’ll just add that you’ve prompted my own action in regards to an unusual skin spot. I was back at the same medical site to review some info there too. Thanks for sharing. By the sound of other messages here, the prognosis is good. Still, it must be unsettling and alarming. I think I’d feel sick to my stomach if it was me. Darn this extra stress in your life. It’s very comforting to know you are vigilant. As we all should be. Thank goodness for the impending holidays when your guys can be around for comfort and company. It’s fun to see Mr Mouse and your toesies keeping company too. xox K gentle hugs, I love you โค

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Boomdee. I’m sorry to hear that you too have a concerning spot on your skin, but I’m glad you’re on it. I hope they can get you in right away. I was still pretty out of it when I got the news less than a week after the foot surgery, so I don’t know that it fully sunk in. I had one other skin cancer surgery many years ago, so at least I know what to expect. I’ll have it removed in a few weeks time, and hope to start the year with healthy skin and a healed foot.

      Meanwhile, as you say, C is home for the week from college so we’re all together. We might even get a bit of rain later this week. I’m hopeful. The new garden will love it and of course I will too.

      Thanks for those gentle hugs, and for taking the time to write here. I know your schedule has been crazy. xox

      Liked by 2 people

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