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 half  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.  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.

Front Garden Remodel Turns Two

Two years ago this month, we “remodeled” our front yard.  For years we talked about adding a front deck or patio.  We live on a neighbor-friendly block with kids galore so we were often out front socializing.  We chatted with friends standing in the driveway or sitting on chairs in the garage.  We eventually added a bench and then a swing, but what we longed for was a full-sized patio or deck.

Around the same time, it was becoming more and more difficult for my sister to access our home.  Our entry way consisted of two concrete steps, original to the 50-year-old house, and her MS made it difficult for her to come and go.

We hired the talented team of Bergez and Associates and Natural Bridges Landscaping, to create our suburban paradise.  We’ve found so much joy with our outdoor room!  My sister can come and go unassisted, a boon to her independence.  We also realized that the ramp will allow us to age in place since the house is now easily accessible.

It’s amazing to look back at the newly installed garden.  The plants established beautifully.

Here’s a look:

Garden and Deck, June 2012

Garden and Deck, June 2010

Near the Magnolia: 2010/2012

Kitty Corner, With Special Thanks to Candace

My Beautiful Back Yard

The Natural Bridges landscaping crew put the finishing touches in place on Friday. In a few weeks we will re-plant the area under the living room window and in the corner by the steps. Otherwise, its done!

The weather is glorious so we’re outdoors enjoying our new space. I’m still pining for some seasonal rain, while at the same time enjoying what nature is offering.

Intersecting Circles and Paths


Long view of the raised beds and the patio


"Cat's Eye" shape, one of my favorite elements of the design


This area will be re-planted in a few weeks

A small bare patch for future annuals


Patio Progress: Concentric Circles

Progress Photos

Our beautiful patio is done.  We are already enjoying the improvements throughout the yard.  The patio moved closer to the house.  It feels more intimate, something we’ve missed with it in the center of the garden.  Its sheltered now from the late afternoon summer sun so we can enjoy dinners outdoors once again.  Work on the pathway in front of the vegetable garden resumes this week, followed by repairs to the irrigation system.  A bit of grass will replace the former patio.  We’ll fill in with plants in the spring.

We were able to use about one-third of the flagstone in a concentric circle surrounding the poured concrete.  The patio integrates with the walkway, using Connecticut Bluestone to match the existing treads on the stairs.  As an added and unexpected bonus, the pretty tile trim under the stair treads now stand out against the “Sombrero Buff” concrete.  Even the cats love it!  They no longer have to walk gingerly on the stones like we did, trying to avoid the cracks.  All three of the cats have been out there exploring the new environment.

Cats on the Patio

Additional stones will be re-purposed for the vegetable garden walkway.  We hope to free-cycle the rest.  More pictures to follow later this week.

Designer: Bergez & Associates, J.P. Bergez featured in Sunset Magazine

Installation: Natural Bridges Landscaping, David Ross

Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause It’s Concrete

A Hard Day's Work

We never intended a major do-over of the backyard.  It was nothing to write home about, but it was our little postage stamp of a garden on our suburban, percentage-of-an-acre lot.  I spent hours pulling out ivy, trimming back overgrown shrubs, and hiring professionals to prune tall trees.   When my son was two he helped me plant annuals along the fence.  I would coach “dig the hole, put in the plant, add some soil” and he would repeat back, “…put in the oil.”  Mike gave me a gift certificate to a local nursery one year, and together we picked out annuals and perennials.  I poured over my beloved Sunset Garden books.   Life in the garden was good.

Then we remodeled.  If you’ve embarked on similar projects, you understand the phenomenon of one thing leads to another.  We extended the house by a mere 185 square feet, and with that the garden was lost:  Our beloved almond tree, diseased, had to come down.  Grass was trampled, paint brushes cleaned, nails dropped.  The electrical panel had to be enlarged, which meant damage to the siding.  Siding had to be replaced which meant removing some shrubs.  At the end of the day, what was left of our garden was a sad mess.

We hired a landscape architect who designed a beautiful garden, and we selected stone slabs to replace the existing poured concrete.  It was a greener option, allowing water from the irrigation below to bubble up and water the ground cover.  We spent the extra dollars to purchase “select” stones; code for bigger pieces will cost you.  To this day I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but an unsupervised stone-layer proceeded to break those large stone pieces into smaller chunks.   The designer was angry when she saw the work and demanded of us “is this going to work?”   After nearly a year of remodeling we were suffering from a serious case of decision fatigue. So…we cried uncle.  Yes.  Yes, it’s fine.  It’s fine.  Really.  And we thought it was.

The patio was a flop.  The irrigation below only worked for half the stones.  The roots from the neighboring pine tree lifted and broke some of the stones; others were placed too far apart, creating ankle-twisting hazards as we maneuvered our way around.  The table was constantly tipping to one side and the chairs had to be carefully arranged and re-arranged every time you sat down.   I replanted the ground cover on three different occasions, pulling weeds as I went.  The weeds would take hold again, as if to point out who was boss.

So, eight years later, we’ve filled up our proverbial piggy bank and hired the talented J.P. Bergez.   We asked incorporate the stones into the design so that we could re-purpose them in a more practical way.  We lived with the greener alternative for seven years, but practicality was about to win out.  Don’t hate me ‘cause it’s concrete.