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.

A Little of This and That

I’ve been puttering in the garden here and there over the past week, but I still haven’t put together a plan for the summer. I pruned a hedge and pulled a few weeds but my busy schedule hasn’t allowed for much more.

William and Kate hyacinth

The purple hyacinths have now taken the place of the pink ones. The dark pink freesia is still in bloom

As we enter year four of our drought, water restrictions are increasing. According to the state water agency, 44% of residential water use is outdoors. We’re now restricted to watering once every three days, using the odd/even method based on home address, and we can only water before 6 am or after 6 pm.

I’ve left both vegetable beds empty for now. My original plan was to leave one box empty and plant some tomatoes and basil in the other. I love fresh tomatoes and basil and know that we’ll eat them all summer long. The tomatoes, however, have sprouted all over the garden, self-planting like they did last year.  Instead of moving the plants, we’re going to add drip irrigation to the viable plants and see how it goes.

tomato in gravel

Self-planting tomatoes

Last fall I sheet-mulched one half of the lawn, but the process is still ongoing. The grass died off as planned and much of the material is decomposing, but with so little rain, it’s taking longer than planned for it all to decompose. It’s not very pretty, is it?

sheet mulch march 20

Sheet mulch in process

Comically, I have a pair of potato plants growing in the midst of the sheet mulch. It will be interesting to see if the plant flowers since it’s in the shade most of the day.

potatoes growing in mulch

Potatoes volunteered in the mulch

As the bright yellow daffodils begin to fade, a second group of plantings are taking their place. They’re two-toned and a bit shorter, but just as lovely. I’ve had great success with bulbs once I figured out what the squirrels don’t like, namely narcissus (daffodils), and hyacinth.

daffodils in the curb garden

Daffodils transition in the curb garden

pale yellow daffodils

Narcissus in the curb garden

We had a bit of rain overnight, and woke to a refreshed garden. That was a wonderful surprise. I only wish I hadn’t slept through it.

I hope your week is off to a good start.

About That Rain

lexington bridge 2-3-2015 1-53-33 PM

A divided reservoir: bridge in the background, all that grass used to be under water

As year three of the California drought drew to a close, something amazing happened: two weeks of storms making it one of the wettest Decembers in recent history. There was plenty of talk about the end of the drought and everyone felt some relief. That series of storms dumped enough rain to put us well above average for the season.

Then there was January. Typically one of our wettest months, San Jose registered “a trace of rain” measuring 0.02 inches of rain. According to our local paper, January was the driest on record.

Lexington Reservoir

I drove over the bridge crossing Lexington Reservoir on my way home this afternoon.  The county built the reservoir in 1952. It serves as one of the primary sources of fresh water in Santa Clara County.  I made a detour so I could take a few pictures.

Lexington Reservoir 2-3-2015 1-58-22 PM

Lexington Reservoir currently at 32% capacity

Santa Clara County Water District captures water in the reservoirs during the wettest months, then they release it into the ground water basin during the dry months. It provides more than half the fresh water used in our county. The water levels continue to fall, compounded by the unseasonably warm temperatures.

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Lexington Reservoir: The exposed grassy area used to be under water

lexington reservoir and santa cruz mountains

Heavy smog brought us another spare-the-air day. No rain or wind lead to unhealthy air quality

Gardening During a Drought

It feels irresponsible at this stage to plan a summer garden. We’ve talked of adding a water catchment system to use for irrigation, but unless it rains, it won’t do us any good. I researched a grey water system last year, but they aren’t without there challenges. The other half of the household is not on board.

I’m currently sheet-mulching half of the lawn in the back garden. I’ll plant drought-tolerant natives when the soil is ready. What remains is a small patch of green near the patio.

These are ‘small garden’ problems. Communities in California that rely on well water have seen that source run dry. Farmers need water to raise crops, and everyone needs clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Gardening Nirvana

What is a gardening blogger to do? Should I rename this blog The Guilty Gardener? Should I abandon a garden blog altogether? I’m at a bit of a crossroads.

As we head into year four of this drought, we have a few bright spots on the horizon. Three days of storms are in the forecast this week. February and March still lie ahead. But it could be years before we recapture lost ground. Water is not mine to waste.

I would love to hear from you. What would you do in my shoes?

The Atlantic Photo: Dramatic Photos of California’s Historic Drought