New Plants and My New Wheels

The rain came and quickly went this past Monday but it was lovely while it lasted. My oldest son enjoys the rain as much as I do. He sent me a text with a couple of rainy shots from his college campus quad. Isn’t that sweet?

college campus in the rain

A Rainy Day in Santa Clara

I’ve got my eye on the weather report and see that we have another system approaching by the weekend. It’s cold too, so that means snow which is even better for the drought.

The landscaper delivered all our plants yesterday and today they started planting. It is SO hard not being out there.

The final step is to fill in the area near the swing and the path with gravel and then mulch.

new plants

Native Plants to Replace the Lawn

I mentioned to a few readers that I was using a knee scooter to get around. This is what it looks like. Notice that in addition to practicing patience in sitting around all day long, I’m also letting my vanity go. I look as tired as I feel in this photo. These knee scooters are available to rent from a company called A Leg Up. Isn’t that clever?

knee scooter collage

This is helping me get around as I recover from foot surgery

The scooter has a narrow, nylon pouch that holds my phone and not much else, but serendipitously, a package arrived from Pauline with a box the *exact* size as the opening between the seat and the bar. Mike attached the box with a bungee cord and now I have room for a bottle of water, one slipper and the odd piece of mail.

Back to the weather, I’ve been hearing about unseasonably warm weather in Bavaria, late season and unwelcome rains in New Zealand and a predicted summer drought in Australia. What’s the weather up to in your neighborhood?

Loving Our Earth

I’m spending  Earth Day getting my hands dirty.  I started yesterday, since there is always a lot to do this time of year. After dispatching every last weed in the garden, I got busy staking the tomatoes I didn’t plant and harvesting the potatoes from the compost pile. I didn’t plant the potatoes either.

So far it’s been an interesting spring in the garden. We’ve stopped watering pretty much everything. This is year four of the California drought, prompting Governor Brown to issue mandatory, 25% state-wide water restrictions.  Later this week I’m meeting with a landscape designer to draw up alternative plans to replace our lawn.

In this semi-arid state, we have no business planting lawns in the first place. It’s an old tradition, imported from the lush gardens of England and Europe where water is plentiful. Somehow it became a status symbol and then the status quo. Those days are over.

I’ve been contemplating several ideas but I seem to lack the overall vision of what a replacement will look like. It will be nice to meet with J.P. who designed our beautiful front ramp and deck  in 2010 and the circular patio out back.

2010 Landcape Plan front yard

J.P. Bergez, Landscape Design

2010 front garden design bergez

Completed Landscape, 2010

Two years ago we removed the grassy sidewalk strip and replaced it with a flower garden. The sidewalk garden uses less water while attracting beneficial insects. I think it’s much prettier, too. We should have done it years ago.

Sidewalk strip before and after

Sidewalk strip before and after

Yesterday I gathered all of my stored seeds including my much-loved sunflowers and planted them in the curb garden. There they will grow or perish. They’ll have to get by with the water available to that narrow strip.

Late last year Garden Sunshine blogged about her sheet mulching project and I knew immediately that I wanted to do the same thing.  I drew a mental line down the center of the lawn in our back garden, then sheet mulched half of it. The area is still composting, but I achieved the desired effect: that section of the lawn is gone. Slowly, gradually, our water-thirsty suburban grass is going away.

I’ll let you know how the consult goes.

Here are my goals:

  • Reduce the amount of water needed to maintain the garden by half. Since 50% of residential water use goes to irrigation, cutting that use in half means we’ll achieve a 25% reduction overall.
  • Create a small seating area for my swing under the shade of the orange tree. We used to have the swing under the tree, but it rested on the lawn. We had to remember to move it every two or three days, or deal with a soggy swing. No grass, no problem.  My future, summer afternoon napping place is secure.
  • Share the process and what I learn along the way with others via my blog, Facebook, Twitter and email.

Please let me know if you take the Earth Day quiz, below. I only scored five out of ten but was happy to know I beat the average score of four.

Paradigm Shift: Gardening in a Drought

Thomas Kuhn used the duck-rabbit optical illusion to demonstrate the way in which a paradigm shift could cause one to see the same information in an entirely different way. Source, Wikipedia


Used to illustrate a paradigm shift. Do you see the duck? The rabbit? Both?

I’m applying those principles to my garden.  Instead of simply planting what I like year after year, I’m now thinking about water conservation first, then figuring out from there what to plant.  This isn’t a new reality for our semi-arid climate.  In an average year, our rainfall is a mere 14 to 18 inches (35 to 38 cm).

Living in a developed country, we take water for granted.  We open a faucet and water flows: fresh, safe and abundant.  Actually, the first two are correct, but as we face year two of a drought, further complicated by an unseasonably warm winter and spring, abundant may no longer be the case.

We’re making incremental steps to reduce our water usage. While these changes are small and, forgive the cliché, a mere drop in the bucket, I think they’re worth doing.

Last week we finished removing the lawn from the sidewalk strip.  This allowed us to cap off several sprinkler heads, and divert a smaller amount of water to one raised flower bed.

Over the weekend, I reduced the number of water-thirsty pots by half, then planted what remained with succulents. Native to warm, dry climates, succulents can go days without a drink.

Instead of lavender, drought-tolerant Mexican Bush Sage lines the deck.

There are a number of things you can do to improve water efficiency, but we’re already doing them:

  • Watering in the early morning
  • Use of a drip-irrigation system, delivering measured water directly to the source to avoid run off and rapid evaporation.
  • Use of native plants
  • Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil

The next logical  step is to replace the lawn.  Once a status symbol of the rich, water-thirsty lawns eventually found their way into suburban gardens.  I hope their popularity is on the way out.

Major changes are time-consuming and costly, so we are making our changes  incrementally.

Here’s what we planted:

Senecio Vitalis

Senecio Vitalis

Panda Plant Kalanchoe tomentosa

Panda Plant ‘Kalanchoe tomentosa’ from Madagascar

assorted succulents
Left, Echeveria agavoides * Upper right, Echeveria peacockii * Lower right, Rainbow Elephant Bush Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’

The other part of the water equation is indoor use. I’ve ordered a free water audit through the City of San Jose. They read your water meter, check for leaks, and determine water flow from sinks, showers and toilets. They make suggestions for laundry and dishwasher efficiency, shower duration, etc. They’ll audit our garden use as well. I’ll report back when they complete our audit next week.

Have you ever made a paradigm shift? Please let me know in the comments below.

Grass: The Long and Short of It

Green, green grass of home

Green, green grass of home

Silicon Valley is known for its innovations and mild temperatures, but not for its annual rainfall.  In a good year our arid climate averages 14 to 18 inches of rain. Planting grass should be an extravagance in this highly populated, rain-thirsty climate.

We have healthy, water-guzzling grass growing in our own yard, as do our neighbors, up and down the block. Planting a lawn is a suburban tradition, but one that probably needs to end. For years, a trip down the street of an average neighborhood revealed a vast expanse of green, carefully grown, manicured, fertilized, trimmed and of course watered lawns.

I struggle with this as I’ve become more aware of the toll it takes on our environment. When we redesigned our garden, I was all for a reduction in our lawn foot print, but my husband wanted to maintain an expanse for the boys to run and play.  When they were smaller, they ran around on the grass, tumbling, wrestling or dashing through the sprinklers on hot days.  It was a safe place to play, breaking falls and cooling tender feet. They don’t play that way anymore.  Perhaps a lawn is something we maintain for a finite amount of time, like sandboxes and swing sets.  Once our children are grown, we’re happy to replace those things.  Why not our thirsty lawns?

Could replacing lawns be the next paradigm shift?  Ashtrays are no longer standard in automobiles or airplanes.  Twenty years ago that was unthinkable.  As our consciousness rises, so too will our innovations.  When we say “going green” it will have nothing to do with our love affair with the front lawn.

Cooling Off in the Grass

Cooling Off in the Grass