Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Garden Tour

Just in time for our front yard lawn replacement planning purposes, Long Beach Lawn2Garden program sponsored a Garden Tour, featuring 32 gardens.  We eagerly signed up, having spent the previous weekend looking at random home selections from the hundreds listed on their website.  They were hit and miss -- some nice ones, but lots of them that were ho-hum.  So we were excited about looking at some that were top-notch.  When we got the map, it suggested choosing ones you'd want to visit, because the average person visits only 8-10.  That's crazy, we thought, we'll see most of them.
Oh, we were so naive.
The very first garden we chose to go to was closest to our own house, and it really was remarkably different from any of the others on the list.  First off, they retained a lot of lawn.  You can keep your lawn in part, the city will pay only for the part you remove and convert.  So this family had chosen to do the parking strip and chunks around the edges.  The other thing that was remarkable about their garden was that they had a very flowery, cottage feel.  A big difference from what we had been seeing lots of, which was a dry, desert feel. So that was encouraging: our yard could look green and colorful.  Finally, they had a lot of surprising plants that I would not have thought would qualify:  lambs ear, roses, daisies, butterfly bushes -- very springy and cheerful.  So that started us off well.

Another thing that we didn't expect was that the owners were sitting outside, and the first thing they did was hand us a full color sheet that had their entire plant list on it.  The Lawn2Garden program gave them a pile of copies for them to hand out.  It was great to take note of all the plants that we were interested in, and to write any notes that the owners supplied.

The next yard we went to had some great uses of greenery as well.  The gray-green groundcover above is dymondia -- a plant I had seen here and there and always found to be rather unpleasant, as it was always superflat and dry looking.  Not so much in many of the gardens we toured!  This garden above is only 2 years old, and the dymondia is thick and textural, which was encouraging, because it's one of the most commonly used plants around here, and I was kind of dreading using it.  Now I am eager to plant some flat sections in my own yard. 
Many of the yards we toured had great features already established - large, mature trees or other specimen plants.  We have almost nothing, so we know we need something to anchor the whole thing.  We saw a lot of great large trees/plants and feel more knowledgeable about choosing what's right for us.  One of the really helpful things about the gardens on the tour is that they had a large, color poster of the "before" yard, with the date, so we could see exactly what they kept, and how long the plants in the yard were.  Online, we could see the before pictures, but the after pictures are taken right after planting, so they are mostly of a dirt yard with a few sad plants placed here and there.  So it was great to see how much fuller things get, and how quickly they grow.

 For those people who had, like us, a fairly flat, bland 'before', it was interesting to see how they built interest using mounds and rock features.  This guy had a dry creekbed type format, with dymondia growing in the flat bed.  He also had a couple of fairly large pencil trees, but he had a sign on those that they were for sale for $25 each, he decided he didn't want those and wanted to replace them with something else.  That's another thing most people talked about, changing their plants when they found that things didn't work for them.  From the website, it seemed like you had to stick with your plan or you'd not get the grant.  Most people had changes here and there, but as long as they stuck with plants from the approved lists, they were fine.  

Everyone was so friendly and helpful.  We got a lot of great ideas, and people spoke about the sources for their plants, stone and equipment.  We went out yesterday to visit one of the most oft-mentioned nurseries and picked up a flat of dymondia and some ajuga to try out in the backyard.  I want to see how well it spreads while we plan our yard.

We also got round-up and sprayed the front grass. We can kill the grass, but can't remove it until our plan is approved.  It takes weeks to fully kill it, so we thought we'd get started right away.  It looks even worse now, all dry and crusty, but when I look at it, I think, "soon, you'll be gone!"  Today we had a landscaper come by and cut and trim it, so at least it won't look all hairy.  With any luck, it will just stay dead and flat and before long, we'll have the big job of removing it all!

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