Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's been a hot week

Here in Long Beach, we usually get a couple of hot weeks during the end of August, and they rolled in right on time.  We closed the windows, turned on our window ACs (we have two of them, woo hoo!), set up the fans and just figured we'd be in the house for the day, maybe catch up on some tv watching on Netflix....and darned if the power didn't go out!  At the same time, I saw this ad on CL free for a Chinese fan palm (Livistona Chinensis), and the guy said to come on out, so we loaded up some gloves and ropes and took off.

He said in his ad that this tree was about 18" in diameter (trunk) and about 5' tall and weighed about 400 pounds and we'd need a truck and some rope.  On the drive over, we talked about how we thought he was probably not close to how much it weighed - people are always saying how big or heavy something is on CL and it's always no big deal.  I mean, it's a big deal to them, but not to us.

But this guy knew what he was talking about!  This tree was huge!  It took the three of us multiple tries to figure out how to get it on our truck, but we finally did.
Even this picture cannot capture how tall it was.  Hmmm...maybe this one:

Just for scale, I'm 5'5".  It was really really big and really really heavy.

Then the guy gave us a tour around his property. He's all involved in the Palm Society, and he invited us to the meetings.  He knew a ton of stuff about palms, but after touring his property and seeing his trees, we were pretty scared that this tree was going to end up enormous!  All his trees were huge, it was like a jungle in there.  And the scariest part - he'd only been there about 11 years, so all of the trees were about 10-11 years old, and seriously, they were huge.

But, after looking at a lot of information online about this tree, I feel confident that it is going to be the one we need for our yard, and that it won't grow as huge as some of his crazy large trees.

Getting it OUT of the truck was a  lot easier than loading it up.  We got it rolled out, loaded on a dolly and plopped into its new home in no time.  Well, we did have to take a time out to cut a couple of branches on the avocado tree, but that was just a little blip.

That avocado tree will be leaving sometime in the next year or so.  It's a very messy tree, it drops leaves and branches and avocados all over the yard, and we don't want it making a mess for our future pool.  We want a tropical type of backyard, so this tree is going to take it's place.  It will take about a year for it to get fuller and recover from the transplant, but I think by this time next year it will be a gorgeous full palm.  Here's a pic of what we are looking forward to:

Even if it grows fast, it will take 10-12 years to get too large, and we are not afraid to remove it if it becomes unworkable.  The guy who we got it from said, "sometimes, a chain saw is the best solution."  And that's a guy who is ALL about palms.

Another thing we worked on for the yard is something I saw on Pinterest -- I want to attract birds and butterflies, and I thought if I added a birdbath to the front maybe I'd get some birds visiting.  So I was looking around to see a DIY birdbath, and I ran across this one:
Not really what we need fro the front yard, but I liked it anyway -- so last week we did a thrift shop run and bought a few vases, bowls and platters, and this is what we came up with:

A little fancier than most of the stuff we like, but it's sparkly and nice and hopefully, it will give the birds a second thought when they fly by.  Behind that is a cordyline plant that we got off CL, but right now he's looking kind of wilted.  Hopefully, both the palm and the cordyline will bounce back and we'll continue to collect plants for next year's big backyard project. 

Oh, and by the time we got home and got this tree in the ground, the power was back on, and we've been relaxing in the AC since then!

Livistona ChinensisLi
Livistona Chinensis

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's in the details

We're in the middle of working on the irrigation system - we're converting from a traditional system to a drip system, installing a timer and setting up zones - but it's so danged hot outside, that we can't really work during the heat of the day.  So I decided to fix up a fun little project.  Dale had bought me these plant markers when we were out at a plant store a couple of months ago:

They have a zinc-plated face, which you should be able to write on with a pencil or marker.  But Dale said they'd look so much nicer in copper.  One of the perks of being an art teacher is that I just so happen to have sheet copper and copper tape at home, as well as a set of metal stamps so instead of writing the names, I can stamp them permanently.

The first thing I needed to do was to remove the zinc plated metal -- I just unfolded the metal and took it off, then measured the unfolded piece.  I added a little length so I had plenty to work with, then marked and cut my tooling copper.  I then went down the plant list and stamped the botanical names with my metal stamps, which I bought a long time ago at Harbor Freight.  I got them on sale for 2.99, and I've used them for a ton of things --

I added the year at the bottom.  Thinking of the future when I may replace plants or add new ones! 

After I stamped the name and date, I rolled the metal flat again. I marked the sides with a light crease.

Then folded it over the metal frame.  To make it more secure, I used copper tape along the back.
 I took a dot of black acrylic paint, and rubbed it into the embossed letters.  This will make them stand out and make them more readable.

After I rubbed the paint in, I used a paper towel to wipe off the excess:

I considered spraying the finished tag with a clear spray, but decided I wanted to let them age and build a nice patina.

We have about 35 different plants in the landscape, so I've got a few more to go.  I have 20 of them done, but I need to order some more plant markers! 

Well, I hope to finish the drip system tomorrow.  We also added solar lights (which have come a long way in the past few years!), I'll have a rundown of those in the next post.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Succulent fountain

I ran across some great images on Pinterest when I was looking for ideas for the hell strip - I want to use succulents there because I don't want to run the irrigation system under the sidewalk, so I need something that can take the long periods between hand-watering.  I saw these ideas:

So instead of working on the hell strip, I got sidetracked into looking for a free fountain on Craigslist (because I'm a CL Free stalker.  Seriously, I could have done my whole yard purely on CL free).

I missed several - these go fast, but early one morning I was using my CL app while still lying in bed, and I ran across this ad:
(I removed the personal info).  Looks great! I glanced quickly at the size without really thinking about it, I could see it was large -- but when we actually got out there (Yes! scored it by being the first caller!), OMFG it was huge.  Yes, 5 feet across.  Thank goodness we bought a truck.  And, thank goodness the guy who was giving this away was the size of a football player, so he could help Dale load this into the truck (although I be  his heart sunk a little when he saw me, a white haired old lady at his door, before Dale got out of the truck). We wrangled it into the truck and got it home - getting it out was an exercise in problem solving, but then we got it all placed and I painted it with the same brown paint as I used on the bricks, planted the top half for the front yard and:
 it looks pretty sweet!  I want a lot of trailing plants, so I have a few varieties that will drape over the side.  Brown is not my favorite color to say the least, but I thought this would work best in the front.  Although a really lovely orange or red might have been pretty cool --

And in the backyard is the rest of the behemoth:

I haven't done anything other than paint it yet.  I placed it where we took out a large agave for the front yard, we got it all leveled, and I am going to think about what to put here.  it's not going anywhere.  I do have one more agave bovicornuta that might look great in the center, with a lot of other succulents around it.  We want to give it some thought before we plant it, however, because once it's full, it's placed for good.  We are contemplating the backyard landscaping plan, because we are going to be putting a pool back there in the next year (I know I said that last year, but I really mean it this year :) !) I think it might look really nice with a lot of lush groundover back here, but we have to put in an irrigation system and clear out some trees/roots, so no big rush.

Speaking of irrigation systems, that's the next plan on the agenda. I got my supplies all ready, we got a new automatic timer (another almost free item - the city of Long Beach has a rebate that covered 80 of the 89 dollars it cost).  Oh, and I got my OK for the lawn to garden rebate - our check for $3000 should be coming in a month! 

One more look at my succulent fountain in the front yard:

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Hey, we finished a project!

We are covered in dirt, scratches and sweat, but our yard looks fabulous!
We thought moving that pygmy date palm was gonna kill us -- we kept a large root ball so we'd have a better chance for success in getting it to successfully be moved -- and getting it out of the planter box was an all-day event using jacks, chains and a pile of bricks and boards.   One of the 3 arms on this tree has been leaning on the water pipes, and it is partially broken. 

You can see how it was very low in this 'before moving' picture - it's the one on the left:

We're hoping we can keep it supported so that it would be able to survive, but it's very heavy and will likely need to be supported for good.  Dale built it a little crutch and we painted it to blend in.  The mexican sage in front of it will grow fuller and should camoflage it in the next year.  We turned the tree around so the weaker arm will be more protected on the inside of the yard.

After moving that tree, we built a mound around it, and planted our other pygmy date palm at the other end of the "island." 

We have a sort of meandering gravel path that runs diagonally across the yard, sort of like a dry stream bed.  This serves as a safe way to walk through and tend to weeds, etc.  We would still like to get some more medium-sized rocks to transition from the boulders to the gravel. 

The planter has a partition to hold the end empty  - we took out the previous, broken irrigation piping and want to install the valves for our new drip system here.  We'll install a plastic box to contain the works, but we probably won't get that started until the weekend. 
We did feed some of the flexible plastic tubing through the place where we removed the old irrigation pipes before we put the soil back.  Funny bit about the old system:  we wanted to remove the old, leaking valves, but the valves were installed before the shut-off (?), and we needed to have the water turned off by the city at the meter.  We called the city water dept, and a guy came out within an hour.  He turned off the water, then said, "Call when you want it back on!" and Dale told him, "Oh, we weren't ready yet, we have to buy the parts."  He said he had a used shut off valve in his truck and he could just wait while Dale installed it.  Dale went to go get the sawz-all, and the utility guy jumped right in and started hacking it off with a hacksaw.  Between the two of them, they had the valve installed in 10 minutes and the utility guy drove off after turning the water back on.  That was fast!  And we no longer have a leaking water irrigation system!  Maybe we'll save some money on our water bill.

I did get the front planters painted.  I am SO happy with them now, that red brick was so ugly!
But first, we had to fix the broken ledges on top.  This was how this one's looked since we bough the house -- the ledges were missing from right in front of the door, which looked really awful.  That, and the ugly red brick did not make for a great first impression.  The ledge pieces are an unusual stone that splits really easily, not the best choice, and at first we were going to just use concrete to fill and smooth over the edges, but then I decided to pull some ledge pieces off the planter in the backyard, and cut them to fit with a chisel and hammer.  Then we got some landscape adhesive and glued them all in place.  A lot of the ones along the long planter were loose as well, so we got them all placed and glued, and then filled the gaps with some mortar caulk.  I painted them today, and the whole planter looks a thousand times better.
My favorite part is still the front walkway - it's the thing that most people walking by have commented on.  It was a huge physical effort getting it done, but it makes the biggest difference!

And the planters just melt into the color of the mulch.  Speaking of mulch - shoo-wee! It's so smelly!  But that's good - it's nice and rich and will help enrich the soil.  We got it free from the city - we had to go pick it up.  We got the first batch close by in San Pedro, but this morning when we went to get another batch, they were out so we had to drive all the way into LA.  The mulch from the LA system has been partially decomposed, so it's much nicer than the stuff we got in Long Beach - which was very woody and has larger chips. Since it's composted, it's really fragrant (that's the polite way of saying it smells like manure!), and we've had several neighborhood dogs stop, drop and roll in it, to the horror of the person at the end of the leash.  This really nice older couple were chatting with me about the yard, and their little doggie started rolling in the mulch, and they didn't notice.  I didn't want to say anything, but finally, the woman looked down and goes, "Ranger!! bad doggie!"  it was hilarious, he was loving it and he was all covered in stinky brown mulch. We have a small pile of it by the front parkway strip, I bet in the morning it will have evidence of dogs rolling in it.

One of the things we learned in the past about working on a landscape plan for the yard:  the mailman is gonna walk through your yard, so you might as well accept it and plan accordingly.  We placed a series of flagstones (free from CL of course!) to help guide the mailman where we'd prefer he walk, instead of across plants. 

So - here's a before and after.  Before - when we closed on the house:
And after - with all the plants in place and mulch ready to keep the water in:
 Do you see our helpers perched in their observation tower?

Here's another shot from that side of the yard:
And the view from the front porch:
I got my email off to the city to let them know our project is complete - so we look forward to getting our check soon!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Getting close!

We've been busy planting and raking and shoveling this week -- I have to work in the afternoons, so we've been working mornings and evenings getting our planting done.  The first thing we started was the long planter box - removing all the fortnight lily (dietes bicolor). 

There was tons of it - it grows like crazy out here.  Ours was a pale yellow with a little bit of deep purple.  We dug it up and split it into fairly large clumps, and put an ad on craigslist for people to come by.

People came by and picked it up.  and that took care of that!  We also dug out and replanted a large purple fountain grass (pennisetum setaceum 'rubrum') - we incorporated a number of existing plants into our landscape plan.  We just had to measure out where to place it.  We also planted a king palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) and a large bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)-- and after cleaning up the soil in the planter box, we planted two lions tail (Leonotis leonorus) and an Austrailian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi).  It's looking much better....

But we still have a large pygmy date palm to relocate.  It was planted right on top of the main water shut off and the original irritation pipes. 

We've got it all tied up and we've been water-jetting the roots to see what's going on there.  Today we will cut back the roots around the pipes and get this guy out and replanted.
 Then we just have some of the last plants left around the front to get into the ground.  I am also going to paint the brick planter - the red just doesn't do it for me.  I'm going to go a few shades darker than the house paint and maybe it will look a little more modern.

We have had a lot of luck picking up plants and things on Craigslist -- we answered an ad for some landscaping boulders - these are rather expensive around here, about $50 for one good sized boulder at the landscaping shops - so we've been trying to keep an eye out on CL.  We saw an ad, and the folks said, "come on over!" so we went and got a truckload full of nice round rocks. They were a super nice young couple working on their yard, and as we were loading up the rocks, they were talking about renting a rototiller -- we said we still had my brother's and if they wanted to borrow it for the weekend in exchange for the rocks, they could save the rental fee. They were excited, and so we made a nice swap.  I love a win/win!  When they finished with the rototiller, they had another small pile of rocks for us, too.  This is just a small sample:

One of the nice things about working on the yard, and its slow evolution from dead grass to nicely landscaped yard is meeting our neighbors, all of whom come by with encouragement and kind words about our progress.  Nearly everyone says something nice about the front walkway in particular - how well it goes with the house.  So that's nice to hear!  This evening, our neighbors to the north were out working on their irrigation system, so it was nice to chat with them and work side-by-side.

Coming soon: the big reveal of our finished yard!

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