“Perversely inclined to do the opposite” is exactly what makes my attempt to have a Southern California garden, so maddening. The contrary nature of the seasonal weather, decomposed granite, natural and artificial fertilizers, and area-suited plants, even those that are thriving in one location in my yard but suffering in another (under similar conditions of sun and water) is why few on my street bother with landscaping. With all due respect to Mother Goose, there ain’t nothing suited to El Cajon except coyote bush, weeds, and cactus.
When I bought this home two decades ago, it had lawns in front and back. A huge orange tree in back that produced sweet fruit twice a year. Next to it was an Apricot tree that never seemed to produce anything in the couple years before it died. Over the next couple years, I fenced off a swath of the yard for my pets to water – they really are not ‘inside’ dogs – in between the daily walks. Then we were invaded by gophers and bureaucrats with water-rationing PSAs (Public Service Announcements) and water-use penalties (the utilities also raised the rates because homeowners cut use way back!). Old, long-established rose bushes succumbed to gophers and drought. The lawns did not survive the onslaught .
A couple Tecoma Stans, the Texas woody shrub with perennial flowers, attract hummingbirds and bees in the front yard, and thrive with routine watering (though supposed drought-tolerant) and pruning. The two in the front are approaching tree height and look great but it has taken a lot of effort. A dwarf palm is growing finally -while its twin died a quick death a couple years after their simultaneous planting. An Aleppo pine is firmly entrenched and is growing well with some shaping earlier this year. Three Blue Potato bushes grew, thrived, and when they were horribly mangled by some gardeners, were pruned to the ground this past January. With a lot of care this year, they are thriving as well.
All of these are in the western side of my home so they get the full extent of afternoon sun. Yet the ones that are most impacted are in back – they get sun all the day long. When I compare my landscape with others on neighboring streets, I was too ambitious. Some are strictly a couple mature trees. Some are succulents. And some have a couple fruit trees. The sole exception is one house with dozens of Palm trees. Like an oasis in the middle of suburbia, yet I imagine their water bill must keep the utility profitable.
For years I looked out at my back yard, at dirt, a cinderblock wall ( I put that in five years ago!) and a couple of cacti in small pots. In the last three years, as the drought seemed to abate, I got bolder by planting Lime, Lemon, Apricot, Peach, Nectarine and Pear trees. The lime tree died almost immediately. In part of the yard that gets some relief from the afternoon sun, I’ve got grapes vines starting to take. As for my fruit trees, gophers nearly killed the apricot tree, but it is as stubborn at clinging to life as I am in keeping it alive. This is the first October that it is growing larger than a bonsai. The others may start fruiting next spring. And my lemon tree is producing a few dozen a couple times a year.
My critters love to help me fertilize and water. I have fenced off “landscaping” from the “sacrificial” veronica bushes Comet loves to mark as his. When my neighbor to the north took out an old fence and palm tree, replacing them with new walls and fence. I started to think what could I do to build a dog-run. Despite the toll on the landscape not fenced off, my dogs have kept the gophers completely out of the yard. My neighbor to the south has no pets: despite his anti-gopher campaign, his rototillered front yard remains a gopher magnet. I can always go to the nursery where my old friend will sell me more drought-tolerant plants. No rhyme or reason needed.
Mary, you can keep your silverbells – mine are yellow anyway- and, please, take your contrary pigtails and watering whatnot, somewhere else.