Keeping It Simple Part II

Welcome to our July edition. I appreciate all the positive comments regarding last month’s article and photos. Apparently several of us have a similar situation with oaks.  Thinking about what to do with that space is definitely challenging. However, there is hope, it can go from eyesore to attractive, guaranteed. There are procedures to follow because of the oaks’ native requirements, but there are plants that will  work.

This month we will discuss the backyard of the same home we discussed in June’s edition.  It will take a couple of months to review. It is hard to believe that this backyard can be so large when the front is just average in size. However, with cul-de-sac lots with the front facing the street, this is the rule. Because of the pie shape, these lots have all the “action” going on in the back.

This can be a good or a bad thing. If it is landscaped nicely, it’s a great place to hang out. Conversely if it is not, it’s a lot of unattractive space to look at… initially that was the case here. The kitchen looked directly into the backyard. I noted on my first visit that the blinds were shut, which can be a subconscious response, or conscience response if it’s a real eyesore. We do not want the “negative” feeling inside the house.  Though I title this article “Keeping it Simple,” there were aspects of the backyard that were anything but simple. However, as in the front yard where we did not add walls or a water feature, the same is true with the back. Being a sloped yard, the backyard already had a wall that terraced the yard. And they did not need the sound of water, which is very soothing, their swimming pool had a waterfall. So the structure and sound were already in place, and when done correctly, pool and landscape make a great marriage. Together they can really make the backyard an oasis. Done incorrectly, too much pool and/or cement lead to a more monochromic backyard  leaving little room to add landscape which creates interest, brings in color, and softens the hardscape. However, this was not the case here, we had all the space we needed.

The challenges in this yard were many. First, the drains did not have enough slope to allow them to drain to the front.  A couple years ago via one good rain the water almost made it inside the kitchen.  We definitely had a drain problem.

Next, the irrigation layout did not make any sense. Given the size of the yard the irrigation valves should not have been in the far east corner with the irrigation lines running the course of the backyard. That was a lot of pressure drop. Instead we centered the irrigation and divided the yard in half. (I’ll explain more in next month’s article)   

Lastly, the plant selection was very “plain Jane.” Ceanothus horizontal is for those of you that know it, (same as in the before picture last month) was planted all along the slope. It’s a super-fast grower, hard to keep organized and it is really boring.   The only thing that spoke of rest or pleasure was the pool. However, with all the imbalance, even the pool’s influence was muted.

So, where to start? In taking on a larger project (this one took seven weeks) it can be challenging to know how to break it down and what should come first. However, in this case with winter fast approaching (we started the first of November) the decision was easy, DRAINS! Had it been summer I probably would have tackled the slope.

What I am about to share next is supercritical, so please note. Drains are pointless if they are blocked. Most of the time I find blockage in two places: at the point of exit by the street they are often covered over by lawn. This problem is easy to deal with, just clean out the lawn from the drain opening. However, more difficult is the second blockage. As the drains exit down the sides of our house, which represents the narrowest part of the yard, often trees, either ours or our neighbors, are planted along this narrow corridor. The roots do not have far to travel to encounter drains and most of the time the points of connection where the drain couplers are, are not wrapped. It literally takes nothing for the roots to make their way into the drain. Making a habit to get the drains cleared once a year, preferably in the fall, is a needful habit if this is your scenario. An easy test is to run water in the them, gently as if it was raining from a far point or center of the yard, see how long they take to drain. You can determine from this easy test if you need your drains professionally cleared and potentially save yourself from major headaches and cost.

For this yard we completely redid all the drains. One of the best comments I received from Regina, the owner, was a phone call after one of our thunderstorms to say not a drop stayed on the patio or even came close to the kitchen door – so that was cool.

Next month we will continue, however our discussion about drains was worth its space. We are always pulling up drain lines that are packed with roots and at that point there is no choice but to put in new ones. Sometimes that means cutting the cement and re-pouring and that’s when things can get a little expensive.

Gardeners –  If you have been maintaining your garden properly, July is peak production month. The plants are large now and may even need some judicious pruning, additional staking or tying.  Whiteflies, though not harmful technically, are annoying and messy. If you goggle spray solutions for whiteflies you will come across some interesting recipes. Try a few and if one works, let me know!

Good Gardening – Arthur