Monday, November 26, 2012

Patio foundation with pea gravel and decomposed granite

 Brick Patio Foundation project:

Instead of resting like my cat, I worked on my patio's sub base.

I removed about 6" of soil where the patio is going to be. Used that soil to build berms for my two cactus/succulent islands. A garden hoe is a must to spread the decomposed granite around.  This is the first rough estimate layer.


Then landscape fabric, a couple inches of pea gravel, and a couple of inches of decomposed granite. I used 1" pvc pipes and a 2x4 to screed the DG. There is a slight slope away from the house. I dropped the level 1" every 8 ft. The longest part of the patio goes 16 feet back adjacent to the north wall.

My plan is to use a herring bone pattern with the bricks with the arrow shapes pointed towards the south east corner of the yard. That will draw the eye towards that corner of the yard.  I use a low end Gorilla dump cart that has "no flat" tires.  I think that is much easier than pushing a wheelbarrow around because you don't have to lift the weight nor balance the load as much.  The brick patio will be nicely shaded during the summer when the sun angle is more overhead.

I watered the sub base and tamped it down.  It's a great feeling to see the patio coming so close to done.

I use drip irrigation, and will leave the lines above the patio for easy maintenance.  I plan to use only solar lights, and if I need a power outlet back here, I'll just use an extension cord so no need for under patio electricity or irrigation.  I'll save myself future headaches by keeping it simple there.

For long portions of the patio, I duct taped two sections of pipe together. You can see the wooden stakes I used to calculate and mark the slope away from the house here.  It feels so good to see a flat surface after so much hard labor work.  :)

Here is a photo of the 2x4 lumber I used to screed the DG to make it the proper level.  I can hardly wait to get the bricks laid.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Best sand box ever! :)

We finally did it!  These photos were taken at the crack of noon.  My wife and I moved 15 tons of 3/8" pea gravel from our driveway into the backyard and it looks amazing.  I was so excited to see it today for the first time in day light that I didn't even bother to run around to trim off excess pieces of landscape fabric around some edges or tidy up the mounds of extra gravel before photographing.  What can I say.  I'm a gardener, not a perfectionist.  I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

My desert roses have been in bloom since early June, and they're still going.

Here's what it looked like before the metamorphosis.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Backyard building materials

Materials cost

This is what our back yard currently looks like.

A couple of years ago, I had a slightly different plan for the yard.  I asked a landscape designer and builder for an estimate of how much it would cost to execute.  He said he would charge me $30,000 to do it all.  Needless to say, that was not an option.

Our yard is approximately 50' x 50'.  The perimeter has already been planted and mulched.  I asked for enough gravel to cover 40' x 40' area with 2" of gravel.  I bought everything at National Building Supply in Sylmar, CA.

3/8" pea gravel - 15 tons x $21 = $315

Decomposed granite - 8 scoops x $15 = $120

LB 3 Rivers Rock - 1,700 lbs (1 pallet) x $0.18 = $306

Delivery $75

Terra cotta brown charcoal bricks $1.30 per sq. ft. (normally $1.90) x 400 sq. ft. = $520
2nd Delivery $45.  Not the red ones, the neutral ones.  I just put them next to common red bricks for comparison.

Grand Total $1,381

The only thing I need in addition is a few 1" pvc pipes, and an edging to hammer down around the outside perimeter.  Oh yeah, and it will also cost me blood, sweat, and pain; the labor of love.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

V&N Nursery in Venice, CA review

I went to V&N Nursery in Venice, CA recently.  The staff is friendly and helpful.  The grounds are clean and organized.  This is definitely a nursery for succulent gardeners and collectors.  Nothing is tagged with a price or plant ID so you have to ask how much everything costs.  Their prices are pretty fair.  I would still stand behind the "if you can buy a plant at Home Depot, then do it" rule because they usually have the lowest prices and the plants are guaranteed for a year.  Their webpage is not helpful at all other than to get their address.  The nice thing here is that it's usually very cool weather here since it's very near to the beach.  San Diego has some awesome succulent gardens but boy are they scorching especially in the summer.

 This is an interesting vertical succulent frame display they made.

 They have a few decent succulent arrangements on display.

 They sell some decorative gravel and rocks for potting arrangements and terrariums.

 Succulents are good for relieving itching.

 Everyone needs a giant dinosaur in their garden.

 They carry several landscape sized plants including these large golden barrels that grow super slow.

The quality that makes this nursery stand out is the fact that they have some nice landscape sized plants for decent prices.  I mean plants that are probably not going to randomly show up at the Home Depot.  These include a Aloe barbarae, Aloe marlothii, Aloe ramosissima, and Yucca rostrata.  There are probably several more.  They also have Totem Pole cactus but that seems to be expensive everywhere unless you buy a tiny piece.  There are no discounted bargain bin plants here.  Overall, this is a pretty good nursery for succulents in the L.A. area that I've been to with a decent selection and prices.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Backyard desert garden design concept and Turf Removal Program!

Summer in the Valley has been reaching temperatures near and over 100 degrees easily for several weeks in a row.

I haven't blogged for a while because I'm a one man army weeding, pruning our crazy fast growing creeping fig.  I had two Bonsai teachers tell me that bonsai can take full sun no problem but they are wrong.  Not in my yard.  My backyard gets FULL sun, and like most normal people, I'm not around to water my trees three times a day.  All of the nurseries I visited are covered around the borders with tall shade trees.  Most of the plants are under 50% shade cloth or planted in the ground.

In FULL sun?  Bonsais burn like vampires in the sunlight.  My shimpaku juniper has been watered every day and the tips are super brown from burning.  The fig bonsai trunks are like burnt toast.  Even some of the cacti are getting a little yellow on top.  I recently got into collecting some aloes and so far none of them can take full sun.  I had to move things around so that they wouldn't burn.

Southern California has a turf removal program where the city will pay you $1 or more per square foot of turf removal to save water.  Info and application is here: 

This is important because you can get up to $3,000 worth of rebate for removing your turf!

So here were my plans so far for the backyard desert garden design.  Funny how my first idea was to build a Japanese garden.

Ignore the random looking plant list.  That will change all over the place since building this design will take me a long period of time.  There are five main areas.  The left side is our north wall, the top is our east wall.  I'm using Japanese garden aesthetics and keeping the design as simple as possible.

1 - There are three planting islands that I plan to top with decomposed granite.  Four scoops of it altogether should cover both large islands for a total of about $200 for materials.  Those areas are colored yellow above.
2 - The terracotta colored area will be acid stained concrete slab.
3 - The gray area will have a simple pergola with a flat corrugated polycarbonate 50% gray roof to protect some bonsai and more fragile succulents
4 - The blue area represents decorative gravel approximately 35' x 35'.  probably 3/8" sized in a cool neutral to represent water, 2" deep, which is 7 tons of material.  For crushed sm. pea gravel, the cost is $540 from a local supplier including delivery.
5 - The dark brown area represents a border that will be mulched and planted with traditional landscape plants and trees; juniper, pine, bougainvillea, camelia shrubs, and the likes.

Here's what our yard currently looks like.  It's a mix between Japanese and desert garden.  I would say 25% Japanese, and 75% desert garden.

To the north east corner is our mature avocado tree.  The rest of the yard is in FULL sun.  You can't see it but I have a tiny silk floss tree in the middle towards the east wall.  Close to the south wall is a beautiful palo verde.

This is a close-up of the Palo Verde flower.  This tree can take the heat like no other.  Super nice!  :)  I bought one for the front yard and one for the backyard.

We chose the sample on the top left.  Looks pretty dull and boring dry, but nice when it's wet.  Our second choice which is also really nice is the top right sample that looks like yellow corn kernels.  The reason for the cool grey color is that it's a bit darker so it will reflect less sunlight into our house, and it will be a nice contrast to the yellow planting islands that will be covered in decomposed granite which is pretty yellow.  Either way, they both would look great.

Wet gravel looks more saturated in colors.  The cool grey one has a more subdued beauty that you would have to get close to appreciate.  It's nice to use these kinds of materials to "invite" people to come out and take their time to enjoy the details.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm planting specifically, but I am gathering some nice material.  Some of it has been donated by good friends I made along the way of this xeriscaping journey.  This is a sneak peak of what I got so far.

Nothing crazy or rare; just a nice big piece of apple cactus and common jade.  I'm a firm believer in growing what you have success with.  People often plant jade as a low maintenance shrub and neglect it.  It's no wonder it turns into an ugly plant that grew randomly.  There are several kinds of jade that are very nice such as sunset jade, and Portulacaria afra (small leaf jade or elephant bush).  They make excellent succulent bonsai subjects.  Why not put use them in a landscape and train them like Niwaki?  Niwaki are basically like Bonsai, but planted in the ground instead of in a pot.  Unlike the front yard project, I think the backyard will take me several years to complete.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Theodore Payne Foundation nursery

We went to the Theodore Payne Foundation on Saturday and it was very nice.  Theodore Payne was an English horticulturist from London who fell in love with California natives around the mid 1890's and dedicated his life to preserving them.  His nursery started out in Downtown Los Angeles and moved around several times before its current location in Sun Valley.  The staff was very helpful to answer questions and show me where to find plants.  They even offered me a planting guide and asked me where I live and how I plan to use the plants.  The nursery was very clean and organized.  The plants were separated by plant communities such as riparian (streamside) or desert, and very well labelled which makes life a lot easier.  There was a nice little clearance section with a couple of gems left.

A couple of years ago I fell in love with the Japanese dry garden and really wanted to build one in our backyard.  However with the Southern California heat, the water bill would be ridiculous.  My plan B for the backyard was creating a garden with California natives mixed with my collection of succulents, cacti, and other desert plant material.  Our backyard is still in the very beginning stages of development so I bought a few California natives to begin building a foundation to work with.

On the left side of the photo is the Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) planted into the ground on nursery grounds.

This is the desert willow flower.  It's pink on the outside and dark magenta on the inside.  The bell shaped flowers are fragrant and apparently blooms from April through August!

I bought a 1 gallon parajo (paradise) manzanita, scarlet monkey flowers (mimulus cardinalis), 1 gallon desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), 1 gallon Howard McMinn Manzanita, 1 gallon Coast Live Oak to add to my bonsai growing collection, a small packet of California poppy seeds, and a nice brown rectangular pot.  The Mimulus Cardinalis is a herbaceous perennial, which means that it will die down to the ground during dormancy but parts of it will survive underground and it will grow back when growing season returns.

I wanted to get the Big berry Glauca Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) because they look spectacular in the ground, but they were out of stock.  You can make jam with the berries.  I will have to come back for that guy.

One of these days when I have the time and money, I will have to build one of these potting stations.  Seems like a nice shady place you can sit down and relax during an afternoon after working on some plants.

This nursery has some serious native gardening courses.  They have a book store, potting station, and also sell pots, gravel, and soil.  It is a very well rounded nursery with a hiking trail and example gardens of the plants grown in the ground.

I was inspecting some native drought tolerant grasses that you don't have to mow, and a ferocactus that was not for sale, but first things first; establish a foundation to create some shade and a general plan for how the garden will be used.  The drought tolerant grass goes dormant in the summer and comes back when the temperatures cool down.

A few good reasons why we should build native gardens are to save water because they establish after one or two years and are fully drought tolerant.  The plants support local bees, butterflies, and birds.  They are easier to care for because you don't have to fertilize, amend soil, or use fungicide or any other chemicals.  Lastly, they are quite beautiful plants and we have a huge variety to suit our tastes.

If you live in the near area, I highly recommend you visit this nursery.  They also have an uphill hiking trail behind the nursery which gives hikers a lovely view of native flowers. We didn't get to walk the trail, but we will visit again and take more photos in the future!

For more info please visit their webpage link below:

Theodore Payne Foundation