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.

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