Improv Medit Garden

As a result of the sewer lateral I had to create a little improv garden for many of the plants in my mediterranean garden.  They were just going to die if I left them out of the ground while I waited for the work to finish. I potted up what I could but some of them were too large for one gallon pots and too small for five gallon pots. Luckily last year I created a garden bed in my back yard that failed. I had to do a lot of traveling last summer during the hottest, driest part of the year and what was mean to be a garden full of Salvia and other hummingbird attracting plants died.  The only survivors were a Kniphofia Flamenco, a Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ and a Grevillea ‘Penola’. There was a lot of empty space.  So I threw together a quick design and planted what I could. It isn’t perfect but I just had to get the plants in the ground quickly.

The picture above is what it looked like back in mid March.

And this is what it looks like now. Not bad considering the horrible dry and hot weather we have had since they were planted. I’ve actually dispensed with my usual hand watering and used a sprinkler to get this garden established.

Altogether about a quarter of the plants in my mediterranean garden got to stay where they were, a quarter were moved to this new bed, a quarter died or were, and a quarter went into pots where they await a future garden.

I used to hate the chain link fence around this part of the yard but now I am relieved it is there. My new neighbor has a dog that always escapes her confinement while he is at work and runs amuck through the garden. This is the one part of my yard that I know is safe from her.  Eccremocarpus and Cobaea are hard at work covering the fence so I can live with it.

Glaucium grandiflorum is a Mediterranean poppy and was the plant I was most worried about losing but it started blooming this week and you would never know that it had been moved.

Kniphofia Flamenco is a seed strain of South African red hot poker. It can be quite variable so it is best to only buy it when the flowers are in bloom so you are sure you like what you are getting. This soft orange and yellow is just what I wanted. Most Kniphofia grow near streams and moist areas and some are from summer rainfall areas of eastern South Africa so they do usually need some summer water to perform at their best but they do really well in California. Surprisingly this is one of the few plants that had survived in this spot from my former attempt at making a garden here.

Astericus maritimus from the Canary Islands and Mediterranean is a great plant if you want quick results.

I actually prefer these Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ in this spot than I did in their old home. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that they had to be moved.

This Lavandula pinnata var. buchii was enormous and in full bloom when it had to be moved and it wad dug up by some random construction guy who “helped” me. It had very little roots left and I thought it was toast. I got it back into the ground as quickly as I could but the entire thing just wilted and flopped over.  I pruned it back almost all the way to the ground and in less than two months it has bounced back really nicely and started blooming again.  Behind it is Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’, which was also a survivor of the originally planned hummingbird garden in this spot, is already getting ready to bloom.

Salvia ‘Aromas’ sulked for a while but has perked up now and started to bloom. I considered moving it back to the front garden but decided not to push my luck. There are only so many times you can move plants this time of year before they give up.

Phlomis purpurea is another sulker that didn’t like being moved. Interestingly I read recently that one of the adaptations of some species of Phlomis, in the hot, dry summers of the Mediterranean areas they come from, is seasonal dimorphism of their leaves. Their winter leaves are thicker and better adapted to photosynthesize and the summer leaves are thinner, smaller, and even hairier and better adapted to retain moisture. I noticed with the shock of the move and the onset of hotter drier weather that these plants lost their leaves and regrew smaller leaves and have now stopped wilting.

Curious about how the newly planted old bed is doing?

The above picture is how it looked in early March. The center strip is mostly California natives. Salvia melifera, Arctostaphylos ‘Sentinel’, three types of Eriogonum, Erigeron ‘Wayne Roderick’, and purple and white California poppies. They looked so tiny back then it was definitely a bit depressing starting from scratch just when the garden had been ready to take off.

Two months later I have to admit I am kind of shocked at how quickly they have grown. I think by next year this garden will be fully filled out and looking great. Despite the fact that they are now in pure sand and it has bee so hot and dry they are thriving on just weekly watering. In fact they are showing no signs of stress at all so I may start moving them to a twelve day watering cycle and see how they do.

Of course I wish the construction had never happened but I think the garden is coming along nicely.

Well at least that is over with…sort of.

I woke to the sound of knocking at my front door at 8:00 am this morning and leapt out of bed. I knew it could only be bad news.  Sure enough when I opened the front door there were two guys digging plants out of the mediterranean garden and the foreman was there to let me know the lateral was going in earlier than expected.  I ran and got a shovel to help them remove plants. In 15 minutes all the plants in the center of the garden were out and the excavator was in place.  I tried to take out my more beloved specimens myself because of course the construction guys were not as careful about getting all the roots out as I was.  We’ll see what makes it and what doesn’t.  I’m guessing it may be something like 50/50 or worse.

This is just not the sort of thing one wants to see in their garden.

Here are my plants all piled up on top of each other.  That Lavandula pinnata var. buchii has been in full glorious bloom since last summer and all through winter but sadly one of the guys got to it before I could and not it has no roots. It may survive if I hack it way back.

It doesn’t help that today and tomorrow are going to be the hottest days in the past two months. It got up to about 73 today.  Everything was looking very droopy.

I was hoping I would have the weekend to carefully remove each plant myself.

Salvia africana-lutea stayed in place and was just out of the danger zone.  It was a risk and it did get a ton of stray sand dumped on it as the excavator bucket went back and forth but I think it will be OK.

I’m just so fried at this point.  Remember my pictures just a week or two ago on how far the garden had come in a year?  Back to square one.

In goes the lateral pipe. That white pipe across the top of the hole was the original irrigation. It is a damned good thing I never got around to installing drip in this garden.  One less hassle to worry about.

They were really careful not to hit the gas line (the gas pipe was just beyond the guy laying the lateral).  Big relief as I didn’t really need another headache to worry about.

Once the pipe was laid they filled the hole back up. Sort of. A lot of the soil is still on the street.  And of course my good compost is gone and now I have a mess of Los Osos sand. Blargh. Well at least this is a garden of drought tolerant plants that want good drainage.

And the final view. Compare that to last weeks pictures.  It looks like my garden was attacked by an army of plant hating fiends. And Gabe’s Bobcat is in the repair shop. I was hoping he would be able to come over and contour a little soil for me. I guess I’ll be doing it by hand.

This has been a terrible week but at least it is over. And while the sewer construction continues on my street for at least another two months at least they finished my side street (I hope).

One bright spot was that my free seed allotment from the Mediterranean Garden Society arrived in the mail today.  So maybe there will be a bit of new life on the way to make up for all the plants that won’t make it.

Strike that – Reverse it

Just pretend that I didn’t say any of that optimistic stuff the past few days. This sewer stuff flat-out sucks.

The damage done after the second day wasn’t pretty.

Remember my pretty Calocephalus (Leucophyta) brownii?  This is what they looked like after having one of those giant walls of metal dropped on them.

The front corner of the mediterranean garden is not looking pretty. These plants have been stepped on, crushed, and driven over.

Now I don’t really know much about construction or mechanical things so much of this sort of work is a mystery to me.  I’ve read up a bit about the process but I didn’t really have a clear picture of what all of it meant.  But by the end of the second day I suddenly had a feeling of dread.  Remember when I peeked into that hole and was surprised to see the sewer pipes were 10-12 feet below ground?  I suddenly realized that meant that the lateral connecting line was at that depth too.  How would a home owner dig down that deep when the time came to connect.  I suddenly felt really foolish for being so optimistic. Surely this construction crew is going send that lateral line at least partly through my yard? And my lateral will go right through the medit garden. Not a few years from now like I originally thought but right now.

So I spoke to a few of the guys about it and sure enough another crew is coming next week (hopefully) and will connect the lateral from the sewer pipe up to the edge of the property line. Then when it is all done the homeowner has to decommission their septic and connect the house to that lateral. Yikes! That means I have to start removing plants!

I removed a few last night from the front of the garden just to prevent them from being stomped on.  I’m pretty much going to remove the rest of the garden at least up to the mailbox this weekend. I just hope that they really do come and finish the work next week so my plants aren’t sitting around out of the soil more than a week.

Trying to put a positive spin on it now I can further address any design issues I wasn’t happy about.  But I have to say I am a bit burnt out at this point.  Between the noise and the needless destruction (people taking short cuts through the garden, people dropping hoses and other equipment on plants) I’m about done. And it has only been three days.

Another good thing is that once that line is in that will really be the worst of it. I can plan around the connection to the septic tank (or more likely I won’t even still be here by the time that happens).

I thought I had removed the plants that were in the worst danger but this afternoon I went out and noticed this crater where a (brand new) Phlomis cashmeriana had been. The plant was in the bottom of the two foot deep crater upside down and beat to hell.  I think it was probably an accidental slip up with the excavator bucket.

One good outcome of my questioning the guys about the lateral was that they realized that they had faced mine the wrong way.  It was facing into my landlady’s driveway instead of toward my yard!  Zheesh. Good thing we caught it now. They had to go back in 12 feet with the excavator and fix the problem. My landlady is lucky I am here keeping an eye on things because if I wasn’t she probably would have arrived in a few weeks and discovered she no longer had a driveway!

Hopefully the Phlomis will recover.

At this point at least half of the self-sown annuals I was so excited about are demolished.  Today they parked their water truck in my driveway all day and when they backed it up they went through another area that I thought was safe. Well if things go well the lateral installation will happen early next week and will just take a day. The sewer pipe construction is now at the cross street and getting further and further away. I’ll survive this right?

The good thing about plants?

They grow back. At least that is what I have been telling myself all day.  I’m trying to be really calm and zen about the chaos and destruction to the garden today.

See the big white pipe to the left of the mailbox (sitting in the middle of the garden)?  That is the attachment for the lateral that will eventually connect to the house where the septic was.  That doesn’t happen until 2015 or so but is a reminder that will definitely be some destruction to the garden in the future.  Nothing to be done about but now that I know exactly where it is I may reposition some of the shrubbier plants while they are still small.


Surveying equipment sitting in my annuals, cables crushing my Mentzelia, pipes, tarps, and ladders resting on the mediterranean garden and lots of boots clomping through all of it today since there is very little room for them to maneuver. 

At least the endangered snails across the street got their protective barrier.

When there is stuff like this going on in front of your garden you know all your plants aren’t going to escape damage.

At noon every day the guys take a half hour lunch break. I snuck over to have a closer look.  I was surprised at how far down the sewer pipes are laying.  I’m not sure if it is clear from my photo but that blue pipe at the bottom is at least ten to twelve feet down.

At the rate they are going they definitely should be done with my little side street by Friday and each day they get further and further away from the garden so hopefully there will be less of a need to store equipment on plants or walk through the garden.

The good thing about all this is it is still only mid February. Once they are done I can go out and asses the damage and replace or cut back any plants that took a beating. By May or June the construction will just be a memory and there is plenty of time before then to get the garden in decent shape. Remember that the annuals were just seedlings that came up so are basically free.  If they won’t recover it isn’t the end of the world.




First Day of Sewer Work

Beep Beep Beep Beep!  I’ll be hearing that noise every time a big truck backs up in front of my house for a while.

I was watching like a hawk this morning to make sure they knew that the amended plans didn’t involved cutting through my garden!

Happily it soon became clear that they wouldn’t cut through my garden but through my landlady’s front yard instead! She is planning on removing the lawn and putting in a xeric garden when this is all done so this all works out for the best.  I did call her to warn her though as I don’t think she realized this was going to happen. That poor Phormium is toast!

You can see the corner of my mediterranean garden over on the left. Luckily the sewers aren’t really that close. I was afraid there would be collateral damage but it has been amazing watching the guys working and seeing how careful and precise they are.  Most of them have been careful to stay off the garden though one surveyor kept clomping through it even as his assistant took pains to go around and stick to the paths.

The crazy contraption attached to the front of this wheel loader is called an “Asphalt Zipper”.

It grinds up the asphalt in a line so the hydraulic excavator can go to work removing the soil beneath.  Kind of nerve-wracking to see this beast of a truck right in front of my path garden!

This is what it looked like when he was done!

Remember when I was wondering the other day what those big metal objects being stored in front of my neighbor’s house were?

The excavator lifts them into place and they are then used as a guide while they are digging.  I guess they stabilize the soil while the excavator scoops it out and they place the pipes.  I assume it is removed after several segments are connected.

Two pipes are brought over.

And dropped off right at the edge of the garden! Ack!

Luckily most of the plants along the street are pretty tough and will either bounce back if they are smooshed or can be easily replaced.

At any rate they didn’t stay there very long.

In they go.

Surprisingly after all this intense work done just a few feet away from my garden very little was damaged.  The corner got smooshed a bit and some of my nice Dudleyas lost a few leaves but I can live with that.  They got two segments in today and as easy day goes by they are moving further away from my yard.  I’m sure there will be some nail-biting moments tomorrow but for the most part they guys have been really respectful of the plants.

Oh and remember the other day when I was wondering why they were rooting around in the ice plant across the street?

Turns out that little strip of land is home to the endangered Morro shoulderband snail. A count was being done and I think he said he would relocate some of them to another protected area and he might put up some protection around this bit of land while they are digging up the street.

They aren’t garden pests like the European garden snails as they just feed on detritus and decaying vegetation. I asked if they would be impacted by my attempts at snail control in my garden and he said they generally aren’t found in cultivated garden areas. While he was working in the area some western bluebirds got real interested in what he was doing. Hopefully they stick to a diet of invasive plant-eating snails and leave these poor endangered ones alone but at any rate I was excited to see bluebirds in my neighborhood again and it was cool to learn about these shoulderband snails.


Got this foreboding notice on my door Friday morning.

The work starts Monday but our street was already a hub of activity as they prepare to start the sewer installation.

Bright teal sewer mains were delivered.

And unloaded and stored across the street in the easement in front of my neighbor’s house. Incidentally that is the driveway that they would have torn right through if they had stuck to the original plan that went through my garden. Instead I believe they are going through the little dirt road between the driveway and the yellow house or maybe even through those pines.

Yikes! That is my poor mediterranean garden. The excavator in the background is parked and ready for work to begin connecting my street to the sewers that were already installed back in December in the field beyond the fence. Even though they supposedly won’t be tearing through my garden I am concerned about collateral damage. It is amazing how precise they are with these huge machines though. Hopefully there are no accidents.  My aunt lives in Key Largo, Florida where they just had their sewers installed and she warned me to keep an eye on things.  Sometimes not everyone is on the same page when construction begins.  She had some amendments on her property that were accidentally almost ignored. It would have cost her twice as much if she hadn’t realized it before hand.

In our case here not only is there the garden to worry about but in the original plans the lateral connection was planned on the wrong side of the house. That would have been an expensive nightmare to deal with down the line when the house is connected to the sewers.

I live on a dead-end side street at the end of a dead-end street.  Getting in and out for the next few months will be a big pain the ass.

So many trucks! So much beeping!

I watched in awe as this hydraulic excavator was unloaded. Looks like we won’t be renovating that side yard for some time, huh?

I’m relieved they decided to store their equipment in my neighbors easement instead of mine.  Now WTF are those giant yellow things?

And WTF are these giant things? As annoying as the construction is going to be I think it might be kind of interesting to have a front row seat to see it all happening.

There are several giant piles of gravel in front of several neighbors houses.  Hmmm…that looks like it would make a nice mulch.

From my side door I could see one guy pretty much spent the day rooting around in my neighbors side easement. He would pull out plants, look at their roots, and then toss them in a pile. He did that for at least six hours.  I took a closer look after they left and realized he was pulling out ice plant.  This is just one of the many piles.  What was he doing? What was he looking for? Anyone know?

The plant is Carpobrotus edulis from South Africa. It is a nasty and very invasive mesemb that has taken over much of the coastal areas of California, Australia, and the Mediterranean to the detriment of native plants.  As far as ice plants go it isn’t even very attractive.  So if there is a bright side to all this construction this is it.  Maybe if he is back on Monday I’ll ask what he was looking for. I actually didn’t even realize that these plants were there as there are also grasses there and I never really looked that closely.

So the next few months are probably going to be a bit hellish.  Hopefully the work goes smoothly and if nothing else it will be good to have it over with sooner rather than later.  I just hope that my sanity and garden survive intact.