TPFNPGT Sunday, fresh legs and new batteries…

Here we go again! My schedule for the second day of the Theodore Payne Foundation 2017 Native Plant Garden Tour is ambitious so I do my eating and driving on my own time and arrive and my first garden of the day just at the 10 am opening bell.

A CHALLENGING HILLSIDE–the Rice-Siwolop garden in Beachwood Canyon

This recently renovated Mid-Century Modern home had perhaps the smallest front yard I have ever seen!

This massive 7 ft. retaining wall rose from the narrow public sidewalk to enable these gardeners to have a small strip of level ground which you see in the photo below. This very narrow bed, anchored by the broken concrete walkway, was planted in California fuchsia (Epilobium ‘Silver Select’) and Silver Carpet aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia  ‘Silver Carpet’). And yes…those are the tops of the car parked on the street that you can see in that photo! The similarly narrow bed to the left of the steep steps held other silver green and gray native plantings and the superb non-native specimens of Euphorbia bourgeana  and  Agave parryi in the center photo.


So I am thinking–having spent more time locking up the car than I did in this garden that I will be way ahead on my schedule! The next garden is about 100 yds. uphill on the same street and as I pass by the street level garage I see the back yard is open also. An extremely narrow sidewalk flanked by the house on one side and another very high retaining wall on the uphill side leads to a funky two level wood staircase which takes me up into the back garden.


Holy slope! The back yard melds a wild and untamed slope with the man made elements required to make it accessible. The hillside is stabilized by a gabion wall, hemp and wattle erosion netting and large drifts of native plants.


The gabion, which you can see at the bottom of the photo, has its own story. Neither side of this lot has enough room for any mechanical digging apparatus access to this back slope. The terraces on the hillside were hand dug and the dirt hand carried down to the very narrow flatland. It was then screened and mixed with cement for stability and formed into the square blocks which fill the wire cages to form the gabion running the width of the yard. So…the slope is actually retaining itself!


Thoughtful placement of the timbers forms a set of steps which allow access to the upper levels for planting and maintenance. Natives anchoring the hillside included my new favorite Erigonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat), Pigeon Point dwarf coyote bush, Hearst’s ceanothus, Salvia leucophylla (purple sage), several types of manzanita and in summer, a wide variety of reseeding annual wild flowers.


A small lawn of common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is home to  native redbud, Cercis occidentalis, and offers a soft contrast to the more industrial feel of the hardscape. This property was truly an example of taking what you have and adapting your garden style to fit the site. Bravo!

As I walked up the hill to my second garden I passed several really well done landscapes, all using their steeply sloped lots to best advantage. Take a look…





Another Mid-Century Modern, another orange door! A standout feature of this front garden was the immense stand of lavender which occupied almost half of the slope. The combination of the lavender and the succulents seemed a bit of a disconnect for me up close but when you stood back and took in the home’s landscape in the context of the hillside it sort of worked itself out.


The back garden was planted in 2013 and offers a laid back style with naturalized scenery year round-interest. The homeowner reports lots of wildlife from the surrounding hills.


There is definitely a sunny side and a shady side to this back garden. This beautiful Palo Verde (Cercidium) tree anchors the sunny corner. You can get just a peek at the river rock wash descending the hill. The bed area behind the retaining wall incorporates additional drainage mechanics to direct water rushing off the slope in a rainstorm.


The Salvia sonomensis was a bee magnet and I think its season is just getting started. More creeping and mat forming than upright this species spreads to about 4 ft. wide and needs exceptional drainage, preferring gritty soil.


A mature pine provides a shaded spot just outside the home’s kitchen. Just as in the previous garden, the flat area is quite narrow but used really well, offering places to eat outside, rest and read a book or just observe the nature surrounding you.

My takeaway from the Beachwood Canyon gardens–steep slopes front and back presented challenges for these gardeners. A combination of good planning, thoughtful use of a variety of hardscape options and erosion control deep rooting plantings can tame the wild while preserving the expansive views offered by slopes on small lots.

NEXT UP–heading to Atwater Village

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