Native plants and fixes out front

female mountain pepper flower

Gardens! Talk about money pits.

I posted about the direction (and native plants!) I’d like for our front yard, and now that we’re working on it, I’m starting to feel like I might be in over my head on this. Gardening and landscaping is laborious and costly. Who knew, right? Still, we’re out there working on things anyway.

We’re doing this ourselves, so it’s all happening piecemeal as we spend a couple hours here and there in the yard. One tiny change at a time, is how this will go. I’m counting on the fact that one day there will be so many tiny changes that it looks like a fully updated, unified space.

One day.

Right now our whole front yard looks pretty blah, but more and more areas are getting planted out and tidied.

blank slate yard

gravel beds before

I’d decided on the plants for hedging against this wall and acquired them, which was the easy bit. The tough part was clearing everything out of these areas and getting them ready to plant. The treated pine edging was easy to remove, but Jamie and I spent a couple of evenings just hauling out gravel and plastic weed matting. The gravel layer was several inches thick.

wheelbarrow gravel

MVP of all of our house purchases so far, right here. This is only a half-size, 45L wheelbarrow, but it works for our little yard. We couldn’t have created a mountain of gravel behind the carport without it.

Once the gravel and weedmat were out, I dug my holes – 2x wider than the rootball – and used a hand cultivator on the sides (but not the bottom) to break up the immediate surrounding soil a little bit. Our soil is on the clayey side, which is unfortunate since these guys all like sandy, rough soils. Still, there’s plenty of earthworms in the soil and the drainage is reasonable, so I figured I’d be fine if I didn’t add any soil breaker. I mixed in some leaf mulch and potting soil for natives and I’m hoping for the best.

front beds full 2

And… the underwhelming result of freshly planted baby plants and messy mulch beds.

The plants look so teensy! But they’re spaced out so they’ll all fit well together once they hit their mature sizes. It’d be such a pain to constantly hack away at these plants to keep everything from getting all tangled and overgrown.

I’m planning to put in timber edging and a pathway alongside the beds, so that’s on deck for the next round of tiny garden changes. We also just bought a line trimmer, so that’ll keep things from looking so raggedy out here. Work in progress, folks.

lomatia close

The pretty ferny foliage was the whole reason why I got the guitar plants. It also feels good to plant something that’s endemic to this state.

bed left

L-R: Channel-leaf featherbush, guitar plant, ‘Dark Delight’ flax, ‘Limelight’ dwarf acacia. The neon blue hose is just a bonus feature.

I used mulch rather than keeping the gravel and weedmat, for several reasons:

  1. It does all the same things gravel does (retains moisture, lets air and water pass through, helps block weeds, etc)
  2. It feeds the soil
  3. Lone straggler weeds can be yanked without wrecking the barrier further
  4. Pine bark is acidic, these guys all like acidic
  5. It’s woodsy and pretty

hebe pit

pepperberry bed before

Meanwhile, this area by the front of the house was empty and sad after we transplanted the mature hebe out from the corner. I planted two Tasmanian pepperberry plants back in September, and they went in this spot because it’s one of the shadiest, boggiest sections of our yard. They’re putting on good growth, and look pretty happy here in general. Hooray. So I thought I’d mulch them in, to tidy up the area and help keep the weeds at bay while they’re still little sprouts.

pepperberry growth

That’s the female plant, in early October and early November. Look at her go!

pepperberry bed nov

Look at that tidier bed… with plants you can still barely see.

They might be little now, but they’re meant to grow to about 2m high and wide. In their native environment, they can apparently grow up to 10m high! Holy moly. They should be under control here, especially since they grow slowly, but if they do outgrow this spot we can transplant them to the backyard.

I mixed in a bit of compost with the soil, and then laid down cardboard before covering it all in pine bark mulch. I read about ‘solarising’ with cardboard and decided to give it a try, to see if it can kill off the existing grass and act as a temporary weed barrier. We have a lot of spare cardboard, what with moving house and all.

NB: the treated pine block border is entirely temporary, as both the front and back of the bed will get better, more cohesive edging down the line.

pepperberry flower

There’s a reason why I have two pepperberry plants: they’re dioecious. You need two of ‘em for the tasty spicy pepper berries. I got one at a local nursery and it wasn’t labelled, but I looked up images and figured out it was female based on the flowers. Luckily, a native plant nursery sells known sex cuttings, so I got a male plant to go nearby. Because it’s a cutting, it might even flower next year. Godspeed, little buddy.

maple planted oct

One more thing we bought and planted out in our yard recently: a Japanese maple! I got it at an auction, of all places. I was intrigued by the 8ft advanced Japanese maple, so I put a lowball bid on it and what do you know. I was planning to put one in our yard anyways, but figured we’d wait until autumn. Turns out we’re going to plant one now.

I determined how far it needed to be away from the house and fence, based on its mature canopy size, and where future paths will go in this section of the yard. (I have a 3D modeled plan of our garden, so it’s not just being planted at random.) It might look a little backwards to put in plants before doing any real landscaping, but I really wanted to get in some baby plants this spring and give them a head start on establishing themselves.

These maples are so pretty. This one is one of the more ‘plain’ cultivars, in that it has green, non-dissected leaves, not red. I really like it and I can’t wait to see it grow.

side yard nov

This is what the right-hand side of our front yard looks like right now. It’s… not good.

I’m honestly embarrassed to post this, not to mention relieved that homeowners’ associations don’t exist here. I lived in a rental in Scottsdale for a year in college, and we got nasty letters from the HOA when the pomegranate bushes out front shed their leaves in the fall, insisting that we had to get rid of our “dead and dying” plants. They’re deciduous, ya jerks. So yes, considering that a couple of sad-looking bushes got us multiple nasty letters from an HOA, if they saw this yard it would probably earn us a brick through the window.

Bottlebrush tree: staying.
Japanese maple: staying.
Two cypresses: going.
Rhododendron stump: ughhhh, definitely going.

About that stump. After trying and failing to dig it out ourselves, Jamie and I haven’t made any progress on getting it out because we can’t agree on how to deal with it. Calling in a tree guy to dig it out or grind it down is off the table. I want it gone ASAP, but the reality is that we’ll be doing well if we get it out by the new year.

Posting this publicly is my way of holding ourselves extra accountable for getting this mess sorted out.

side beds untouched

This area along the driveway also needs the gravel and weedmat removed and new plantings put in. The little paver walkway could also use some help.

It does suck when you feel like you’ve put in a lot of work and only moved laterally, not forward. But we’ll keep working on this space over the summer, bit by bit, and who knows, it might look half reasonable by then.

3 thoughts on “Native plants and fixes out front

  1. Great job! It’s good to see you planning ahead an while the plants look small now you will see the benefits when the aren’t overgrowing (?) each other down the track. My wife an I probably try and fit in too many plants to begin with and then spend the next couple of years pruning and pulling out dead ones!

    1. Thanks for the comment, it’s hard not to plant more! The beds look so sad and empty now… maybe I’ll plant a few annuals or little tufting plants in there, depending on how keen I get 🙂

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