Hummingbird in our Backyard ©Gizella Nyquist
Hummingbird in our Backyard ©Gizella Nyquist

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking forward to designing our new backyard. It was very hard to leave my gorgeous flowers back in Colorado, but living in Southern California gave me a chance to learn and design something new. The sub-Mediterranean weather allows us to plant vegetation that stays green all year long. Some plants will even flower almost throughout the year. In addition to finding these evergreen plants for our outdoor, we also wanted to have as many fragrant flowers as possible. The biggest challenge was finding plants that do not grow too large, since we have a very limited outside space.

I started my project in June with the observance of the sun and shade patterns of the backyard for a whole day. I knew that the amount of sunshine reaching the backyard changes with the seasons, but I wanted to get a good idea about how much sunlight the area gets and where. We are now in the middle of winter, and in fact, the backyard gets about 2-3 hours less total sunshine than in the summer time.

My next step was to read books and internet articles about the SoCal plants. The following books were the most helpful for me*:

  • Sunset California Top 10 Garden Guide – Nice pictures for backyard ideas.
  • Shade Gardening – For the parts of the garden that barely get sunshine.
  • Low Water Use Plants – Something we barely get here is rain. The morning dew provides enough moisture to many plants, but others need extra watering. We didn’t plant anything that has very high water needs.
  • Hummingbird Book – There is an abundance of hummingbirds in our area. In addition to placing a bird feeder in the backyard I also wanted to attract the birds with flowers.
  • Sunset Western Garden – My most favorite book. I learned lots of details about plants from this one.
The backyard before finishing it
The backyard before finishing it

Finally, I was ready to draw up some plans – which I did with long, orange extension cords, right in the backyard. 🙂 I divided the area into two main parts: a paved patio for grilling, eating and relaxing, and a flower garden. I used the cords to separate paths and planting areas. I’ve decided on creating mini gardens: a tropical one with gardenias, two hummingbird/native ones with lavenders and salvias, and a rose garden. The back fence was going to be hidden behind vines (jasmines and mandevillas), and to add a bit more tropical feel to the area we wanted to have a pigmy date palm, a dwarf orange and a dwarf lemon tree, some birds of paradise plants, as well as some potted plumerias. The mostly shady parts were going to give home to clivias, phylodendrons and an aralia. Finally, one more fruiting tree was going to be planted in the farthest corner of the side-yard – a Black Mission fig tree.

 

Even though we originally imagined the backyard being finished by us, after having a summer without any rain and living in a new housing area we realized, that breaking the soil required the use of sledgehammers.  The company we hired did a very nice job, and this is how the backyard looks in December:

The patio
The patio

The flower garden
The flower garden

 

You can see a 3D view of the backyard if you click on the following two links: The Whole Backyard and Close-Up of the Flower Garden. You can stop the movement by clicking on the slide-show, then move between slides by using the arrow keys. I will write about how the slide-shows were created in a future post.

After looking at the pictures you might say: “But the plants are so tiny, it looks very empty.” Yes, you are right. But this was part of the plan. Raising plants is a bit similar to raising kids. I wanted to be in control of their pruning, shaping, and feeding from a young age. For example, I learned that you can create beautifully shaped lavenders, if you prune them the right way in the first three years. When I walk in the neighborhood and look at front yards with lavender planted in them, I can tell right away which plants were planted at a more mature age, because they are lacking the nice shape they would have gotten with the right kind of pruning. I am looking forward to the challenge of caring for my plants in a way, so that they will grow up into healthy and nice looking plants.

I am very happy with how the backyard turned out. Did I make any mistakes in my plant choice? Possibly. I will carefully monitor every little change, and if I find a plant that was not meant to be in our backyard, I will say a sad good bye to it. Then I’ll search for another one that would like to join our plant family. 🙂

Finally, I probably don’t even need to mention that I can hardly wait to take pictures of the gorgeous flowers in my new backyard. I hope to share many of them with you in the years to come.

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