|A story of our experiences planting and changing our front yard, by Pa, mostly in his own words.
Living in Riverside, California with its hot summer and very long growing season has many difficulties to
overcome. The season does not generally get to cold for growing until the middle of November. We are lucky
enough to plant fill in plants and plants we want to replace in early October. This will allow them to get
established and the winter in ready for an early jump on spring. The trees don’t usually drop their leaves till
about that time of year.
The Spring comes on fast and the coldest part of the yard usually ends about the 25th of February or so.
Roses start to come out and all the plants begin to wake up early in our spring season. This is when we try to
have Mary our nursery person, to come out and discuss what we want to replace in the gardens and get our
order ready. Mary’s mother Juanita is the owner of Louie’s Nursery.
We have a small lot that we live on. It is about .16 acre overall. The house was built sometime in 1908. We
were able to verify this with the city and have been able to put together almost a complete history of who
owned and lived in our house over the years. This information is now up on a web page, www.riversidehistory.
org/ourhouse.html, along with a few photos. The house is in the middle, the lot being 50 feet wide and about
35 feet deep from the sidewalk to the porch, leaving some area for a nice yard in the back.
When we bought the house there was only grass in the front yard. There were 2 plants on the left of the
front, a Breath of Heaven that was quite large and a very old Hibiscus having white with red flowers. A walkway
up to the porch from the city sidewalk split the yard in half hence the left and right sides (facing the house from
the street.) There were no trees at all in the front yard. Sadly we had to remove the plants as they were
placed right up against the house siding, at the foundation.
The yard rose from the sidewalk about 18 inches on a slope extending in about 2 feet. That made a
harder than average area to mow. As the yard is on an angle because the house was built at an angle and the
street has a curve in it along the entire front yard the whole of the yard is not square. The right side of the
yard is about 25 feet deep and the left is closer to 35 feet deep maybe a little more. Grass covered the rest of
the yard up to the walkway in front of the right side of the house. On the left of the house the grass came up to
the place where the 2 plants were. There was no walkway on the left side of the house. Take note there was a
second rise near the house.
Remember the sidewalk that split the yard ion half and came up to the porch had several sets of steps.
Going down from the porch there were 4 steps to an area that I call the mezzanine level, about 8 feet deep and
10 feet wide. The next level was down 3 steps to the main walkway with another step and 3 more feet to the
last step to the street level. This area was only 2 feet deep from the step to the city sidewalk.
Back to the grass at the top. 5 feet deep along both sides of the mezzanine area the grass was level equal
to the sides of the house. In front of the level grass there was a down slope of about 5 feet deep dropping
almost 2 feet. To mow this area one had to go sideways and not up and down. I removed the grass from the
level top area, this was our first project. We planted wild flowers. Nothing great just something simple to show
some change and color as soon as we were able. We changed the entire yard two different times and to the
moans and groans of those around me, I made some small and sometimes large changes of the following
years. (I was told the number of changes were not some, but were many.)
In 2002 a picket fence went up in several stages, around the whole front yard. A white picket fence would
not look good. We painted the fence green to match the house. The next project was the removal of the grass
along each side of the walkway that splits the yard in half from the porch landing to the street sidewalk. After
we dug up the grass we added an arbor at the first step up the sidewalk leading to the house. We were so
happy we sat in the arbor many times when we first got it set up. My wife's very good friend Sunset Willy came
by and I helped him put our arbor in. He knew how to drill in the concrete to put in the redheads to hold the
arbor in place.
Then we planted the strips along the side of the walkway up to the house. We added a tree on each side
of the yard. All of 5 feet tall and a small trimmed ball at the top of each of them about 18 inches around. We
felt so good, we had our own trees that we planted. They were not planted in the best places to shade the
house. It worked out anyway, as there was room to put in the gardens. The need to have a rose garden for my
wife entered my mind, while I thought what I could do just for her. It came to me in an instant. I knew just where
to put it and I knew what to make it out of and how it should look.
Getting all the material delivered at the same time was a mistake. I did not plan any time to allow for all the
preparations to be completed before the material arrived. This caused a big delay. I now had to enlist help to
move all the stuff 2 times so the area needed to create the garden could be cleared. This project went from a
simple 5 weekend project to an 8 month project. It became a real learning experience of what not to do when. I
was told not to start any more projects until this one was finished.
Added to this was the removal and replanting of the hibiscus and the decision that a new patio area to go
behind the rose garden should be put in. The plants had to be removed as they were placed at the foundation
of the porch with very poor drainage. During this time it was decided, by me of course, that we also needed a
walkway along the south side of the yard going from the new patio area to the end of the new rose garden.
The space for this was laid out and the walls of the garden were begun and stopped.
Yes, I had the patio poured causing the delay of the rose garden again. No one was very happy with me
and I just could not understand why they all had such a problem. It was all just a simple matter of timing and no
one other than myself could see that. 3 weeks later the small walls of the rose garden were put in by my
wonderful friends who tolerate all my changes. The walls look great, the patio looks great, the walkway along
the south side was filled with gravel. Another mistake was made using the gravel. Gravel can't be packed quite
right to allow the lawn mower to roll easily to get to the grass. Out came the gravel and long bricks were put in.
They were really bricks that go on top of the walls to make the walls look finished and we had extras. The
bricks stayed put and the mower got through to do it's job. I was reminded again not to start any projects until
the projects that were being worked on were finished. OK, I forgot. I bought material to build a matching rose
garden on the other side of the yard. This allowed us to change the planting space running down each side of
the walkway. It defined the planting areas better and allowed the creation of step-downs at the same levels of
the walkway steps. We were also able to make these spaces wider to allow for better planting. Another summer
came and went.
We planted that fall to allow the plants time to settle in before winter and have a good start for spring. This
works pretty well for an area that has such a short and mild winter overall. Everything was looking like I could
see it in my mind. My plans were coming together. By that next winters end the second rose garden was
completed. I was again strongly reminded not to start any more projects until all of the ones being worked on
were complete. OK, I forgot. During this time I had bought 2 iron gates and had also begun replacing the picket
fence with iron fence panels shipped from the Midwest.
My motivation was purely because my lovely dear wife wanted to have a garden area where she could
plant what she wanted. The rule became she could plant anything she wanted in her garden area as long as it
was legal. And, I began another project. The moans and groans are because I had projects going on in the
back yard and along both sides of the house. Putting in patios and walkways, rebuilding the sun-porch that
became our bedroom walk-in closet after it was our sitting room for several years. That's another story.
Hunni's Garden went along the whole of the left side of the property from the city sidewalk 28 feet to reach
just past the porch and become equal at a point adjacent to the house. At the end of this there was a perfect
place to build a garden shed for all of the garden tools and a mower garage. I know, don't start another
project. OK, I forgot. At the house end of Hunni's Garden was the old gate that I had built 3 years earlier. A
perfect place for the other iron gate and a quiet place for her and her friends to sit. I could see it in my mind
just how it should look.
3 months later I had delivered to out house a small portion of the needed block to build Hunni's garden. I
had waited 3 months to do anything on this project. The 2 rose gardens were completed by this time. An
Angels Trumpet that had been moved once from a corner in the back yard to an area near a storage shed we
built on the right side of the house needed to be moved. It was moved to Hunni's Garden area near the front
about 6 feet from the street sidewalk. A hole was dug in the grass and an area was built up with blocks to
contain it until the garden walls were completed.
We began buying art and embellishments for the garden areas. Just a few small items nothing fancy or big
yet. The Bill and Lois Garden was created next. The bricked in walkway along the original rose garden needed
to be remade. So I arranged to have cement poured. OK, I started another project. I forgot. We decided to
extend the walkway into the grass and have it meet up with a new patio in front of the original rose garden. It
looks great. By extending the walkway around the tree we ended up isolating the tree and a quarter pie shape
was created. Bill and Lois arrived before the walkway and patio framing was complete. A statuary of an older
couple sitting on a bench. It is perfect for that area.
Bob and Ann arrived at the same time. They are each sitting in their own rockers and have been placed in
Hunni's Garden. All are most happy in the gardens. I was sternly told by everyone not to start any more
projects until everything we had going was finished. OK, I forgot. The last of the iron fence panels arrived.
Hunni's Garden walls were done and the dirt was bing filled in and a small number of blocks arrived for the last
garden area. This area was needed to move 47 roses so they could get more sun. We had another problem.
We had a Jacaranda tree that Hunni had grown from a seed, that had been planted near the corner on
the right side of the yard near the street walkway. There was no way I could have removed that tree. I was
really pushing my luck by starting this project and the only thing I had on my side, was the roses needed to be
moved. I searched out different ways to build the new rose garden area. After considering several options it
was decided to use a barrel to put around the tree. It sounded silly at best. Well it worked. The new rose
garden took almost 10 months to complete. Even I am tired of projects.
It has been close to 8 years since we started. Overall we put in 3 sitting areas and 6 garden areas and 2
walkways in the front yard. The garden areas are 2 rectangle gardens, Hunni's Garden, the Bill and Lois
Garden, 2 gardens along the street sidewalk and the new L shaped rose garden. No, it is more like a 7 than an
L. We will be making some small changes in the garden areas to allow more places to sit and chat. Don't
worry, all of the projects are done. Just small stuff like redoing some of the watering systems and lighting.
Finally we were redoing all of the plants after the roses had been moved. We kept a few plants we had put
in, however it was very few. We chose a variety of plants from Louie's Nursery, a wonderful place we fell in love
with. Over several months we spent many hours talking about plants that would make the different areas
attractive. Mary and Juanita helped us pick out our plants while guiding in what will work where. Mary drew
sketches of each garden area and laid out a planting plan for us. When we were ready to plant an area, we let
Mary know and made arrangements to pick up the plants.
One by one each garden was planted. Some areas had 12 to 15 plants while others had 25 to 30. As an
example along the sidewalk on one side of the yard there are 30 impatiens. Here it is in the middle of August,
2009, the hottest time of the year and the impatiens are doing very well under the shade of the tree. The cost
of the plants ranged from a few dollars to about 22.00 each. Some of the larger bushes and a special tree
were 80.00. This was not a problem as we had already budgeted the necessary funds.
I enjoyed going to pick up the plants, it was great fun. I was excited to finally see the plants we had chosen
and where they were going in each garden. Over the last 5 years we found we had to move plants to better
areas as we made changes to the yard. Some needed more light for longer periods and others needed less or
grew better in dappled shade rather than full sun. We didn't have dappled sun areas until the trees grew larger
and I understood what dappled meant.
Locating fun and different art pieces to add into the gardens took us to many shops and gardens over
several counties. The art work, statuary and embellishments we have placed in our gardens have really helped
the overall look. Several places to sit and have intimate conversations or just share a quiet place together
have allowed us to enjoy each other's company, bringing us closer.
OK, I forgot, We are removing 3 more rose plants. They are going to a new home in our neighbors house
next door. We are making another area to sit. This was really Hunni's idea. She wanted to have more sitting
area near our little patio in the upper planter behind it. (This area was the original rose garden.) Small
changes are good as they are meant to improve our comfort in the spaces we enjoy. The changes also allow
the plants to have a better place to be happy.
We are coming to the end of our first full year with all of our new plants. We have lost a small percentage. We
are going to replace some of the plants we don't care for. There are not many compared to all that survived
the year. Adjustments will be made to the way water is delivered to some areas. We replaced the grass on the
left side of the yard again. The grass I chose just did not work in that area. We bought a different kind, planted
it and it looks like it will be just fine.
I have allowed the trees to grow longer without trimming them. I want to extend out more shaded area. We
won't have to move many plants. However, we won't have to replace as many next year either. The summer
heat was longer this year. We lost many of the more delicate plants than we had planned. More shade will give
more plants less time in the direct sun.
We have learned many tricks about having a successful garden and yard. We have met and created what
is hoped to be very long relationships with suppliers and neighbors. It's time to feed the roses and get ready to
mulch everything with a layer of new. Getting ready for the short winter begins in late September.