Backyard overhaul & working with a blank slate...Pics!!

oberciJune 12, 2013

We are in Sacramento, CA and moved into our more permanent home in early May, so I finally get to start my first big gardening project (yay!). Our new backyard is basically a huge blank slate, which is both exciting and overwhelming for a novice gardener. I'm terrified about having to design a landscape from scratch but good thing it's not a good time to plant so I can spend the hot summer planning! I'm eager to show you our progress and to get feedback on what to do next!

Here's what we had to work with:
A decent cement patio edged by 22 roses. Beyond that, a "lawn" or shall I say weed infested patch, extending back to 3 large trees. 2 massive Oak Trees on the right and 1 tree on the left which I haven't identified. The backyard is facing South but those large trees provide a decent amount of shade to different areas of the yard throughout the day. (hopefully I can find my "before" pics to share just for fun)

What we've done so far. "progress" pictures are from about 1 month later:

Looking out from the house:
You can see the large trees in the back, new sod laid out, a 14' x 14' cement platform just beyond the roses, and planting beds barely visible around the edges of the lawn. Rose revival measures included violently removing landscapers fabric, top dressing with compost, and covering that with a layer of gorilla hair mulch. I also adjusted the horrible watering schedule they were on, which together with no maintenance was probably to account for the fact that they were covered in black spot-removed all affected foliage and waited to see how they fared.

PROGRESS from same vantage point:
Patio covered in porcelain tile, patio lighting replaced (you can see one lamp by the window), Garden Arch pergola entrance added, Canopy and seating placed on cement platform, Roses happy and healthy now! Except for that one left of the arch which was transplanted (clearly not a good idea at this time of year) but I'll wait and see if it recovers and just replace it next year if I must.

Close-up of Canopy:
You can just make out that the planting bed beyond the canopy, which for reference ranges in width from about 10-14' from the fence. Ignore the random pavers near the roses, those will be used for a short path through the grass starting at the garden arch and making its way to the canopy seating area.

Facing the house, from the far back corner:
Sorry about the mess, this was in middle of working on the patio area itself. That's DH and my FIL hard at work making my crazy ideas come true :) Just beyond them is a white french door leading to the kitchen which we painted dark brown. Also notice the old patio lighting...strange bug-catcher-jar type things that were just awful imo. From here you can get a better idea of just how much planting area is left around the lawn. Those windows on the right are to the master, which also has an entrance onto the patio. In front of those windows we built that raised cinder-block planter (diameter is 10'), and we plan to put some lattice or something to block the ugly a/c unit. Also planning to put a rain barrel on either side of that wall where the rain spouts are.

PROGRESS and close-up of the same area:
The french doors to the kitchen are now dark brown, as you can see behind Toulouse over there on the left :) A purple leaf plum was placed in the middle of the planter shortly after that last picture was taken, and it's doing well. Although we didn't have enough dirt to fill the planter so it's much lower near the edges and mounds up towards the tree. Going to go haul some more in soon, and then was thinking to plant something, or just cover with mulch until it's a better time to plant. In this planter is a mix of about 1/3 soil from our yard, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 new soil.

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Next on the To-Do List in relative order of priority:

Garden Arch:
Full Sun. Would like suggestions on what to grow on this. I don't think I want a climbing rose, since it's already surrounded by roses, but I'm not completely against any good suggestion :). What i DON'T want is something that will take over the structure. I was thinking maybe some kind of Clematis? I'd love to hear your opinions on the idea and suggestions for a variety that would work in this spot! Also happy to hear any other suggestions!

Raised Planter:
Need some ideas for permanent plantings to go around this tree. The area gets FULL SUN and is too far from those tall trees in back to get much relief until very late in the day. As far as style, I prefer something more informal and don't want to plant symmetrically around the tree (Does that make sense?). I know the roses are planted in a somewhat structured and formal way, and I don't mind them since they sort of separate the patio area from the garden. But I'd like to be a bit more varied with the rest of the garden. Back to the planter...I'd like something to spill over the edge in a few areas, and other plants to be more contained. Am I correct in assuming that I should wait to plant until after the summer heat dies down, especially in this area of the yard which gets a LOT of sun? Is there anything I CAN plant now that will do well temporarily so that there is some interest in this planter until I have a more definite plan?

Planting beds surrounding lawn:
I laid down newspaper/cardboard and covered everything with a thick layer of compost and was planning to just let the worms have their way with this soil until sometime in the fall or early spring. I've had luck improving soil this way, although not such a large area, but I'm hoping it will work fine. Should I cover the compost with landscape paper to block weeds until I'm ready to plant?

Under mature trees in back:
Sine this area is basically all shade all the time, albeit bright shade, the plantings will be much different than everywhere else. I'm just not sure how closely to plant near these mature trees. I'm thinking hydrangeas will do well in this spot, and I'd love to have at least a few in the garden.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 1:05AM
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peachymomo(Ca 8)

Lookin' good! You've done a lot of work, looks like you're more than halfway to a finished product.

Clematis was the first vine that came to mind when I saw your arbor, although jasmine could also be nice for something with flowers that are scented but not as showy. If you pick two restrained growers they might play nicely together for either a contrast of colors or a staggered bloom time.

Waiting until fall to plant in the raised planter would probably be best, if you can't stand having it bare you could try some heat tolerant annuals but you will have to keep them well watered. I would be inclined to plant things like lavender, salvia, and thyme around your tree. There is a good variety of size, shape, and color and they are tough and drought tolerant once established. Also, I always use bulbs for seasonal color.

I wouldn't bother with landscape fabric on top of the mulch, the only time I think landscape fabric is good is when it's going under hardscaping.

I don't know how close is too close when planting near trees, but you should definitely be careful of watering too much around your oaks because it can kill them. Oakleaf hydrangea might be a good option, not as showy as some of the other species but more drought tolerant and better suited to our climate.

Have you given any thought to attracting wildlife? I have a similar sized backyard with some large trees and every day I enjoy watching the antics of the birds who call my yard home. Native currants and gooseberries are shade/drought tolerant, attract hummingbirds with their flowers and other birds with their fruit, and are very attractive in my opinion. Don't forget about ferns, they always add a bit of magic to any garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: You might be interested in the CalFlora nursery website

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 11:36AM
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Your yard is looking just dandy, Dandy! Actually, better than "dandy," very pretty. The roses look great--they really respond to even a little TLC.

I would agree with the above poster. You might check the watering requirements for your trees. Some oaks (maybe all) don't like extra water and will eventually die if they get too much. Our community has lost many parkway oaks because people run the sprinklers right under them to keep the lawn there alive. You might find the grass thinning in the shady areas under the trees, but that's ok. Lawn usually likes a lot of sun and water. If you decide to not water the oaks, you can pull back the lawn and let mulch and leaf litter accumulate under the trees.

I understand why you don't want too much bulk on the trellis arch; it will block the view of your fantastic yard. Mandevilla vine is pretty, star jasmine too, but maybe too solid for you.

Have you checked the tile on your patio for slippery-ness when wet? Be careful of that.

Although this is not the best time at all to plant, we have done it, recently with a large magnolia. I've even transplanted a rose in the dead of summer. Kept it covered and watered, and it did fine.

Easy-care plants we have and like are Indian Hawthorne (raphiolepis) and Mexican Heather. I love the idea of the Oak Leaf Hydrangea. They can be so beautiful.

Keep up the good work.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 2:10PM
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What a fun thing to be doing. Clematis would depend on the colors you like. Huldine is a lovely white with a very long bloom season here. The blooms are not the huge ones, but a nice size. anything else plays well with white, so you would have a nice selection.
Whatever you choose will be lovely, I'm sure.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 4:45PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Your new home is lovely. Wait until September or October to plant anything. It's too hot now for the summer.

If those are native oaks, a blanket of their own fallen leaves and nothing else is the best possible thing for their long term health. It's okay to have an empty area in a garden; it gives the eyes a rest.

Hydrangeas are best on the east side of the house, they like a little direct morning sun to produce the best flowers.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 5:25PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Beautiful design and hardscaping. I especially love the new planter you built. The plum tree color looks wonderful with the color of the house.

I don't think your arch needs any vines, but if you really want one, you might consider a clematis on each side. I don't know if all varieties do well in Sacramento. Here the viticellas do best, I hear.

If I had your yard, I would plant some native or low-water shrubs that can take shade under your oaks up against the back fence, to disguise it. I would not plant flowers there- just large shrubs, to give the feeling of being out in the woods rather than in the suburbs. I would grow tall shrubs all down the other fence line too, and maybe two or three small trees to break up the view of the neighbor's house and roof line.
But the deep bed on the back side of the 14x14 patio I would reserve for a lovely little garden- either a potager or a flower garden. I wouldn't be in a rush to finish that- I'd be spending a lot of time looking at photos to get some fun ideas. Maybe a fountain?

Good luck, and keep us posted on your decisions and progress!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 1:32AM
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vall3fam(9 CentralCA)

In your planter, I would use Lavenders and Rudbeckia. The combo of purple and yellow/orange would be very pretty and easy care and not fussy about water.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 12:13AM
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vall3fam(9 CentralCA)

Also, on your arbor, I would use Solanum jasminoides, blooms pretty and is of more open, lacy habit than Star Jasmine.


    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 12:16AM
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I love lantanas. I really like the bushy kind. We have some near the pool and they bloom profusely all summer. Each bloom has multiple colors and changes colors as it matures. Irene is a good one - shades of magenta and yellow. We also have a beautiful orange, red, yellow one. Not sure about the name. I'm not too fond of the trailing solid purple ones, but that's just a personal preference. They do great in full sun, are very drought tolerant, So my vote is for lantanas in a sunny area that needs something bushy.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 7:47PM
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I love lantanas. I really like the bushy kind. We have some near the pool and they bloom profusely all summer. Each bloom has multiple colors and changes colors as it matures. Irene is a good one - shades of magenta and yellow. We also have a beautiful orange, red, yellow one. Not sure about the name. I'm not too fond of the trailing solid purple ones, but that's just a personal preference. They do great in full sun, are very drought tolerant, So my vote is for lantanas in a sunny area that needs something bushy.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 7:49PM
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