I take a sort of peeping-Tom’s pleasure in seeing what other people do with their gardens.
City gardens fascinate me; I like to see how people create their own personal paradise in a tiny space. Here in California, our two major cities (San Francisco and Los Angeles) also have a tempting variety of semi-tropical and temperate plants to choose from. And since this was an upscale neighborhood, these private city gardens are probably maintained by professionals, which gives us some insight into what’s fashionable in the mainstream garden world.
On a visit to Los Angeles, I took a walk with this question in mind: how do people give themselves privacy on their tiny lots? It’s one of those places where gardening meets architecture. But I’m always looking at water use, so I found myself also seeing who had the water-efficient gardens, as well as the private ones.
I noticed several examples of what I call the double-hedge technique; a low hedge, and a higher hedge behind it.
Roses behind rosemary: an interesting example of double-hedge technique
This house created the illusion of privacy by the shelter of a large old tree in front, circied by a low brick wall. A very friendly grey-and-white cat, with extra toes (which I find appealing) came up for some pets. An Irish setter/mutt-looking dog said hello as well, but he was sequestered behind the iron grillework of a gate.
Some people forgo the privacy notion and just have a straight-up entrance to their houses. But even these vary in character, from suburban-banal
to this minimalistic Zen approach.
Though this looks like xeriscaping, it isn’t quite, since equisetum (horsetail) is a water-hungry plant, living on the margins of streams and rivers, or in damp low boggy spots. The white-rock mulch, though, provides the double service of keeping moisture from evaporating out of the ground, and reflecting the heat of the sun. I’m not sure what kind of upkeep this landscape demands, but watering would certainly be lessened by this, and care would be reduced to the bare minimum: horsetails don’t need pruning except for the occasional removal of a dead stem; they grow symmetrically all by themselves.
Here’s an example of true xeriscaping, using dark pebbles as a mulch. I liked this creative use of that strip between the sidewalk and the street, combining chamomile (probably a seasonal appearer) with more traditional dryland plants. While residents of rainier cities might have fewer concerns about water conservation, xeriscaping those strips might still be an excellent idea, since you can’t put in automatic watering systems without digging up the sidewalk, and hand-watering can be a chore. And a lot of times, people living in the houses don’t regularly see these strips, they just drive up to the house and enter through a door that is far from the sidewalk. Out of sight tends to be out of mind, so besides saving you water, xeriscaping your sidewalk-strip might save you time, dead plants, and the embarrassment of contributing an eyesore to the neighborhood.
Next post: more privacy and water-saving ideas
JUNE: A MONTH TO HONOR WATER
In a way, my whole blog is about low-water gardening; that’s the reason I got involved with tulips, and I already loved natives and Mediterranean herbs. During June, my posts will all be about conserving water in the garden. This gives me scope to cover everything from containers to cityscapes, soil to site to sprays, and of course portraits of more of those stellar plants that spread their glories with little or no watering. (Hint: the “Wild Plants” category will give you quite a few more; so will the “Bulbs” category.)