Hillside Garden One Year Check-in

It's actually been a year and a few months since we broke ground on a garden that was to take the place of 40+ feet of tangled junipers. I've slowly been inching my way down the hillside, carving out more planting space.

Let's flash back to November of 2018 for a quick recap. When the junipers were first being removed there were several late nights after work stuffing my neighbors compost bins with clippings the day before trash pickup.
November 2018

By the end of December the junipers were gone, the soil was amended and a ribbon of rock had been laid down. From the beginning this was meant to be a garden without an irrigation system.

Late December, 2018
Fast forward ...

Late February, 2020

Back to early January, 2019 when plants were first going in the ground.
Morning, January 2019

Morning, February 2020

Many of these plants are commonly available at big box garden centers around here: Aloe striata, Aloe "Blue Elf", Agave vilmoriniana, Aloe barbadensis etc. Because of their availability and generally low price - they make a great choice for mass planting. In the foreground you might notice some newly planted Coral Aloes ... I couldn't resist the bargain price!

Aloe Striata - first ever blooms after one year in ground
These larger Coral Aloes originally came in 2" pots via mail order a few years ago.

Close up of Aloe 'Blue Elf" one year after planting
Aloe 'Blue Elf' - one year in the ground (February, 2020)

Last year I dug these Aloe 'Blue Elf" out of the ground, separated them, and moved them to the front yard. Over much of the last 12+ months they looked stressed but have now recovered and are producing more offsets. I also inherited several Aloe barbadensis (in the background above) over the last year. I decided to use them as a background plant rather than the alternative - languishing in pots in my backyard.

Mangave "Lavender Lady" - January, 2020
The ladies regularly meet here. What they are talking about I'm not certain but possibly how to get rid of the ugly Lamb's ear blocking their view.

January, 2020

Same section from above - February, 2020

Mangave "Mayan Queen"

January 2020

Curve in the path heading down...

January 2020

Down the Hill

As the summer of 2019 progressed the ground grew harder and the soil moisture grew scarcer. Not much happened. On this part of the slope I focused on colonizing with a few of the toughest, foundation plants at my disposal - namely Agave franzosinii.

July, 2019

This was a point in time where "vision" was what kept me interested in the project because a rock hard hillside of dead grass was less than inspiring.

Agave franzosinii out of a pot showing how root bound it had become
Agave franzosinii

By November many of the plants had filled out nicely although progress on this section of the path itself had been at a standstill for many months. I procrastinated too long in buying another palette(s) of rock. Now my local landscape yard is completely out... so just have to wait.

November, 2019 - Late Afternoon
The bloom spikes in the background of this shot are Aloe dawei.

January 2020
January, 2020 - Morning
The bloom spikes in the background are from Aloe 'Erik the Red' - a much darker red than their A. dawei companions which bloomed just a few months prior.

Seating Wall

This is a favorite spot of mine to sit so it seemed using softer planting along the edge would be best. As an added benefit the roots of these native grasses will reach deep into the ground and contribute to the overall soil health. The bigger, shaggier looking grass in the upper left is a Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) Curious to see how this does during the dry season.

Aloe pluridens
The Aloe pluridens above and others will eventually form an Aloe tree forest (at least that's what I keep telling myself!)

Let's walk down the path a few yards.

January, 2020

This rock is new over the last few months. They serve as "rip-rap" to prevent erosion and provide lots of planting pockets. The actual rock wall bordering the foot path will be built at the bottom right of this photo. First I need to remove a few cubic yards of dirt.

Agave franzosinni
I'm counting on the Agave franzosinni growing dramatically tall and shielding views of the driveway for future path goers. By the way - do you like my rock work in this shot?

Newly planted Aloe mudenensis on a hillside
Aloe mudenensis

You won't see this in the wide shot above - it was planted a bit later. This was another Institute for Aloe Studies purchase from a few years ago. It's form has changed dramatically - see the original post about when this Aloe mudenensis was mail ordered.

Young Aloe pluridens red in color from a little stress
Another Aloe pluridens
One of some more recently planted Aloe pluridens - tho they all came from the same mail order a few years ago.

 February 2020

Here it is the first day of February, the sun is out, the birds are chirping and I've made a stop at one of my favorite local nurseries.

Newest members of our garden

The gabion baskets I made last year are very practical but sadly when compared to the dry stack wall in the background they are not up to the same aesthetic standard. As a result we decided to obscure views of the baskets with a bit of shrubbery. Over time the Leucadendron and Leucospermum will hopefully reach 5' or more in height - or roughly at the level of the upper path.

This hillside is steeper than it looks. Dirt, rocks, tools and people have been known to roll to the bottom. To avoid bombarding pedestrians I use temporarily placed stakes to help create a planting berm.

Terra incognita - below the upper path

What seems a rather massive wall up close ends up looking much smaller when viewed from the sidewalk.

The newly created "Lower Path", Early February
So far this path connects to nothing and goes nowhere... still it's exciting to see future parts of the garden delineated. From the afternoon shadows you can tell this is an eastern facing slope.

Early Morning in Mid February, 2020

A few weeks later this shot shows something new developing at the bottom of the path.

New garden wall under construction

I couldn't help myself over the long President's Day weekend; I started a project. A new garden wall! I'm using a different rock from above - it looks similar but is MUCH heavier. You might be able to see from this profile shot that the wall is "battered" for strength (and aesthetics).

Once I order more rock this will become another terraced spot on the hillside. It's not visible from this shot but the wall is "L" shaped - a leg is extending up and into the hillside. The hillside itself drops to the left so this corner of the wall will be it's highest point as I try my best to keep a level top.

More excavation

 Before the ground turned hard and digging would take 10x effort I thought it smart to spend a day shifting soil - literal "land-scaping".

Fresh digging at the end of the path

Once I can buy more of the rock used in the picture below - I'll continue the seating/retaining wall in roughly the curvilinear outline you can see in these shots.

Maybe something like this? Two paths connected.

This is a good place to stop. From here I'll order more rock and perhaps add a few foundation plants. Down the line I'll fill in the details with smaller plants. I don't have a "plan" for now other than to create the bones of a good space.

Years ago in school we planned, we discussed, we drew - axonometric views, perspectives, plan views, profile views, bubble diagrams, drainage maps, irrigation plans ... all with the best lettering and all with deadlines. Gardening as a hobby is much more relaxing and fun! I don't draw much of anything when planning my garden; I ponder during a commute, I browse for inspiration, grab a shovel and go.

Is it best to save what you truly enjoy for a past time so it remains untainted by deadlines or concerns over income? I'm leaning in the direction of a 'yes'. I'm sure there's lots of examples out there of people who've made it work but I'm not sure I would have been one of those exceptions.


  1. I'm in awe of all you've completed in the past year, Hans! I may have to copy your 'Lavender Lady' collection - it's very effective. What you've done on the upper level (in the juniper-free zone) looks fantastic already and your plans to create more walls and terraced beds/planting pockets on that slope are impressive. I complain about the pitch of my back slope all the time but yours is much, much steeper. I still have a pile of rock left over from the deconstruction of our indoor BBQ during last year's remodel sitting behind the garage, while I try to muster the energy and strength to do something with it on my slope.

    1. Thanks Kris for the kind words. I'd like to have 5 acres of relatively flat space but I always seem to get hillsides for gardening! regarding the "Lavender Ladies" - I'd be flattered if anything in my garden inspired something new in your garden.

  2. Wow, just wow. This is amazing...and beautiful!

    1. Thanks! the lack of rain has let me get out a little early this year and make some progress.

  3. Wow. You did GREAT! I wish my front slope looked that good. Now will go back and study your photos again...

  4. I just came across this and it’s so inspirational! I’ve created a Monarch garden on the hill under my house to share with the community but there’s a bad patch at the end of the path. A mass of all sorts of things in very poor soil. Now you’ve got me thinking! Thank you!


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