Hillside Project - Phase One Update

November 2018

What a difference a month makes. We have not had a lot of rain but a little goes a long way when at the same time the temperature drops by 20 degrees and the sun becomes a stranger. The picture above was taken during the middle of the Camp Fire at the very end of the dry season. The much more verdant looking shot below was taken roughly five weeks later. Other than a chance of frost in Jan/Feb now is a good time to plant. The available soil moisture gives plants a head start before the dry season returns.

December 2018 - post juniper removal
After several weeks of labor I managed to remove all the juniper from our property and achieve a rough grade. Such a short sentence doesn't do that task justice! The remaining junipers in the background belong to my neighbor who is waiting to see if she likes my work ... if she does then her roughly 20 foot strip of junipers will also be removed and I'll have some artistic license to continue planting. I'd better do a good job. At any rate I'm very happy to have so much more planting space given I'd largely run out of space in the backyard.

Adding oyster shell and crushed volcanic rock

Hmm - the piles of crushed rock I added to improve drainage look pitifully small. I'll add more before planting. Also sprinkled over the length of this planting space are crushed oyster shells for calcium and a bag of azomite which adds trace elements ( learn more Micronutrients: missing pieces of the plant nutrition puzzle )

Yours Truly delivering 4 yds of soil amendment
I drafted my oldest son, who is back from university, to help move, and mix the four yards of soil pictured above. Moving the soil wasn't so bad since it was very light - almost fluffy. Acting as human rototillers took most of our time that day but my hope is the extra organic material will help with drainage and availability of nutrients in the soil.

Amended native soil

It might be hard to tell from this perspective but the bed above is roughly 45' x 10'. The private road to the right is shared with three neighbors.

Telluride Gold Drystack
I've been using a lot of the rustic looking, drystack stone pictured above over the last few years. It's manageable for 1 or 2 people to move, easy to stack, and I like how it's warm colors contrast with the blues and greens of agave and aloes. I just happened to buy the last palette in stock - I hope Lyngso orders more.
Starting a serpentine wall
In my backyard I wanted to grow one or two of each plant in a relatively small and personal space ( see Backyard Bed 1). As you can see this front yard space is entirely different as it is public and may even be viewed from a car window at 5 mph. As a result I plan on using a smaller variety of plants in the front. Three, five, eleven of the same plant? No problem - it's about repetition. Although, as my wife pointed out, we should still have a punctuation mark or two. She doesn't want a median strip.

Offsite views
Let's not forget what will be behind the plants - large swaths of blue and green that comprise the views. So I'm hoping that a mass of plants similar in color, texture or shape to one another will feel harmonious against the backdrop.

Landscape wall almost done.
The scraggly looking shrubs in the foreground are on my neighbors property. They have kindly agreed to let me remove them plus some others which will add roughly 10 more feet of planting space. As I already mentioned  the junipers in the distance may also be removed ... more space!

Ok, so between demolition, trips to buy materials, amendment, rough grading and building a small, decorative wall I've already invested a lot of time. Planting usually goes pretty fast but acquiring some of the plants I have my eye on will take even more time. Luckily in my backyard there are a few dozen agave I've been growing in 5 gal pots that are ready to go in the ground but this wont be enough...

In my next post I'll show how the planting is progressing. Until then - Happy New Year!


  1. Hans, this is a great project! I'm glad to see that you jumped on it. Four hundred and fifty square feet of prepared soil would make me downright giddy, especially as there's a solid opportunity to expand it further. Have you sketched out a plan, or are you going to allow the plants you select to guide placement when you have them on hand? I recently bought myself a new succulent book, Jeff Moore's latest entitled 'Soft Succulents', and now I'm chomping at the bit to use some of those ideas both on my back slope and yet another re-do of one of my front garden succulent beds.

    Best wishes for a happy new year! I look forward to seeing how the bed progresses.

  2. Thanks Kris. Yep - I did create a planting plan and it was even roughly to scale. Originally I wanted to plant large swaths of aloes so that next yr at this time it would be hummingbird heaven. I meant to drive to SD over the break but just didn't make the time. Instead I've planted what I had and left room for the aloes. In total I probably added 60 - 80 plants and it still looks sparse!


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