With all the normal routines and plans pulled from beneath our feet I've had the opportunity to re-start sooner than expected on the hillside garden. In anticipation of a virus related lock-down for the SF Bay Area I'd ordered not one but two pallets of rock!

In driveway - top of hill
Near sidewalk - bottom of hill
One pallet is strategically placed at the top of the hill while the other is located at the bottom. Each is dedicated to a different garden task. Yep, these are heavy. Unluckily for my oldest son (but lucky for my back) his university has switched to distance learning.

Mid March

Starting a footer for a small wall

The pile of dirt under the shovel is from the trench to the left which will hold a small wall to shore up the downside portion of a path. The dirt is sitting on the actual footpath.

A garden path slowly being defined by emerging upper and lower walls

After placing a few rocks and moving the vantage point of the below shot further down the hill the difference in grade between the path and lower wall is more apparent.

The lower "wall" is looser in structure to make room for planting

A few days later the weather turned gray and we had a spot of rain.

One of the great aspects of a hillside garden is the ever changing perspectives. As I walk up and down the path, the rock work looks very different depending on the angle.

From a lower path the walls merge into a single view

With the changing perspectives it's as if we get 3x the garden for a single price. I know this looks like a lot of rock and it is... but I've been leaving planting pockets. Eventually this brutalist view will soften with the help of several Leucodendron.

Late March

The path emerges

Eventually the path will be covered in a layer of decomposed granite aka "gold fines". Of course the pandemic has shut down the world so the final skin will have to wait. I did have some extra drain rock that for now makes a handy mud and slip free surface.

A single step transitions to what will become a landing

Around this time I decide to use both pallets of rock in this area - which meant lugging those stones up the hill. Oh well.

Mid April

Creating more nooks and crannies for plants

I looked around my backyard and decided to lug out a few plants that deserved a chance at a better life. The two aqua colored agave, if memory serves, are "Agave Durango" and are supposed to be frost tolerant down to 20F.

Notice how part of the hillside has been mowed? That was a chore but made it much easier to dig in the boulders.

still work to do on the right side of the path

Once the larger rocks and foundation plants are in place I'll eventually fill in the spaces with smaller materials.

Agave valenciana
 Agave valenciana (late afternoon)

All the small rock ruble comes from the hillside. It's not the prettiest material but helps prevent erosion and eventually will be covered as the Agave grows.

A story of two Agave valenciana

Both these  Agave valenciana started started in 4" pots from Annies. At some point I up-sized them to different pots and now the difference is dramatic.

Funny story. With so many more people at home these days I tend to have a lot more 30 second conversations with neighbors as they stroll by. I have to laugh at all the ways they describe what looks like a massive amount of rock whilst still trying to sound positive. "So this is how they built Stone Henge! Looks great!", or "Hey, it's Machu Picchu! Looking good!", or "Are you building a castle? Looks Great!", or "That's quite a fortification. Looks great!", or simply "Build That Wall!" and so on ...

Morning Sun

Now it's time to highlight individual plants with some closeups.

Aloe pseudorubroviolacea in the morning sun against a warm colored rock.
Aloe rubroviolacea

Everything looks so different on a sunny morning. Colors really pop.

Agave "Durango" in the morning sun
Agave "Durango"

A newly planted Adenanthos sericeus in the morning sun
Adenanthos sericeus - Coast Woollybush

This Woollybush has been in the ground now for a few months. The deer seem to have no interest in it whatsoever.

Newly planted Leucadendron 'Jubilee Crown' nestled between rocks.
Leucadendron 'Jubilee Crown'

A newly planted Leucadendron 'Wilsons Wonder'
Leucadendron 'Wilsons Wonder'

Agave striata in gal pots waiting to be planted
Agave striata

The above Agave striata were purchased as plugs back in the Fall of 2018. These porcupine-like plants have been waiting for spot to open up (preferably well away from foot traffic). I've definitely been speared a few times by these plants which is why there is some healthy looking, purple Oxalis in the pots. Can you spot the A. striata below?

The Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' in the foreground was a transplant that had been living in a pot for 6+ months. It's roots were not doing well - I sure hope it makes it through the summer.

This is a good a stopping point as any... so until next time - remember your gardening 'roots' while stuck at home.


Rock path progress
Early May - More Progress on rock path border

Wall planting that's had time to mature

August 2020 Update


  1. WOW! I am truly impressed. I wish I lived nearby and could watch the magic happening in person.

    1. That would be great to have more garden 'peeps' in my area. Maybe you could carry some rocks(?) I'm sure there's entire gardening networks around here I don't know about (or more realistically - I'm too lazy to find). From what I see via blogs - the Pacific NW seems to have a very strong gardening culture. Must be fun.

  2. All that beautiful rock - and the strength and fortitude to carve out space on that slope! I'm both impressed and very envious. So, it was a strategy to collect all those plants in your backyard for years waiting for this moment in time? With a hefty plant collection and your pre-lockdown stone order, I'm thinking you're quite prescient. I laughed at your summary of the comments you received from neighbors - my husband and I were regularly asked if we were conducting an archaeological dig or digging a cemetery as we pulled up the lawn around our house once section at a time.

  3. Thanks Kris for the kind words. Sometimes the collector in me has gone a little crazy buying plants so there wasn't really a master plan :) The 'cemetery' remarks you mentioned above remind that there's a real difference between putting together a garden in the front yard (which can be very public) vs one in the backyard!

    1. "Sometimes the collector in me has gone a little crazy buying plants so there wasn't really a master plan "

      Join the club!

    2. That slope is huge. Can you use the entire thing? The rock looks great, almost like a natural outcropping, or an ancient ruin. I'd love to do something like that, but haven't the strength--or come to think of it, the talent.

      You put in lots of cool plants. I killed that Adenanthos twice. Beautiful plant. A. cuneatus has been a success.

      Macchu Picchu! When I had the back terrace walls put in, the builder called them that. Then years later I saw the guy at a nursery, and he looked at me and said, "Macchu Picchu!"

    3. Actually... I'm glad the rockwork is looking like a natural outcropping or ancient ruin! I was hoping for a look that appeared to sit in the hill like it had been there for ever. I was even considering some kind of a folly - CA style. An abandoned mine shaft with a short set of tracks was what I had in mind. It wasn't a popular idea at home.

      I can use the entire hill - if I have the time and $$. If I could I take a long break from office work and switch to garden work.

      funny that your name became Macchu Picchu in the builder's mind!

  4. That looks like a ton of work, but what a goldmine of a gardening space you're creating. Lucky neighbors to get to enjoy it too -- even if they don't appreciate what they're seeing just yet!

    1. Thanks Pam - yep, I'm confident the rock will recede from view over time. The work lugging rocks I have come to appreciate as exercise now that we have limited travel options. My usual running trail has even been shut down :(


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