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Ocean friendly backyard: In process

January 26 2011 | DIY Activism, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I wrote a post last month titled "Killing my yard" about our decision to rip out the grass in our backyard and replace it with drought tolerant plants. I shared the story of our front yard and offered an image of our backyard 30 days ago. For a month it has been devoid of all plants...essentially a sandy dirt pit. This post delivers an update on the process. Before I move to the imagery I should point back to reasoning behind the Ocean Friendly Garden concept. In a few words this is about embracing what naturally grows where you live. In my case it means embracing plants that thrive in Southern California. Ocean Friendly Gardening is about understanding that the fertilizers we use to keep grass green are horrible for our oceans. It's about understanding the value of water and planting accordingly.  I love the environmental reasoning behind this idea and I'm stoked there is an economic driver to this as well (less water saves money). Even more than these things I've come to prefer the aesthetics of the indigenous native flora. For a longer description of Ocean Friendly Gardening check out our Beachapedia article or our web page. We also have a book available on Amazon here. My wife, Andrea, and I have invested quite a bit of time over the past month working in our backyard. We did as much of the work as we could but there is a point where our skills and time fell off. Taking two 60' palm trees out falls into this category. The truth is that transforming one's yard isn't an easy project... nothing transformative is easy. That said, in this digital day and age few things enable an easier (and closer) way to connect with the land than... connecting with your yard. Ocean Friendly Gardening goes beyond the choice to not use fertilizer or lots of water. It's a choice to embrace the simple and fulfilling hobby of getting your hands dirty. Ok, I'll stop pontificating about the merits... here's the update. We are at the plant selection stage. Our contractor's wholesale discount saved us a bundle at the nursery.  So did "buying young." Plants grow... you can save a large portion of your plant budget if you're willing to plant small and wait. Here they are, about 100 plants arriving in the Eurovan to fill the  60' x 60' space. Most of which, as you see from the picture to the left are young. It's almost funny how much time and thought goes into prepping for the plant selection and pickup stage. We went through more than one diagram of what we wanted in the yard, where we wanted certain activities to take place, where the sun was throughout the day and during different seasons. We came to the conclusion that we wanted our yard to feel natural, peaceful... quiet. The image I had in my mind is of my kids wanting to be in the yard...to study, read or just chill. I wanted it to be a magnet for all of us...pulling us to eat dinner outside more often...and relax in the fresh air. In the early stages, its good to pay attention to what you like and don't like. Our inspiration clearly comes from Solana Beach's rail trail. If you're ever in Solana Beach I suggest you seek it out for a walk. Its "feels" like you're "at the beach." I love the sense of craft embedded into the structures, the coastal grasses swaying in the ocean breeze and how it yields a feeling of being somewhere unique but also feeling like it naturally belongs there. Another destination I've come to love is the High Line on Manhattan's West Side Highway. Oddly enough both are linear due to their proximity to rail lines. Both enable you to feel like you are someplace different, someplace out of the ordinary... someplace special. As you'll see in the image below we've placed the plants in the locations we want them. Some details of our project at this stage:
  • We are using drip irrigation to maximize water conservation
  • Wandering paths throughout yard are decomposed granite, we wanted the entire yard to be permeable to water but also wanted to have a visually clean path
  • A poured concrete fire pit and bench was installed to offer a gathering place to watch the stars and keep warm
  • Varied places for sitting in the shade or sun, including a shed for painting and working
  • Plant selection is intentionally monotone and drought tolerant
  • Indigenous plants that need little water and zero fertilizer
In the weeks ahead I have a few projects to tackle. One is to build a 20' pergola that will offer a tunnel-esque border to one side of the yard. Another is to finish the shed, add some siding and paint it a color that blends into the natural surroundings. I'll post another update in sixty days or so when we've moved into another phase of the yard, the plants have started to grow a bit and there is more to report.
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