Xeriscaping Away the Ugly

This portion of my front yard has been giving me nightmares for two years now. In the summer it gets sun 14 hours a day. I am not kidding because I live where the sun rises in the summer at 4:45 am and doesn’t set til 9 pm.  So from about 5 in the morning until the sun goes behind the house around 7 in the evening, there is sun on this spot. I am not sure how the prior owner kept grass alive here unless she wanted to run the river dry.  Before I moved in, the yard was lush and green all over. Now neighbors walk by and shake their heads pitifully.

Day 1

I come from where we had water restrictions and I grew up on a country well system, so I feel very bad watering grass to begin with. I grew up hearing “Don’t use so much water, you’ll run the well dry!” And that was just for normal things like washing my hands. But I do my part a few times a week to keep my grass alive in the summer. The rest of the year is a breeze, it doesn’t even need water.  This area, however, was beyond hope.  On it grew crabgrass or as they call it here quackgrass, a few sprigs of real grass, bare spots, and mushrooms.  How mushrooms live in the heat is beyond me but I will save those thoughts for another time.

After one more failed and pathetic attempt at seeding the bare spots this spring, even putting down some nutritious new dirt, I decided to dig it out.  I have the time, so why not? I was needing more exercise and to increase my arm strength anyhow.

So on June 1, 2015 I got out my dad’s grubbing hoe.  Research online says it is called a “cutter mattock”, but I just know it as dad’s grubbing hoe. I have ALL of my dad’s old gardening tools. Nothing new can compare to them. I lovingly take care of them just as he did.

Dad's Grubbing Hoe

I began “grubbing”.  Chopping, digging out the grass/weed/mushroom clods. I got down on my hands and knees and pulled up clumps of grass getting as many roots as I could. I called it “getting into my pigpen” each morning. I came out dirty, tired, tanned, and feeling darn proud of myself day after day!

Day 1aOn Day 1, I went out and purchased a few items for my project. First I got some edging that you can see in the photos, 20 feet worked fine.  I liked the fact I had a boundary to dig within, that alone made the project less daunting for me. I went along the natural lines of death that the sun, weeds, and mushrooms created. I also purchased some weedblock paper and 3 lavender plants because I know they do well here without much need for water.

By day 2 I had gotten this far!  I am extremely proud now!  In case I was too exhausted and sore to dig for the next few days I covered my bases and put down some plastic that I had in my garage in hopes the plastic would kill the grass while I recuperated.

Day One and One HalfThe next days (#2 & #3) arrived and no recuperation was needed, I was ready to rumble in my pig pen. So I took the plastic up and dug more.

End of Day 2

Now I had to take a days break, but afterwards I got out there and finished it up. It took approximately 4 days.

Day 4

With the digging part complete, I then took a couple of days off to recuperate and purchase my plants. The timing could not be better because we had an early heat wave where our temperatures soared into the 90’s nearing 100 prematurely so I could not have been out there digging unless I wanted to suffer heat exhaustion, or worse-heat stroke.

I went to a local nursery that specializes in xeriscaping and plants suited to our climate. It was the most pleasant experience, and since I arrived early I had the owners full attention. She indeed did have lavender because I know that does well here and already purchased some. I purchased a few other plants from her that I would never have known about! Most from Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington. Buckwheat and a few other types for a total of 10. One looks like the “Basket of Gold” but isn’t. I am ashamed to say I did not make note of all their names but I was so glad she had an entire bed planted which we were able to walk around, with me pointing things out that I liked. Since I am an idiot like this with names of things (and people! but I won’t go there now!) all I can do is suggest that you visit a nursery that specializes in plants native to your area if you want to undertake a project like this. It is good to do it right the first time. Be wise with your investment, you get what you pay for. Walmart does not have your best interests at heart when it comes to native plants. I had to return two of my three Lavenders I purchased there because they were of the Spanish variety. They were beautiful yes, but only went down to 20 degrees. I needed negative degree lavenders, like the English variety which survive in as low as -10 degrees. So I was able to return my two Spanish ones which I picked solely for their looks, and get two more English ones that I know will do well here in both our extreme summers and extreme winters.

All My Children

During our heat wave I got antsy. I just couldn’t NOT work on my bed. So I went out one morning with my sweet little Troy Bilt electric tiller and tilled the soil. After that I laid out some weedblock in a preliminary path, and also underneath the Russian Sage (right) and near the Lavender (left) and Basket of Gold (middle left) that I already have growing along the fence.

Tilled Soil

I am almost ashamed to say that I forgot about my tiller and it only dawned on me the night before “Hey, use your tiller!”.  I say it dawned on me the night before because I’ve actually had quite a few nights dreaming about my new xeriscaped area or thinking during sleepless periods about it. That is when some of my best ideas come.

By now I am looking at the photos and truly cannot believe I did this all myself, in approximately 5 days total time. With perhaps 3 hours each day working.

More shopping to do.  I needed more edging of a lower variety to outline my path, a few stepping stones, and more bark chips. My eyes about popped out at the price of stepping stones, so I got 3 of the cheapest square concrete ones. I figured I could use the fancy rock ones that came with my house to intermix with them. I was on a budget after all. While I was at it I bought two bags of rocks (one medium, one pebbles). Please note I am not the type to lay out my plan to the extreme detail. I scribbled out the idea on a portion of a notepad I got for free when I used to work for a doctor. See below.

IdeaAnother couple of heat-filled days passed and I just could not leave this project alone any longer, so I went out late one evening and put in my plants, then early the next morning I put down my stepping stones, and then the low edging (Vigoro No-Dig Edging, 20 ‘) around them in a curvy pattern.  I cut the edging in half after I figured out where it would look the best. It doesn’t go all the way to the fence but that is ok, it doesn’t need to. My dogs like to sit there and they don’t need to sit on hot concrete steps or rocks. So it’s like it ends at “infinity and beyond”…or ends at the bark chips, however you want to look at that. 🙂 Next I staked down the no-dig edging (be prepared to buy another packet of plastic pegs because what they include is not enough. One packet of extra pegs is nearly $8! They really get you, because they only include like 4 or 6 or some other such low number.) Even with an extra package that was barely enough, so I used some of my weedblock paper pegs to tack down the curves. After that I poured my medium size rocks and then my pebbles down. Two bags were just enough! I breathed a sigh of relief not having to go buy anymore rocks.

Plants and Path InNow I take another days break because it was boiling hot outside. By now my tan is looking terrific! Also my neighbors are noticing. Whenever I see them I call them over to show off my handywork. For an introverted woman this is a big thing for me-to call my neighbors over to see stuff. Yes, I am this proud! This is a huge improvement from brown death, weeds, and bare patches.

I let a day or so pass with it like this, tending my baby plants. I know the nursery owner said don’t water them much but they are babies. My mother instinct is kicking in. So I periodically shield some from the sun with cardboard pieces, and water maybe 3x a week for this first week. Since they are dry-heat loving plants, I let them dry out in between.  The nursery owner said “provide a nice column of water/wetness underneath each one so the roots go down”. By column, that means water deeply so the wet goes down deep and their roots shoot down.  This does not mean to water them all the time, but when watering-water deeply. I think once a week after they are established will be fine during hot weather, otherwise mother nature will tend them…as it is intended.

After another day or so, I decide it is TIME TO FINISH. So I do. I lay down a bit more weedblock here & there, then put down my bark chips.

Path n Cairn

14pathfarOn June 12, 2015 I finish it all off with a Rock Cairn and call it good! The total cost of supplies and plants was $164.17. If I billed myself for my labor, that would be priceless!



Today is May 17, 2016. It is almost 1 year since I did my Xeriscaping project.  I’ve had some casualties.  I lost two lavender plants, and one ground cover.  I think the lavender I purchased was old and root-bound. Also the extreme heat we suddenly had last year took a toll on them.  One lived and is doing well.  In the place of the 2 that I lost I put a Valerian plant I obtained from a neighbor, and then a yellow flower ground cover I obtained from another place in my yard.  I also added a Hen & Chick plant that I got from elsewhere in my yard.  As you see, it is ever-evolving and I can always add new things.  The other plants I got from the local nursery are doing very well and getting larger.  I will add some new brown bark chips someday soon.  Below is a new photo taken today, nearly a year later.

One year later

One year later

May 2016, Xeriscaping almost 1 year later

Above-May 2016, Xeriscaping almost 1 year later

UPDATE:  2-year progress.  June 2017 Pictures below.

Below are two pictures from June 30, 2017. The garden has grown substantially since I made it in June 2015. I expanded it just a little towards the Globe Spruce, where I have planted some Portulaca for summer and a cucumber plant from seed.  Otherwise, it is very low-maintenance just like I intended!





UPDATE:  3-year progress.  June 2018 Pictures below.

Below are pictures of the 3 year progress for 2018!  The plants are getting nice & big. I may have to trim some back eventually. The Valerian plant (with the beautiful pink flowers), makes lots of “babies” which I have to pull up. I will also move some.







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