Sunday, April 12, 2009


I'm now sitting, looking out over our new backyard, which took final shape while I was in the hospital having knee surgery. My husband loves sitting out there in the late afternoon with his scotch and I am now going to be joining him more often as my knee is beginning to cooperate and act more like a normal knee.

Our architect used his own backyard as inspiration in planning ours. Both have a circular pattern with plantings massed around it or in corners and a yard in the center. Plato has his own special penned in space in a corner. That, to save the new grass and tender plants. Ours has a wonderful set of stepping stones around the outside to hopefully train Plato to get to his pen without disturbing the grass or the new plants. Jerry has gotten lazier and lazier and now just points Plato toward the pen. "Go Plato!" Too bad Plato can't lock the pen himself.

In a later post I'll fill in a list of what we've got planted in our backyard. I will say about eighty percent of it is new. We have a glorious pepper tree in the center of the yard which the rest of the yard bows to in reverence. It could be as old as the yard--probably is--which would make it seventy four years old. A lot of things have conspired against that tree over the years. We had a neighbor who used to pray for its demise as it blocked their view of the San Francisco Bay.

Another prize tree, a Red Tip Photinia, sits all the way to the left hand corner of the yard. It initially was planted, along with four others, to become a hedge. Its brothers are gone and this one remains, filling out the corner, tall and robust. It grows by sending out new red leaves. It now has amazing bunches of white blossoms growing in wild profusion. I think I love this tree most and it has to do with the very wildness of it's ways. The rest of the yard is very ordered and controlled at this point in it's life.

As a pean, a peacemaker to me our architect, Bryan, planted three Japanese Maples, one of which you see in the photograph. They are full leaved trees, a good fifteen feet tall already, and they are beautiful. Two sit in back corners, one straight back. They help, but of course no full grown tree of forty years can every be replaced by mere spindlings. I fought for and lost a forty year old Japanese Maple in our front yard. It had to go--I knew that. It was a volunteer and was encroaching on a retaining wall, but oh did it hurt to see it go!

I did not manage to replace the other tree I lost. Along the side of the house we used to have an California Live Oak, another volunteer. California Live Oaks are protected trees, native to California. It was hidden for years by the jungle that was our front yard so when it emerged from behind all the strangeness it was a little strange itself with a tall, scrawny trunk at the base from which emerged the rest of the tree. It was the upper part of the tree you focused on: it looked like it should have looked, with a crown of branches lifting heavenward that birds visited.

Bryan wanted that tree gone. It was ugly, it interfered with his plans plus it was planted too close to a retaining wall. He periodically brought up removing the tree but I always refused, asking him instead to plan around it. Then there came the day when he found the tree had some black oozing stuff coming out of it, called conveniently enough Black Ooze Disease, or something of the sort. I envision him chortling and rubbing his hands in glee. He was finally going to get rid of that tree.

He told me the tree was sick and needed to come out. I said I wanted another opinion. Any arborist would do. He said he would go to the city as the city would be the final arbiter anyway.

I came home the next day to find a confab going between my husband; Bryan; John, who was in charge of the job; and Steve, the head construction person. The architect had gone to the city to inquire about removing the tree. Not only couldn't the tree be removed, there couldn't be any construction to within eight feet of the tree. They had begun framing in the steps that would ultimately lead to our front door. They were within a foot of the tree. They were talking about how they were going to have to lift the steps over a bridge of sorts to clear the roots of the tree. That might satisfy the city. I was not a popular person, let me tell you. I sighed and told them to take out the tree. We would just have to hope we wouldn't be fined.

I figure the city killed that tree. The city would have denied us access to our own house. As of this date we have not been fined.

The rest of the plantings have had to wait for the house to be painted. The house has been painted; yesterday the new gutters went up. Now we wait for the rest of the yard to take shape. One day we'll sit on the front patio and look at the view of the city which has emerged from behind our jungle. All that will be missing is that beautiful Live Oak.


Heidi said...

Marsh - that backyard is beautiful. I'm glad you are getting out and enjoying it.

The story about the tree - well, change is hard, isn't it? Time makes things valuable. In time, those new things will have their own value.

Letting go is never easy. But sometimes necessary. :(

marsh to the fore said...

Thanks Heidi. Yes, change is the hardest, but you are right--someday those new Japanese Maples will be as loved as the original 40 year old beauty.

JKB said...

Marsh, the backyard looks AMAZING! He did a fantastic job!

And btw, I don't think Plato will be easily swayed by a cement walkway. Somehow I see him marking all the new plants as his, lol.

marsh to the fore said...

I want you to know we have stepping stones! Not cement! Stepping stones, believe it or not, that have some sort of special herbs planted between them dogs are supposed to like. Oh the silliness! Unbelievable.

I do know we're going to have to physically put him back in his pen or we will have problems with him marking the plants and messing up the beautiful new lawn.

Heidi the Hick said...

Absolutely gorgeous! I love everything about it: the little japanese maple, the path, the flowers, everything!!! I love gardening but my own never looks like I want it to. Maybe I just have unrealistic visions?

Our backyard is a happy disaster. I gave it to the kids. Every year it's different because they build different bike ramps and "patios" and dig giant pits. I have wishes that it could look like yours does in that picture... but the kids won't be this age forever and maybe someday....

until then, I get the front yard to make my dreams come true!