A blank slate presents exciting possibilities, particularly in a garden. Yet in August of 2006 as I walked up the staircase to our terraced yard and surveyed land with little in the way of landscaping, overwhelm was the more familiar emotion. The air was dry and there was no wind. It was very hot. The sun scorched and dust rose with each footprint.
I was still adjusting to the heat. I had spent years in the Northwest where the steady drizzle of rain was a mainstay, not the sun. Not surprisingly, in the Northwest a rich green landscape is the norm. San Diego has a dissimilar landscape although just as rich in its own way. I knew upon arrival I would have to look to different vegetation than the kind I had become used to, but beyond that I had no idea where to start.
I also felt lonely. I had wanted to share that first moment of walking through our new home with my husband, but Jim was still in the Northwest preparing our Whidbey Island home for rental. Our animals were with him too, which meant the house was very quiet. Thanks to the seller’s realtor I had a couch, a few lamps and an old TV to keep me comfortable until the movers arrived in another week. My new job also helped keep me busy, but beyond that I was waiting for my home crew to arrive on the scene so we could enjoy this new journey together.
While I waited, I went to Home Depot and Lowe’s. I scanned the aisles, perused design books and got ideas for the inside and outside of our home. I read often on the need to divide large areas into “rooms” which helped me to begin scaling down my largesse view and see the yard in smaller sections.
Tackling the landscape challenge in smaller doses did a lot to dismantle the overwhelm I felt. Otherwise my own need for perfection meant I would never get started. Once I recognized this, I felt energized. I also decided to get some help. For starters we needed a doggie door off the family room to the side yard, which was just a heap of unattractive dirt. A small step but small steps get you going. I had a carpenter install the doggie door and then skimmed the yellow pages to find a landscaper to help me turn that dirt into something else.
I had a couple of ideas. For one, I wanted to separate the side yard into two spaces — one for guests who wanted to sit, relax and enjoy the area, and another for the dogs if I needed to keep them from that very spot. However, the two spaces needed to remain connected if I wanted to open things up.
Enter Tony who just started his landscape business and with whom I felt I had an instant rapport. He was a scruffy young fellow, a little prone to the drink, but someone with a passion for the land. I liked him readily, maybe because I sensed he was trying to carve a living for himself and his son and wanted very much to do things right. Our mutual enthusiasm fed off the other and before long we had a plan. A patio here, a walkway there, a dry creek bed which would not mind the lifting of a dog leg, and lush plants to please my husband’s visual hunger for all things tropical.
The result was wonderful and I couldn’t wait to share the side yard with Jim when he came home with our animals. When he did, perfection gave way to reality. Jim loved the outcome and sat down to survey the space. The dogs liked the space also. They marked the new flagstone patio, the plants that made our yard their new home and pretty much everything else. We call it acid rain. The dogs call it their territory. I still have a lot to learn about peaceful co-existence with animals, but what I did learn about the side yard project was how important it is to breakdown goals into doable portions. As to the acid rain, I washed down the plants and the patio, making them new again. I asked the plants their forgiveness but I am very certain they don’t distress over these issues like I do. They just adapt or don’t. As to the dogs, they went into the house, curled into bed and slept. Typical.