Beautifying the Home Grounds: Your Source for 1920s Outdoor Project Inspiration

I have a simple design process here at the Root Simple compound. I ask the house what it wants. The house, being a fuddy-duddy, vaguely colonial bungalow build in 1920, invariably tells me that it want something fuddy-duddy and vaguely colonial. It doesn’t want innovation or Starchitects or Pottery Barn or Ikea. The house doesn’t care what I want. My most successful outdoor and indoor projects have been ones that nobody notices, that look like they were always there.

If you have a fuddy-duddy 1920s house in need of some trellising, outdoor furniture or an arbor take a look at Beautifying the Home Grounds by the Southern Pine Association, part of the always useful Building Technology Heritage Library on archive.org.

I’m using Beautifying the Home Grounds as a design resource to replace the horrible flipper fence I installed a few years ago and the aging entrance arbor that fence is connected to. I’m thinking of going with arbor number 13.

I’ve already done the rendering in Sketchup. Boring, yes. But sometimes boring is just what your house wants.

Backyard in Progress

This morning I thought I’d update progress on the garden. A crew from Haynes Landscaping worked hard over the past week to clean up our backyard and install the hardscaping for a rain garden fed by the downspout from the back end of our house. The rain garden will fill out a problematic area we’ve struggled with over the years.

When we moved into this house in 1998 the spot was occupied by a dead tree. A few years ago we used the area to mine clay for our adobe oven. This left a shallow depression that I filled in with compost and routed the downspout towards via an unsightly pipe. Lacking definition and choked with weeds, the area never looked good.

Our landscaper Laramee proposed digging the depression out by about a foot and adding river rock and a little dry stream fed by the downspout. I made a bridge so that when it rains water will flow under the path that leads to our shed. This is why you hire an outsider expert: Kelly and I would never have thought of this rain garden or the idea of running the flow under the path.

Yes, one of these days I’ll remove the bar code from that pipe!

We plan on planting this area with native plants in the fall. Laramee and his crew also hauled up some rock to better define the paths in our yard that lead to the bees and the chicken coop.

Laramee also proposed something else we never would have thought of: 12-volt lighting. He placed the lights sparingly along the paths in our backyard. For the sake of wildlife, I don’t believe in having outdoor lighting on all the time, so I rigged up a remote control switch to turn the lighting on as needed, such as when heading to the shed in the evening.

On top of the importance of seeking outside advice, the other lesson is not to accumulate crap such as building materials or duplicate tools. I had a lot of “failed project” detritus hidden behind the shed and tucked into corners of the yard. It feels good to have that junk gone and have a space that brings solace rather than “I’ve-got-so-much-to-do” chore anxiety.

There is Something Beyond the Straw Bale

Fig tree off the front porch.

As usual, when I blog about our small vegetable garden as I did on Wednesday, I neglect to put that small part of the food growing efforts at the Root Simple compound in context. To correct this unfortunate tendency, I’m thinking of hanging a framed portrait of Jacques Derrida, the patron saint of 90s nerd boys like me, over my computer to remind me that nothing exists outside of a greater context. What applies to literature also applies to vegetable gardening. You can’t grow vegetables without also considering their relationship to other plants, creatures and human beings.

Bale, pomegranate tree and mess I need to clean up. Please note the raccoon poop zone on the slightly subterranean garage roof.

Our vegetable garden right now is just one straw bale in the process of conditioning and our philosophy has always been that vegetable gardens need to be surrounded by a native “hedge row” that supports beneficial wildlife. We’re also fans of hardy and climate appropriate perennial fruits and vegetables–beyond that solitary straw bale we have a lot of edible perennial plants and a bunch of work to do to straighten out the yard after years of other priorities.

Site of future seasonal rain garden.

Towards that end, our landscaper, Laramee Haynes and crew are coming next week to clean things up, install a kind of seasonal rain garden fed by a downspout, fix the paths in the backyard, and install some sprinklers and a few path lights. In short, to do all the things we couldn’t do when I was taking care of my mom and when Kelly was recovering from open heart surgery. The end goal is to have a yard consisting mostly of native plants, alongside our mature fruit trees and a tiny vegetable garden that will consist of either a small raised bed or a straw bale or an alternation of both bed and bale.

The fruit trees, for those keeping score, consist of a fig, pomegranate, avocado and olive as well as a few stone fruit trees that we will likely remove since the squirrels get every single fruit. In the perennial vegetable catagory, there’s also a few artichokes that pop up here and there, prickly pear cactus and an indestructible stand of New Zealand spinach. When Laramee is done we’ll install a bust of Derrida made out of pre-chewed termite infested wood that will slowly be colonized and deconstructed by Los Angeles’ endangered carpenter bees.

Lastly, please enjoy this completely gratuitous kitten photo that has nothing to do with this blog post, vegetable gardening or Derrida unless all internet cat photos do, in fact, have everything to do with Derrida. Let’s skip that speculation for now and note that this kitten, currently being fostered by our neighbor Lora, is up for adoption and looking for a home in which to snuggle next to you while you read impenetrable tomes in your reading socks. Email us if you want to bring this grey cutie home.

A Lemon Arbor

Consider this post one of those inspirational ideas we’ll never get around to but perhaps an ambitious Root Simple reader will tackle: a lemon arbor. You can find this particular lemon arbor at Lotusland in Montecito, California.

We used to have a grape arbor that became a “stacking function fail” due to Los Angeles’ disruptive rat population. I suspect the rats would be less interested in the lemons but don’t hold me to that speculation. Our grape arbor came down to make way for a new patio and backyard designed by Haynes Landscape Design (I’ll post an update when the work is complete).

The Wild Yard Project

Storyteller and native plant evangelist David Newsom’s Wild Yard Project seeks to transform the lawn wasteland of our built environment. According to the mission statement of the Wild Yard Project,

The World Wildlife Fund recently announced that the natural world is losing 10,000 species a year, due largely to habitat loss. At the same time, we here in the United States have displaced over 40 million acres of native-habitat with costly, lifeless lawns. Astonishingly, lawns are the biggest crop in the US, but we don’t eat them, and much of that acreage goes to waste when it could be inviting back in the tens of thousands of essential and threatened species we have pushed out. The Wild Yards Project combines a powerful team of award winning filmmakers with esteemed botanists, biologists and native plant landscapers to generate media and local projects aimed at inspiring and educating people to transform their lawns back into vibrant native plant and animal habitat. One yard can save a species, but many yards can transform the world.

We’ll have David on the podcast to talk more about this important project soon. In the meantime, take a look at the video, read an essay by Kim Radochia, “A Meadow Grows in West Gloucester” and sign up for the Wild Yards Project newsletter. Then get out there, wherever you are, and plant gardens that support life.