Hedges and lawns

Around here, most hedges are made of boxwood, or privet

dodoneae or podocarpus fern pine

pittosporum is popular too

or on occasion – griselinia and escallonia.

Gas station hedges are made of raphiolepis.

Look under the hedges for the irrigation spray heads or drip lines or soaker hoses

Oftentimes, there isn’t any

in clay soils, these plants require no additional irrigation once established.  

That is the key – once established.

For most shrubby woody plants in the clay loam soils

it can take two or three years of winter rains and intermittent summer irrigation

for the roots to sink down wide and deep, and for it to be well grounded

after that happens, you can come by once every couple of months to shear it to shape

and it does not seem to mind

it resprouts a wall of greenery right away without any problems

cause it has reserves, cause its embedded in the landscape

it helps that these plants

often have small waxy leaves somewhat resistant to desiccation

it helps that these plants originate from places with much much hotter summers

compared to a foggy coastal place like san francisco

if these shrubs are growing in the west side, in the sand

perhaps in the lean of a shadow of a house

they can still get by with no additional supplementary irrigation

they might get a little stressed after four or five months of dry weather

drop some leaves, turn a wee bit red or yellow

but they usually pull through alright

If they are established

and the rains come

aside from the usual suspects

there are a number of other plants that fit the criteria of a useful hedge

plants that grow a thick and full bush of smallish leaves

plant that sprout out readily even when cut back, even to bare wood

Plants that do not go leggy and tree-like and lanky on you

plants that are uniform and green green green all year round

What you don’t want as a hedge plant 

is a plant that is finicky and temperamental after a hedging operation

some leafy parts go vigorously nutty

while a whole nuther section just dies, leaving a gaping hole

Those plants you want to avoid, they are no good as hedges, better in their own natural shape

Ceanothus is one of those:

A few other drought tolerant plant choices (once established) are:

True myrtle Myrtus communis.  Can you guess where this is?

Eleagnus umbellata is another great plant. The silvery leaves, plus the edible berries for jam. What is not to like about autumn berry?

Africa boxwood Myrsine africana shown here with Myrica California in the background and Quercus agrifolia in the foreground on the side.  In our cloud garden.

Way old stand by from forty fifty years ago Juniperus communis.  All along Teresita.

Heres an interesting specimen. Leptospermum scoparium as some kind of a sidewalk bonsai hybrid hedge thing.  We’ll just say that it may have potential.

Breath of heaven Coleonema pulchra.  Like all hedges, gotta stay on top of em.  If you fall asleep with Rip Van Winkle,  the plant grows tall & wide.  Then when you prune it hard down to all bare wood, it may live, or it may go into shock and die.  Or it will die back in sections here and there, and there goes your full green hedge concept out the window.  So like mowing the lawn – be consistent and keep trimming trimming and trimming on a regular basis.  Dont take off too much in one hit.  Do not neglect it.

Hedges – a living wall, a breathing border, a wave of greenery

pretty neat garden sculpture

a sculpture that comes back to life as soon as you’re done with your role as a gardener

Around here, most lawns are like mutts

they are a mix of plant species

if you go to the golf course or the lawn bowling green

theres patches of pure good sod – all fescue, or all bent grass

but most other ‘lawns’, at least in open public places

All full of daisies clover dandelions plantain veronica cat’s ears

and the grasses are a mix of fescue and poa and bermuda and rye

if you are not a discerning turf expert, you probably don’t even notice its a mix

once it has been mowed to 1.5” tall

and its all trim and uniform

that is what you see, that is all you see – a carpet of green

It does take considerable water 

to keep the lawn green

like the hedge, we like the lawn to be green year round

if we did not water the lawn, it would  go dormant, dry, and brown

that is what happens to the grasses in nature, during the dry season

to keep it full of life, water that lawn

the green color  – its so soothing

Lets say you want a flat usable space, a patch of greenery

but not one made of water-hungry always needs to be mowed grass

What are the alternatives?  

What is another plant that you can 

Step on, lay on, walk on, roll around on?

And you say “No, I do not want round tiny gravel or artificial turf or decomposed granite or slabs of concrete or slate or flagstone with a weatherproof carpet on top.  I want something soft, something gentle”

A pretty tough ground cover is Dymondia margaritacaea

A friend in the east bay tore out the lawn, and knitted it back together with a native plant ground cover called Lippia repens.

Dichondra always shows up on these lists.  My experience is that with a little bit of walking on em, the leafy ears start to crumble and then its lights out. Left alone it is has solid coverage.  With interaction it gets patchy.

The following particular choice is controversial, both among the native plant activists and amongst some rank and file gardeners.  Arctotheca cape dandelion.  Some people say it is a ‘nonnative invasive weed’. It does have those ‘I’m gonna take over’ tendencies.  At the same time, it restricts itself to mostly wet soils and shady exposures.  That is to say, it does not rule in the south side, it does not do well in the uplands.  It is the boss, however, on the north side, and on the bottom of the slope where water gathers.  It completely replaced the CCSF entrance lawns on Phelan Avenue, and has persisted year after year after year.  Nope its not the lush paradise lawn manicured turf like at USF. But then again, it wins on a lot of other criteria, and our windy foggy commuter campus is not the kind of place where people are lounging around in designer gear. They are working! What do you think?  Reach for the round up?  Get out the rototiller?  Or leave it alone?  

There is some room for entrepreneurial spirit in the turf alternatives world.  I imagine a good second choice would be a meadow mixture comprised of say three to five different species of plants.  They would all be okay with mowing, and be more or less drought tolerant once established.  They’d be plants that are a little less needy with regards to fertilization and pest control.  Seeds could be sown in a flat, and grown up into a tight mudflat quilt ready to be transplanted or divided and grafted into the ground.  You would have to play with the water regime to figure out the evapotranspiration rate and the best watering schedule to keep it green, to let it establish.  Aside from the general mutt lawn mix of dicot broadleaves we already noted, there are many other possibilities to experiment with and dream up.

How do you irrigate something that needs water all throughout the dry season, and still be frugal and conserving?  You have to irrigate like the rain that comes down on everything everyone – drip drip drip drip drip in tiny little droplets.  Not gushin big spurts.  Nice and slow tick tick tick building to a crescendo storm of pelting drops.  Wet it all the way down down down.

Visualize the earth as a huge sponge with tiny tiny holes all over her.  To get in there, as water, you have to get tiny tiny too.  If you try to push your way in, but you are large and stuck to yourself, then you will not fit.  You will have to be fine and patient, that is the trick. Well plus it helps if the soil is not hydrophobic. Organic matter organic matter.