Thursday, September 06, 2007

Home Improvements

No home improvement project is ever simple. You make one small change, which leads to another and, before you know it, you’re neck-deep in a whole new project.

Case in point: After putting it off for several years, we finally had the outside of house painted last February. In the process, we had the painters remove the hideous old aluminum patio cover that the original owner had installed in the 1960s. The plan was to replace it with a new wooden structure; but when I saw glorious sunlight streaming into a kitchen that had previously been dark, I decided to leave the patio uncovered and paint it red instead. I then bought furniture and colorful umbrellas to create a much more festive atmosphere. I envisioned having lots of garden parties with friends as we luxuriated in the cool summer breeze . . .

But wait. What garden? Our backyard was a nightmare of brown grass and sad old rose bushes. Something had to be done!

I love our small postwar home and enjoy freshening it up with new furniture and interesting colors on the walls. But I know nothing about yards and things that grow in the earth. In fact, one of the first things we did when we moved in was hire a gardener to mow the lawns twice a month and periodically shape-up the bushes. As long as the grass was short and the plants neat, I was happy.

To get some help with this new project, I hired a landscaper named Joel, who was highly recommended by a friend. With water rationing seriously looming on L.A. county’s horizon, we decided to go with drought-resistant plants in the back instead of traditional grass. We then turned our attention to the front yard. Joel loved our fabulous Chinese elm—everyone does!—but was distressed at our neglected birch tree.

“What’s with this tree?” he asked incredulously.

“I don’t know. What’s wrong with it?” I innocently replied.

“It’s dead!” he announced.

“IT IS!?” I practically yelled, completely oblivious to the fact that it hadn’t sprouted leaves in more than two years.

With a great sweep of his arm, Joel declared that it had to go, while I stood there amazed that I could be so botanically-challenged. He also decided to yank the hideous junipers from our brick planter, but the camellia bushes, which do bloom once a year, could stay.

The backyard is another thing altogether. Everything has been demolished—including a fruit-bearing peach tree that I didn’t even know was there!—and replaced by mulch. Joel designed a short pea gravel-filled path that stops at the corner where the peach tree used to stand. It’s now up to me to find a birdbath to put at the end of the path—a much more difficult task than I imagined. Have you ever investigated birdbaths? Most of them are common monstrosities—the rest cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Needless to say, the quest continues.

It is too hot to plant natives during the summer, so my assignment these past couple of months has been to identify specimens that I’d like to see growing in our backyard. Joel loaned me a book to help me decide, but I ended up marking everything that produces red or purple flowers! So now I’m supposed to look at actual plants at nurseries or in other people’s yards. I hit the jackpot when we attended a wedding last month at the Estancia Spa and Resort in La Jolla. The grounds there were completely covered in California natives! I ended up taking more pictures of the plants than of the bride.

My second task has been to buy pottery to dress-up the patio and front porch. Tentative at first, I have now officially gone berserk and buy every pot I see. My downfall was a small store I spied as we were leaving our vacation rental in Shell Beach last month. For an hour I rambled through piles of Mexican pottery until I finally narrowed my search to three items. Now, of course, I’ve got to find plants to put inside them. I’ve heard of pot addicts, but pottery addicts? I think I’m the first.

We’re still waiting for the weather to cool down enough for Joel to return and plant the backyard. In the meantime, Tim has bought a lawnmower, which he uses every other week to trim the grass in front, while I occasionally pull weeds in the back. To be continued . . .


1 comment:

beckie said...

I'm so excited to see it when its done. I love remaking stuff but I too know practically nothing about plants. Thats really funny about your dead tree. Isn't it funny what we just stop noticing in our own homes?