Thursday, March 28, 2013

What to %$*& Plant?

“The lawn is almost dead,” Mr. Wonderful said holding out his wine glass.
“Yep,” I said pouring wine.
“You have a plan for what happens next?”
“You going to show me?”

Mr. Wonderful and I had done so many things together—buying a house, adopting a cat, dealing with never satisfied mother-in-laws—but this planting thing, I needed to do on my own. While the lawn gasped its last breaths of photosynthesis, I was busy plotting the next adventure—its replacement!

In theory I knew what I wanted to plant. In theory I knew it would be beautiful. In theory I had a plan: Wherever the turf had been I would replant with something that was: 1) Drought tolerant 2) Low maintenance and 3) Inexpensive. In other words: the Impossible Dream.

But what would I plant exactly? With all the horticultural options available, I needed to get some specific ideas. I started close to home by looking at the plants growing in my neighbors’ gardens. Of course! If a plant grew well in their yard, it would grow well in mine, too!

“Hey, Harold!” I called out to my 86 year-old neighbor as he rolled his garbage bin to the street. He waved back as if he were giving me a lazy karate chop. I bounded over to him. “Harold, in your garden what’s your favorite plant?”
Without a hint of irony he said: “My grass.” I scanned the dry dirt patch he called a lawn. This Gobi Desert was his favorite thing? He adjusted his baseball cap and continued, “You should have seen it five years ago. It was green, lush—”
“You men, alive?” Harold continued waxing poetic about how his lawn used to look but I wasn’t into “used-to plants” I needed now plants. Besides, I’d been killing my turf for weeks, there was no way I was going to replace it with more turf!

As Harold rambled on about his lawn’s good ole days, I jumped in my car and headed to the ultimate plant idea factory—the nursery! The place was jam packed with seedlings in tiny containers and row after small potted row of annuals, perennials and semi-tropicals all watched over by millennial staff members with nose piercings and tattoos, like OMG. Every time I saw a new plant the ideas buzzed in my brain. I jotted down the plant’s needs, I drew plant sketches, I harassed the millennial clerk for the plant’s Genus and species—“It’s a plant, like, whatever”.  Like a starved honey bee I zipped from plant to plant gathering the nectar of ideas. Ideas! What joy! Then I tried to imagine these plants in my garden and I… blanked. Every affordable plant was too small and every big plant was too expensive. The Impossible Dream! Arghh!

Then I realized: It’s called a plant “nursery” not a “college”, “work station” or “corner office”. As lovely as all these plants were in their pretty little pots, I needed to see full-grown specimens to imagine them in my garden plan.

Back in my car I put the top down, cranked the music and took a road trip across Los Angeles. I drove to Beverly Hills, over the Hollywood Hills and through the Valley. I avoided the freeways and kept to residential streets where I had uninhibited views of adult flowers, mature shrubs and in the-prime-of-their-life trees. I gasped, I snapped photos, I was bowled over by the creative variety of Angeleno gardens. Oh, boy! Now I had ideas! Like this:

And this:

And this:

Armed with these photos I could show Mr. Wonderful my planting plans because a beautiful, drought tolerant garden was a Possible Dream.

Of course the %$*& garden wouldn’t be cheap but at least now it was possible!