Several years ago, when Lyle and Sue Grosjean moved to a home in Paso Robles, it was quite a downsize. Sue, a UCCE Master Gardener from San Diego and Alameda County, was used to large gardens filled with native plants, fruits and vegetables.
She quickly learned that what grew in her former yards does not grow in northern San Luis Obispo County!
Her first decision: Where could she plant? The home they had moved into was a tract home with a small backyard. The only vegetation was a lush green lawn out front with a Japanese maple tree, miniature climbing rose and light purple lilac bush original to the house. She chose to remove a good portion of the lawn and had a cement curb divider placed between the planting area and along the remaining grass.
The planting area is about 5 feet wide and starts from the front of house, travels along the front walkway, down the driveway and finishes along the sidewalk to their property line.
She then researched native and low-water plants unique to this area. With her sister Paula and husband Lyle — “the muscle” — she planted sages, a variegated leaf purple butterfly bush, pink “Hot Lip” and yellow penstemons, red yarrow, and three kinds of coral bells. She added a pomegranate tree, a bottle brush bush, crepe myrtle, California fuchsia and an apple tree along the house to add height to the back of the garden.
In between the native plants, she added nine different varieties of roses and four different lavenders. Along the back is a climbing “Autumn Sunset” with coral-pink “Gemini,” “Party” knock-out, purple-red “Intrigue” and beautiful dark red “Black Baccara” roses spaced throughout the front. Also mixed in are “Hot Cocoa,” “Chihuly,” “Julia Child,” “Fragrant Cloud” and “Mr. Lincoln,” which are all very fragrant roses.
Most of these roses are toward the front of the garden to entice anyone walking by to take a closer look. By the front door is a prolific rose, “Happy Chappy,” which is easy to grow. It has sweet apricot and yellow flowers and is a continual display of color throughout the season. After adding some wild violets, “Margarita BOP” penstemon, and ornamental oregano, she had pretty much filled her front garden bed.
Grosjean also wanted an herb garden, so to the right of her front door, and also intermingled in her front planting area, she propagated mint, bay leaf, St. John’s wort, marjoram, oregano, lemon verbena and basil. Bird feeders attract natural insect control, and a bright blue bottle tree adds color when the blooms have faded.
A large flowering flax bush is at the corner of their driveway as you step onto their front walkway, and Grosjean said she planted it because it is a super pollinator when it blooms.
She then turned to the grassy area between her driveway and her neighbor’s driveway. With the feeling that she could make a unique and beautiful area with less water use, she contacted her neighbor with her ideas. The only request from her neighbor was to add flowers.
Grosjean had the lawn removed and filled the space with gravel and medium-size rocks. Down the center they created a dry creek bed, which is not only beautiful to look at, but will function as drainage during the rainy season. They planted Gaura Bush, “Dasyliron Wheeleri,” hesperaloe, epilobium “Everett’s Choice” and California fuchsia. A drip system was installed to help water the plants until established, and also during drought conditions.
To complete her urban homestead, they built raised beds in the backyard and planted rhubarb, tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini. With a compost bin built, apricot and plum trees completed her edible garden.
The Grosjean’s yard is an explosion of color, texture and variety. Looking closer you will see a variety of birds including scrub jays, hummingbirds, orioles, native bees and beneficial insects. Rather than just a garden they have created a habitat for wildlife for everyone who walks by to enjoy.
Tami Reece is a 30-year gardener and food preserver living in Paso Robles. Email her if you know of a unique and beautiful garden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• It doesn’t matter how big your garden is, mix your landscape and edible plants.
• Know which planting zone you live in so you can buy plants that will work best in your climate.
• Sunset magazine has a detailed planting zone map that is very useful.
• There are lots of beautiful flowering low water and native plants that will return year after year.
• If you are not sure what plants will work best, visit a local nursery and they can show you options that will work best for your area.