An Abundant Garden

By “Green” Gene Sottosanto

We often work and save up for the day that we hope to get away and enjoy the land more. This dream to live homestead style on a better piece of land will start to come true if we derive the most use from any pleasant outdoor realms that are presently available to us. Most of us live on a less than ideal piece of land, yet it is normally possible to make our homes’ outdoor realm more abundant, beautiful, and enjoyable. True for some of us, there may not be much more than a few plants on the windowsill that will enhance the benefits of nature at our home, but often much more is attainable. If we learn to use what we are given most effectively, we will be more prepared when our provision is increased. We will also discover that what we have is much more appreciated.
In the artistic town of Laguna Beach, California, an average sized garden of much multiplicity in usage is replete with numerous detailed nooks and crannies. It took about a 15 dollar cash expenditure, spare time, plenty of recycling, a good working slate, and a determination to enjoy all that was provided. “Being logically ecological is economical and really pays off” according to this gardens’ creator. Let’s take a walk.
Entry begins on a path of many different mixed bricks fit together. Off to the side, delicate florist fern climbs bamboo poles that reach into a carefully pruned, but contorted and self-grafting pittosporum archway. Careful pruning allows plenty of dappled light to filter through, thus encouraging other plants to grow below. Bird nests are viewed in the limbs above. A bell devised from a tractor disk and steel knocker hangs waiting to be clanged before fully entering this private garden.
After the archway, intimate contact with a plant gateway is required to brush aside a few flexible branches. One enters a short maze of bamboo, jasmine, purple plum, and climbing geraniums (A wide copper wire around the bamboo may be pulled tight to increase the entry opening). We are invited by a slightly sloping dry streambed with large flat rock to walk upon. Large-leafed plants and lacy foliage along with juicy succulents, moss and driftwood accompany flowering plants such as Cymbidium, Clivia, Camelia, lily turf, Ajuga, Impatiens and more. A wet moist feeling pervades throughout the setting with smooth boulders, pebbles, sea fossils, and scallop shelled waterfalls cascading into delightful abalone pools from which doves and other birds drink and bathe. Many of the driftwood pieces actually look like animals or animal houses. We encounter hummingbirds darting by, as one of their favorite flowers (especially Tecomaria) is always blooming near.
Before arrival on a spacious deck, we pass a pooling area where the stream we are traversing makes a turn. It disappears about 12 feet away under a low opening in a plant wall of a different type of honeysuckle and a berry laden ivy climbing Ligustrum with still more berries for feasting birds. The “wall” keeps private a special part of the garden and intrigues one as to what is beyond. This secret spot on the hidden side of the “berry barrier” is not soon discovered since so much else catches the eye. A visitor looking back towards the direction of arrival is enticed to sit in a wicker chair in vantage position for gazing.
Looking back across the stream, below the entry and above the barrier, more flat rocks casually lead one through intricate planting and by a small pond to a well-kept fowl pen and compost area. Birds lay their eggs in a cozy hidden cubbyhole where daily retrieving hands can reach without having to climb into the coop. Two hens or even a duck are seen, especially when escaping to or from their roosting spot at the edge of the deck and up a movable ladder where a perch is safely attached above the dartboard!
Continuing the effect of tropical privacy, and still beckoning us as to what is beyond, bamboo poles partially screen in the deck. An upper deck gives cover to aid the function of an outdoor room ample enough to accomodate a ping-pong table, couch, swinging wicker chair and shelves.
At the further end of this room where chimes are hung is a step down into an open area. Uniquely potted plants, terrariums, detailed miniature landscapes, and objects of nature fill the flat rails and are grouped near a picnic table and other sitting areas. Another short couch is under the protection of an overhang. A large belly high bucket of goldfish has water dripping into it from a hidden source above. Often satisfied by the security and many details here, we must be coaxed to enter another short stairway down into the center of the garden.
This entry is next to a full and lively terraced succulent section. Many colorful and unusual varieties are arrayed. Included here are the useful Aloe vera and species that attract hummingbirds. The section along the lowest stair dangles succulent strawberrys.
Bricks, sections of tree trunks, large rocks and various lenths of wood are blended for terraces and borders that give this garden an orderly, yet down-to-earth appearance. These areas are established for the growing of vegetables and herbs.
A tall small eucalyptus tree, through somewhat competitive for food, water, and sunlight is a fun challenge to climb straight up and needs to be tamed as much as possible. The leaves and flowers of the sweet smelling citriodora seem to keep bugs down, but the bees sure enjoy it. It is a perch, a lookout, and a distant marker.
A good spot for nature lovers hidden by the previously noticed ivy/honeysuckle barrier is at the north end of the garden. Just beyond the fig, persimmon and nectarine trees, space opens up for plantings of bulbs and flowers near a grassy meadow ideal for sprawling on. Another pond filled by the stream from above contains at least four species of water plants, fish and tadpoles in season. Birds as well as people enjoy the sound of trickling water. The birds may be fed more abundant berries from pyracantha and cotoneaster,and seed may feed from sunflower or fennel. One of fennels other many uses is providing for the caterpillars of swallowtail butterfly. In spring, nesting materials are provided.
In this same area, against the vine wall and past a fat strand of vine strong enough for a child to swing on, there is a cozy swinging love seat with graffiti on it that quotes proverbs 24:27. “Prepare your outside work, make it fit for yourself in the field, and afterwards build your house”. It also reads”2LUVLIF”, “GOD HELP US TO REPAIR THE EARTH”, “LUV LIFE IN A GARDEN”, MAKE LUV IN A GARDEN” etc.
Immediately adjacent to this dreamy spot is a secluded wooden platform below a hammock. There are extra mats, blankets and pillows. Peering through a screen of passion fruit vines, we notice a honey-producing beehive. Bananas will soon be drooping fruit over the bamboo fencing. Gardenia and ginger provide delightful scents.
Tearing ourselves from this pleasant location, we may make it to the lower central part of the yard where a fire pit is located. A strip along the lower central path represents a desert scene. Bones and broken ceramics lay scattered on volcanic rock around antique rusty implements and of course cacti. Hot rocks may be taken from the fire, carried to the other side of the yard through a plant tunnel, and into a Indian style sauna, which is hidden on the other side of the decks railing. Few will find the sauna unless shown its location.
Below this hidden area, a grassy island mound bathes in the middle of excessive runoff from the neighbor’s abundant watering or rain. Another hammock is hung here as well. Down in the lowest corner of this labyrinth, two 4-step staircases are set for the plants being nursed or propagated and aquariums being used for miniature greenhouses. Close positioning of the plants conceal any plastic containers and the steps. Mirrors that provide extra dimension, light and sometimes simulation of water are strategically placed in the garden.
On the opposite side of the house from the entrance is a secret exit. It goes past the neighbors opulent tropical garden and under the fallen fence from above, which is covered by vines overhanging a ramp floor. A huge plaster hand holds shallow crocks of water and maidenhair ferns at the top of yet another narrow streambed going along the property line to the pools near the hammock.
Countless details create an endless feeling in this average size garden of 2700 square feet. The garden’s caretaker says, “Every garden can be improved upon and added to, including this one”. This rented home garden represents work, hobby, play, creative outlet, sanctuary, discipline and philosophy. Utilizing our outdoor space to fullest advantage establishes a greater richness in our lives.
The version “A garden full of surprises” was published in Orange County Home on June 2002