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Keeping up with the Joneses, Nelsons and Aguilars

The author admires her neighbors' new landscaping and admits that, in terms of gardening, her reach exceeds her grasp.

It’s spring; the time when hope springs eternal.

And my annual doomed love affair with landscaping begins. 

Technically, of course, it’s still winter for another month as Angelenos head into the first of Southern California’s only two seasons.   We don’t have Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in Los Angeles; we have Rain/Mudslides and Santa Ana Winds/Wildfires.

Regardless of the weather, my Pavlovian desire to plant is being fanned by the neighbors who are in a collective frenzy of Fixit-itis and Spruce-up-ingness.  Yes, our little corner of Mount Washington is practically ready to host its own, three-family garden tour.

Present company excluded.

Our uphill neighbor constructed a cunning bamboo barrier to protect his yellow and pink flowering border plantings from the rambunctious neighborhood dogs.   Our downhill neighbors built a spiffy new wooden fence and mowed their curb strip.   And the lady across the street landscaped her entire front hill with stones, sunset-hued flowers, and dramatic night lighting.

Dramatic night lighting! Between that and the (kind-of) new street lamp, we’re rivaling klieg-light Hollywood here on the Hill.

Except at our house ...

Our dramatic night time lighting is limited to strings of Christmas lights that my sweet husband hand-painted gold and red for my birthday celebration a few years ago and draped across our front wall.  The lights make me happy every time I see them but dramatic they are not.  Plus, there’s no way passersby can know they’re lovingly-hand-painted-Kim’s-birthday-party-lights instead of lazily-left-up-Baby-Jesus’s-birthday-lights.

It’s not really the kind of issue one can address with street side signage.

Although truth be told, explanatory/apologetic/craven signs along our section of sidewalk would be an improvement.  Because in addition to our low-tech, un-dramatic, lighting non-scheme, our curb strip and front hill do not “Show Sharp”.  (That's real estate agent speak for “If you paint it, polish it, and plant it, they will buy.”)

Not that we’re trying to sell, which is a good thing.  Our curb strip is clogged with clover and wild mustard and hosts a weird, is-it-dead-or-is-it-poised-to-strike Plant-Thing that looks like the kind of creature Sigourney Weaver might have battled in Alien.

Clearly, we need to step it up on our side of the street.

Bur here’s my true confession.  It’s not that I don’t have dreams.   It’s not that I don’t have pride.   It’s not that I haven’t tried.   I’m just a failure with flowers (and flagstones and fragrant borders.)

Over the years, I’ve trucked in tons of wood chips, gallons of ground cover, and pounds of decorative pebbles.  I’ve monitored micro-climates.  Nurtured native plants.  Tended  tiny seedlings.

But I’ve finally accepted my limitations.  Acknowledged reality.    Come to the humble realization that I’m good with only one thing.

Succulents.

For those who could care less about gardening, let me explain.   Telling a real gardener that you’re good with succulents is like bragging to Kobe Bryant that you can dribble a basketball or proudly telling Martha Stewart that you put a fork AND a napkin on the table.

Everyone’s “good” with succulents.   You pretty much just stick a cactus, or an aloe, or a jade plant in the ground, go about your business, and it grows.  (Although I could tell you harrowing tales of ice plants under a Pittosporum tree….)

So we’ll probably swallow our pride and keep it simple on our little patch of paradise.  We’ll clear out the curb strip.  Tear out the Alien Life Form.  Stick some sedum in the ground.

And congratulate the neighbors on their curb appeal.

Although it couldn’t hurt to stop by the local nursery.   I hear that fountains as garden focal points are very, very in ...

Natalie Seaman February 20, 2011 at 09:36 PM
Kim: You should see my hill - I thought your front yard was beautifully landscaped! Just to come clean - I am in the garden club b/c I can get some face-time with my friend Anna, by planting tomotoes! Natalie (Ave 37)
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson March 01, 2011 at 05:15 AM
Natalie, are you sure it was my house that you saw?!?! With the Alien Plant Thing? I am inching my way to the Garden Boxes. First, the curb strip....

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