Shady sloping backyard in Los Angeles - ideas?
July 21, 2013 in Design Dilemma
Our backyard is giving me trouble. It's nice and shady, which is great in the long, hot LA summer. But the shade severely limits our planting choices, since we generally prefer things like kangaroo paws, succulents, flax etc. The thing that really stumps me, though, is whether its possible / practical to plant anything to provide visual interest under the lovely old tree growing in front of the back fence. I would consider a low retaining wall under the tree's drip line, but the tree roots are extensive and located on, or just under, the soil surface. Would installing a very low retaining wall in this area hurt the tree? Another problem is that the soil here is heavy clay -- I'd like to amend the soil to improve drainage and plant health, but again fear that amending the soil would disturb tree roots too much.
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Not sure whether it matters what geographic area we are talking about, but my husband and son built me a round tree "seat" area with circular pavers under the large maple tree in my backyard in Michigan. It's about 8 feet across. It's tall enough to sit on comfortably, with flat "topper" pavers on top. We filled the bottom with small pebbles about 6 inches high for drainage, then used soil to fill the rest, to about 1-2" from the top of the circle. For us, annuals that like shade have worked well. I wouldn't plant any perennials in it just because we have harsh winters and that area would have less retained warmth because it's not ground, but above ground.

We put a few solar spotlights in the soil, so they get sun, then shine on the tree & flowers when the sun goes down.

I don't have an answer for your clay problem. I'd use a lot of pots for perennials and annuals in that case, just because it's easier, LOL.

My cousins live in Orange county and have a very large hill on one side of their home. They planted a lot of plants in there that are supposed to stop erosion, but to be honest, I don't know what they are. They also planted rose bushes, but they probably don't have the clay problem you do.

I'm sure you'll get a response from someone with better design and gardening skills than I have! Good luck.
0 Likes   July 22, 2013 at 3:11PM
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Thank you so much -- I was giving up hope of getting a response! I thought about the "tree ring/seat" idea before, but my limited research about it made me worry that such a seat could hurt the many surface tree roots, and that filling in the ring with soil could end up reducing the tree's ability to draw enough water for its health. Glad to hear that it's working for you though!

I will keep this idea in mind, while hoping that others will chime in with their ideas too.

Thanks again.
0 Likes   July 22, 2013 at 4:19PM
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Don't know what happened to the photos attached to my original post, so reporting them now. Would really appreciate more comments -- thanks.
0 Likes   July 23, 2013 at 6:09AM
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Kimba Hills
what a beautiful spot! Succulents are so hardy, they'd do well anywhere. And you can be inventive with your selections in terms of color and scale. I've done several landscaping projects in Los Angeles with Grace Phillips of I think she could be of great help to you!
0 Likes   June 19, 2014 at 8:14AM
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