“Running up that Hill”

by ESP on March 22, 2014 · 8 comments


The logistics, design and installation of this next back garden had me “Running up that Hill” more times then I care to mention.


This garden had very narrow access, just wide enough to fit a wheelbarrow.

Once through the initial entryway an immediate hairpin bend to the left needed to be circumnavigated before embarking on the relative luxury of stretch of straight pathway.


A third of the way way down the home straight are some steps that take you up to a patio on the upper level…the hill.

These steps, and the strategically placed double glass door at the bottom of them (just to add to the overall stress levels) in combination with trying to roll rather large and unwieldy slabs of 2″ thick over-sized Oklahoma flagstone up them, provided ample ‘excitement’ during the installation process.

images (3) 


The concrete pathway on the lower section terminated in a sticky poorly-draining area at the other end of the house. The dirt from the hill had washed down into the trench and was creating pooling when it rained.

Here is the top plateau receiving a good clear-out, grade leveling and excavation:


This top area lacked definition and had no real function or purpose, a no-man’s land.

Time to hit the drawing board…


I wanted to link the top and bottom areas with a pathway that would connect up with the top patio (and the “stressful steps”) providing a walkable loop around the entire space.

These are the renderings that I used to communicate the design intent to the client, and oh yes…is that another hardy red oleander in the plan TD?…You bet there is!

Although this winter has been hard on even the hardy:


It will soon recover though.

Back to the plan:


Sunken flagstone steps would be required to get to the upper plateau which would be planted with drought tolerant and tough plants on either side of the flagstone. Trailing rosemary and lantana were added to take advantage of the front limestone cliff.

Here are the flagstone steps getting hacked and leveled into the existing limestone shelf:



And here is the finished top plateau freshly planted:




The alternating trailing rosemary and basket grasses will eventually fill in up to the flagstone, cover and stabilize the limestone rocks and earth on top of the cliff.

Basket grass (Sacahuista)

Nolina texana


works great on dry limestone slopes like this.

Basket grass is not a true grass, it is actually a member of the agave family. It is evergreen, requires no pruning (unless to remove an old flower spike), it is heat, cold and drought tolerant, resistant to deer, slow growing, low maintenance and best of all it can tolerate almost all soil types.

Oh yes, this plant packs an impressive and versatile xeriscape resume.

Nolina texana

It is happiest in the rocky soils of West and South Texas – its native habitat.

The silver-blue color pairs well with rosemary and opuntia offering a lot of winter structure and color. Be careful not to plant too close to a pathway as the long flat blades can be quite sharp.

This installation took an intensive four days to complete, the intensity clearly evident by the state of my truck by the end of it:



 Back in the Patch:


I am really happy to report that his front pearly whites (both top and bottom) are now in the tiny hands of the fairies and once again I can relax when he approaches me although, I have noticed a substantial increase in wet projectiles as he talks.

Best stay at ‘DEFCON 3’ for the time being.


DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime  / home readiness, general and peaceful couch / movie / gaming / relaxing ESP family time.


DEFCON 4: Normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures:

This generally relates to screen-time abuse / Minecraft server / WordPress logins / Password and Username issues, DEFCON 4 has a direct effect on weekly allowance and can sometimes involve internal WIFI connectivity issues, domestic bills, Amazon ordering debates and sparrows populating our purple martin box.

DEFCON 3: Increase in force readiness above normal readiness:

Including intermittent and unintentional saliva evacuation, flies in the house / on food and gross things found in the garden and pond that are subsequently brought into close proximity and presented on our back deck or worse, inside the house…as in: “Dad…Kumo has a….

…Lets move to DEFCON3 people!”

Example of a DEFCON 3 incident:  http://www.eastsidepatch.com/2012/04/exploding-goldfish/


DEFCON 2: Further Increase in force readiness, but less than maximum readiness:

This includes the wiggling of teeth at obscure angles and involves me directly should a major domestic appliance or vehicle suddenly stop functioning. We ALWAYS move directly to DEFCON 2 should the toilet plunger see some action or the compost bins are full and require immediate evacuation.



DEFCON 1: Maximum force readiness:

Obnoxious odor-emanation at close quarters, instantaneous projectile vomiting, high-fevers and stepping into any unmentionables. Rats, roaches and toilet overflows warrant an immediate DEFCON 1 emergency response.

Internally we classify the degree of a DEFCON 1 incident by the height of the reactionary jump:


Moving more sensibly along:


‘Cactus Man Jr’ is now in a somewhat unnerving state of perpetual winking, and


his acne is getting alarmingly worse.

For anyone who does not know this somewhat disturbing story, I killed the original Cactus Man in a horrible, overtly aggressive face-carving incident which, in turn, killed all the other paddles in the adjacent area (his family).


Some time later the paddles started growing again and Cactus Man (Jr) popped up in exactly the same place where the mutilation originally occurred, only this time the paddle had already grown some eyes!


The recent winking transformation is like his way of acknowledging the botanical irony.

John Edward



Yes once again I got bullied, as I do every year around this time, into buying another ice-plant from the nursery.


I tucked it into a secluded spot around this yucca where it was was not in my direct line of sight.


Out of sight – out of mind.



The first Walsker lily pads are showing up in my ponds, these early pads always carry some of the most vivid coloration.

new leaves

This sand cherry does a pretty good job also.

I need some burgundy canna around the base of this shrub.


I will leave you with a couple of performances on Saint Patrick’s Day:



 Stay Tuned for:

Blooming Canthas!


All material © 2014 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by late (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques

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1 Rock Rose March 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm

A challenge, indeed (I never use that word!) and well executed. You know how much I love flagstone and everything else you planted. Let’s hope it passes the true test-if it ever comes. And what exactly is wrong with delosperma? I love it but can rarely get it to flower anymore.

2 ESP March 23, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Thanks RR, and if any planting scheme could pass the ‘true test’ (may we never get to it), it would be this one, at least once it gets established.

I thought I might take some flak on the ice plant front, haha :-) I just struggle with it aesthetically, the fake-looking overly-saturated color, it looks plastic to me, more like a hair clip on one of my daughters dolls?…Am I ruining it for you yet?…
…I very much doubt it.

3 TexasDeb March 24, 2014 at 10:21 am

Aha! You ARE leading the oleander comeback. I wish I had an appropriate full sun spot to get one of my own and join the parade. In future I’m eyeing all my spaces keeping an eye out for just the right gap.

Am similarly developing flagstone envy disorder here. I’m going to have to think long and hard about how to win the budget holder of the household over to a flagstone installing state of mind.

Finally I must second RR’s favorable feelings towards the ice plant. When used in a mix (as opposed to massed in monoculture) I think it quite attractive. Hmmm. It seems whatever you have just planted in the Patch or are doing for others is what I see and then want. Spring is such a vulnerable time for me! : )

Hi TD.

Oleanders really took a beating this winter, the pinks particularly…no sign of life as yet! The hardy reds also are looking cold-scorched but new growth will quickly push though…I hope so because I am tired of looking at the really sad one through my front window.

Poor old ice-plant, I think I could tolerate it if it were under the ocean, on a coral reef?

4 shirley from memphis March 26, 2014 at 11:26 am

Reminds me of the Laurel and Hardy movie where they’re trying to get the piano up the stairs.

5 ESP March 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Haha Shirley…it was exactly like that!

6 shirley from memphis March 30, 2014 at 11:29 am

Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!

“Why don’t you do something to help me?” Haha

7 Bob March 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Wow, what a transformation. It looks so much better afterwards. Are you starting to bulk up yet.

Thanks Bob, and me…bulk up?
Perhaps if I get a couple more clients at the top of Mt.Bonnell who would pay me with gift cards to the Cheesecake Factory? :-)

8 Katina April 1, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Great transformation!

If you want to know what’s bad, I just bought two 6-packs of portulaca because I had purchased a bunch of succulents and small cacti, and then got pots and then said, “you know, I think portulaca would be so much better than the succulents” and thus I’m now on the lookout for even more pots.

Thanks Katina!
Don’t talk to me about pots…remember this old chestnut?:


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