Finding Land: Eight Years Later

 It has been a while. Eight years have come and gone since we viewed this property, put in an offer and then had the offer accepted. Every year for the first five or so years I wrote a post with images from our initial viewing in 2015 and the same photo every year thereafter. I have been remiss. I have skipped the last three years writing "Finding Land" posts. Well, let's fix that. It is time to check back in on what the garden looks like eight years in, warts and all. Many of these early photos were taken in the month of October, but this year it's September primarily as that's when I had time to put this post together. Off we go into a jumbo version of "Before and After" - garden style.

An opening photo of the edge of the gravel garden and fire pit taken this week. Though I do not have a "before" photo of this, it felt settled and comfortable so I wanted to start out on a positive note.

Let us now go back in time to see what it once was:
The first photo from that hot, September day in 2015; the first day we set eyes on the property. The excitement of it all I can still vividly recall, wanting to transform this blank slate into the garden of our dreams. I also recall wanting to remove the deer fence surrounding the raised beds even then. And, please, paint that porch. Ideas percolated like crazy and still are, frankly.

Here it is in 2016, many of my wishes fulfilled. No more pink deck and no more deer fence around the veggie patch. The plants in the foreground had been added early fall 2016 so would take a while to settle in. This is where many asters and grasses had been planted or moved from other parts of the garden. The idea is that it will be a transitional meadow-kind of garden, while the more formal plantings are closer to the house.

Much less dirt, many more plants. On the lower left you can see a corner of the "Himalayas," a couple of berms created when the gravel trench path was dug out.

October 2018 from the same vantage point. The Melianthus major takes over and blocks the view, though in 2023 the same plant does not look as bold. The spot on which I am standing is atop the Himalayan mounds added in spring of 2017.

October 2019. Almost the exact same spot this year. I lost a cardoon that would have been on the left where the bare soil is. The path on the left side is new as are the tripods in the meadow-y area.

Four years after the 2019 photo above. Eight years into living here. The Melianthus major is much smaller having suffered a few nasty spring freezes and complete dieback. The Romneya coulteri has formed a lovely patch and the house is rather obscured by Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' at the base of the deck (now totally obscured).

In 2015, a sunny day with a dried-up bank of a few crocosmias, asters, azaleas and Alchemilla mollis, now nearly completely gone however the odd seedling still shows up. The rock-hard soil was a challenge to dig into at first.

Here it is in 2016 on a drizzly afternoon. The soil is much richer having a lot of compost and gravel added. The bed has been completely redesigned and 95% of the plants have been moved or removed. Many more added.

This is October 2017.  Plants have filled out a little, not a lot. Same crummy weedy "lawn," though. I have another crazy idea. I'd like to make a gravel path along the edge of this garden to eliminate the weedy "lawn" a little more - that or remove "sod" and add arborist's wood chips and expand beds here and there. Goals.

October 2018 and at this point, much of the crocosmia is gone having taken bunches out in 2017. It was only meant as a filler, and now in 2023 it is all gone though a random leaf still shows up from time to time. Some of the shrubs such as the two Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans' and in between them Itea 'Henry's Garnet' have filled in. Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy', the purple flowered plant on the left has grown significantly from its tiny start in 2017.

October 2019. Here the edge of the bed, having been cleaned up looks much neater. The Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans' in the foreground has grown considerably this year. Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy' that showed up beautifully in the last pic did not, sadly, come back in 2019, but one survived in another location.

September 2023 and the Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans' is much larger. I pruned it back hard last year after April's snow storm as it was flattened on the ground. It has rebounded nicely.

The "forest" on the northern edge of the property, 2015.

Here it is fall 2016. What's new here is the fence on the left and therefore the removal of many of these trees, especially farther east. There is Facilities Manager's log pile in the middle of the trees and you can just make out the green chicken cube/coop on the right.

Here it is in 2017. I admit, I took a photo of the wrong two trees, but it's close enough. We've been adding plants along the northern edge here and there, mostly shrubs.

October 2018 with more plants filling in. I added many plants in 2018, mostly evergreen shrubs for shade, ground-covers and ferns.

October 2019. I had trouble with the alignment of this photo because FM had cut down the tree on the left. You can just see the stump in the corner. It was spindly and dying at the top having been planted too close to the other fir trees. This opens it up a little and lets in more air and dappled sun. Also, these beds are in the first phase of edging. The bench has lived in a few different spots, right now it is on our front porch.

September 2023, many groundcovers have filled in nicely. An Osmanthus 'San Jose' that was at the base of the fir tree is gone having been out-competed by the fir tree. It was planted too close and didn't like it. The lawn is typical late-summer brown with a surprising amount of green, actually. The shadier parts of the lawn are almost always the greenest this time of the year.

The driveway as it was in November 2015 Note the hot-pink garden shed in the background.

October 2016 - what's different is the hazelnut on the left is gone (except for the stump), there is a massive debris pile on the right and also although out of frame, just to the right, a large maple tree has been removed. The shed, barely visible in the distance, is now Casa Azul blue.

October 2017 and not a lot had changed, but the pile on the right is gone. It looks like this time last year the maples had lost a lot of their leaves. The weedy area on the left would eventually be mulched with arborist's wood chips. You can barely make out two Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers' in there.

October 2018. Wood chips from one of two large loads delivered by Chip Drop are helping to keep weeds down in areas where shrubs are slowly filling in.

Another wood chip application autumn 2019 means less weeds in spring and better soil health by using organic material that will decompose and add nutrients. The large maples are just starting to turn yellow and the small Spiraea betulifolia along the driveway are getting larger.

September 2023, the wood chips on the left are completely obscured by the now mature Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers' among many other shrubs. The Spiraea betulifolia (center, along the edge of the driveway) have grown considerably. There is a Baccharis pilularis coming in from the right as well as some native asters.

This is actually a lovely scene from November 2015. The grass was starting to green up from all of the fall rains. This is looking west. Note rock-and-sand labyrinth on the left.

Early October 2016 - wow, so much is different. The bed on the right was created by sheet-mulching (which I did in January, you can revisit that post here) and now holds a field of Carex comans 'Frosty Curls' and four large Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret' grasses. The gravel path is of course new and was expanded. This is also the top edge of the fire pit area below in the center of the white plastic chairs. The labyrinth garden can just be seen to the left where the labyrinth once was. The whole thing is connected so it doesn't feel like three separate areas any longer.

Here it is October 2017 with paths completed and the carex triangle also extended and complete.  Also interesting to see the Japanese maple in the center has put on a significant amount of growth.

October 2018 and the carex has filled in nicely on the right. The Miscanthus s. 'Cabaret', the large grasses on the right, have also filled out.

October 2019. Slightly farther back from the last shot but close. The grasses have filled in as has the Japanese maple in the center.

September 2023. Japanese maple in the center has a nice form from a bit of selective pruning, everything else has just grown, especially the Azara microphylla to the left of the maple. Muhlenbergia rigens and Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' in the center bed have filled in over the years. The background is also fuller, creating a more enclosed garden space.

 One of two mature Oregon white oaks, Quercus garryana, on the property, this one in the wild east fields.

Here it is from October 2016. Not much has changed except its neighbor to the right, the large dead Acer macrophyllum has been chopped down by Facilities Manager. There are also many debris piles awaiting their fate, too.

October 2017. By this stage the land to the right had been cleared of blackberry, hazel and other plant material to make room for our orchard and vegetable garden. It has room to spread out a little more. Behind it we left a hedgerow for wildlife. In this photo, Facilities Manager is moving a few chunks out of the slash pile and relocating them in the hedgerow to decompose over time.

 October 2018, complete with bee hive in the background. It might be my imagination but it feels as if its filled in a little now that it has room to grow. Note the small Parrotia persica lower right.

October 2019. FM cleaned up some of those dead branches up top. Otherwise, not a lot of change, which is fine for an old oak tree. The beehive is barely visible behind the tree. The orchard trees to the right had grown a lot by this point.

September 2023. There is a Parrotia persica that has grown significantly, our beehive has been moved to a sunnier location, an Eriobotrya japonica is photobombing on the lower right and an owl nesting box is visible in the oak tree.

2015: The old labyrinth. It was fun, but with a 50' diameter, took up too much gardening space. The debris rock pile can just barely be seen on the right side.

2016:  These were all newly planted at this point. There are evergreen shrubs, small trees both deciduous and evergreen and perennials. The rock pile is gone. Thanks, FM! At this stage I had planted drought adapted plants thinking that would be enough (besides improving the soil). I had not planned for irrigation as it was designed to be a dry garden. I did not anticipate the level of dry this would become in subsequent years. While the majority are still going strong, I have lost a few.

Here it is October 2017, the path complete. Plants are really filling in and the area on the right was extended. To the left, although out of shot, we planted several Ceanothus gloriosus under the other Quercus garryana.

October 2018 with bright sunlight, a bit difficult to make out with shadows. Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' on the far right has filled in and on the neighbor's property beyond, the plastic "greenhouse" structure is gone. It makes for a better view.

October 2019. Most notably the grass on the left has been edged helping to define garden beds. Also the Ceanothus g. 'Point Reyes' under the oak on the left had filled in nicely, though it has seen rough days more recently.

September 2023. The whole scene feels much more mature to me, a snapshot of what my mind's eye pictured early on. The Ceanothus gloriosus on the left has a large chunk missing, having died off this year.

The plant prison probably January of 2016. Pink deck and all.

October 2016, this is a nice rock garden scene, little did I know how much it would change over the years.

2017: Not a lot of change here other than the yuccas are larger, the Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' at the base of the deck had rebounded from the winter's freezing damage. The Olearia lineata 'Dartonii' just behind the stump table had grown significantly. FM also added wire cable to the deck as a safety measure.

October 2018. Everything is just a little bit bigger. Note the end of the deck, the Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' has reached nearly the top. To the right of that, the Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' that was a replacement for one that died is finally putting on decent growth and catching up with its neighbors to the right at the base of the deck.

October 2019. Not much change from last year, other than the Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' at the base of the deck have filled in. The Olearia lineata 'Dartonii' was thinned out a little this year to let more sun come through to the plants behind it.

The Olearia 'Dartonii' fell over in April 2022 snow so it was moved to the garden along our road and is doing just fine there. Hebes have grown huge in the background, Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata' have also grown so much that I think I'll have to remove one behind all this foliage in the back as it's totally overgrown by Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' who has also grown significantly. So much has filled in, it's not exactly how I pictured it primarily due to the size of the ceanothus.

Facing west 2015. This was in November with many pretty leaves all around.

October 2016: Here you can see our new fence and gate, a row of Spiraea betulifolia along the edge of the driveway, a giant debris pile to the left and the removal of the other dead Acer macrophyllum. Also in the woodsy area on the other side of the driveway are many shrubs. They won't be visible from this distance for a year or two.

October 2017: The Spiraea betulifolia have grown a little, the debris pile on the left is gone, but otherwise, the same. The shrubs on the other side of the driveway are just beginning to show up from this distance. Hooray! Also note in the same area the ground is green. That's from weeds which at this point I was simply mowing to keep them from reseeding. Eventually it would be covered in arborist's wood chips.

October 2018 with glare shadows. Apologies. The shrubs are filling in and in the distance on the other side of the driveway, the Viburnum opulus var. americanum, our native viburnum, is turning red.

October 2019. The Spiraea betulifolia have filled in, the wooded area beyond received a layer of wood chips and other shrubs in the background continue to grow.

September 2023, spiraeas are pretty large, Cupressus arizonica var. glabra 'Blue Ice' on the far left is much larger as is the Fremontodendron californicum to the right of it. The woodland area on the other side of the driveway has filled in significantly, though is obscured in this view.

2015: The berm garden with four or five azaleas along the edge and many other very unhappy plants.

October 2016: The azaleas have been liberated and the soil improved. Many happy plants.

October 2017: Slowly filling in. It looks like the Chamaecyparis laswoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro' tree has gained about a half an inch. 

 2018: The Chamaecyparis laswoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro' has grown an inch or two! Success. Just more filling in, some editing and the red buds in the distance are a beautiful yellow this year.

October 2019. Look at that! The Chamaecyparis laswoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro' has put on a few more inches. I love the solid dark silhouette against the blowsy guara and asters. In the distance fall color is in full swing.

That's more like it. September 2023 and the cool silhouette of Chamaecyparis laswoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro' can really be appreciated. Worth the wait. The Hebe 'Western Hills' foreground right has really filled in. Perennials continue to come and go as shrubs fill in.

October 2015: Poor soil, rock hard, with struggling plants that will begin finding more appropriate locations throughout the garden.

October 2016: Compost, gravel, plants, plants and more plants.

October 2017: OK, ignore the grassy weeds in front, but beyond that, it's getting there. These honestly aren't the best shots to show the real growth of the garden, but it's what we have to work with so I'm going with it.

 October 2018. Much of the crocosmia from the 2017 photo is gone and the area is slowly turning into what I want. I constantly edit this area by remove unruly seedlings and weeds while relocating some seedlings to other parts of the garden. This is still a challenging site with a steep slope, so water drains quickly, then a retaining wall at the bottom where it's flat, which retains too much water. The trick has been to get water to seep in from the top by sort of terracing plants so the water goes down instead of over the surface of the soil and not absorbing.

October 2019. This bed, the berm bed as it's known, looks much better to me since it's been edged. That has been a major focus for me in 2019 - edging beds. I don't really know the proper way to do it, so I just do what comes naturally and it seems to work although it's a hell of a lot of hard work.

September 2023, it has all matured nicely. Shrubs are getting large and have a presence which makes me happy.

October 2015: Parting shot, much like the initial photo for this post.

Here it is October 2016 complete with volunteer pumpkin vine on the left.

October 2017. That Japanese maple has also really filled out. Funny thing, I have never watered either of them, they must just benefit from general care of the soil.

October 2018. Funny thing again, the Japanese maple, I did not prune but it looks as if some branches have been cut back.

October 2019. The maples are really filling out. Edging, paths and a bit of rearranging make this reflect my vision much more. Little by little, year by year, it all pays off in the end.

September 2023. While the grass isn't as lush as the above shot and the autumn foliage color hasn't happened yet, I am pleased. A few changes - a Panicum 'Northwind' has been removed as it flopped terribly. The new gravel area on the left below the Miscanthus 'Malepartus' can be seen, a couple nearby Cistus 'Elma' died and were removed, the "meadow" has filled in and you can barely see the Quercus hypoleucoides creeping in on the left. It has gotten large.

There you have it, six sets of before and after photos from 2015 to 2023. As I am going with the initial photos I took in 2015 some of the angles and areas of gardens are not all that interesting, but I want to remain consistent. We still really love this place. The beauty of it, the serenity, the wildlife all fill our hearts with such joy. We get to watch things grow, critters come and go, the cycles of it all. It is a privilege to live here. We are two grateful, humble souls looking forward to the next 30 years on this land, whatever changes may come.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening, and as FM and I are on the road this week, access to responding to comments is limited, I will get to them as soon as I can. Thank you!


  1. Such a great post. How rewarding is it to look back and note the progress and changes you have made? A tremendous amount has been accomplished in just 8 years. Gotta love it when it your vision comes to fruition. Makes the garden unique and your own.

    1. Thank you Elaine! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I love having a vision and although it may change, it's the force behind it all.

  2. Anonymous10:05 AM PDT

    This was a lovely journey! Thank you for sharing

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Cheers!

  3. A remarkable transformation that I'm guessing will continue well into the future! Future changes may be less dramatic but with 2 acres to work with I imagine you'll still come up with novel surprises now and then ;)

    1. You know, it will continue into the future, indeed! The novel surprises are so much fun and keep it spicy in my book!

  4. How lovely to look back and see where you started! It's easy for me to forget I'm making progress sometimes. Wissel's Saguaro was definitely worth the wait, it makes such a nice inky spot there!

    1. It is easy to forget how much we all likely put into our own gardens - so photo documenting it quite satisfying. I agree about 'Wissel's Saguaro' - isn't it fun? I love your description of being inky. Perfect.

  5. Vision, that's the word that kept popping up in my mind as I read through this post. You guys had/have such vision. I feel very lucky to have seen this happen with my own eyes!

    1. Thank you Danger! It's been a real journey to be sure, inspired by gardeners like you.

  6. Anonymous8:12 AM PDT

    I'm a sucker for 'before' and 'after' and this post is a whopper! Gardening is a constant, never ending evolution and tinkering. As someone who love paths in general and shady paths in particular, I enjoyed the "forest" and driveway progress the most. What an eye popping transformation.
    Your baby 'Wissel's Saguaro' had come a long way. It is such an awesome tree. Seeing how it matured since 2016 gives me hope as I keep a close eye on mine, on it's 3rd year planted in my garden.
    I didn't know how the old labyrinth used to look... whatever happened to all those rocks?

    1. Yup, it's a whopper alright! I think the next one I do will be every other year or something like that to keep it a little shorter.

      Thanks for your feedback too, I love hearing what resonates with fellow gardeners. The Wissel's Saguaro is a slow burn, until it isn't. So worth the wait, though.

      The rocks from the labyrinth were all used throughout the garden. Actually I wish I had more. They are used in a naturalistic way with small piles here and there along the edge of paths primarily in the labyrinth garden.

  7. It is easy to forget the way things were and to feel like nothing has changed much without taking a series of pictures like this to document progress. I am surprised how many different areas you have photographed consistently over time. I was actually working on a similar type of post this spring and had to hunt and peck my way through some older photos to find what our place used to be like 15 years ago.

    1. Cataloguing of photos is a huge part of my garden life. When I do this particular post I go around with the original post on my phone for reference and also with my Canon try to recreate it from the same spot. Challenging sometimes, to be sure. It's very helpful for the gardener to document in some form or another what they have accomplished, it explains all the sore muscles and mystery bruises.


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