A note: I have to start by saying BLACK LIVES MATTER. This is a relatively trivial blog about house projects and creating a home you love – all that means nothing in the face of injustice and oppression and systemic racism. So non-Black readers: thank you for showing up here today but, if you aren’t already, I would much rather you leave this blog right now and spend your time, energy, privilege, money, whatever you have on taking tangible steps towards becoming anti-racist and building an anti-racist society. This is the most important and urgent thing. Great starting points are the work of authors and activists, Layla Saad (Instagram, laylafsaad.com, book: Me and White Supremacy) and Austin Channing Brown (Instagram, austinchanning.com, book: I’m Still Here). I found this article helpful if you are looking for organizations to donate to. Ridiculously, the last time I shared our front yard landscaping project I also had to preface it. Much could be copied and pasted here two years later. Because this country isn’t what it says it is. So much needs to deeply change. I am committed to doing my part, I hope you will too.
If you are still with me – hi! Let’s awkwardly transition to talking about yards. Last time I shared our front yard, we had just planted a yard full of dinky plants, our exterior had not yet been painted, and we were in the middle of constructing those decorative wooden screens. The fresh paint, now a year and a half old, was an instant transformation and we have been so happy with the decision to go with boring bright white (color: DE Whisper). And in the years since, all those disproportionately small plants have grown into well-fitting monsters that pop with the exterior, leaving us with a very solid before/after on our hands!
I’ve said it before, but this yard is one of the projects I’m most proud of in this house. Not because it’s my favorite, but because the gap between the knowledge/skills we started with and the end result was a huge bridge to cross and we made it. And it also offered the biggest savings/ROI of possibly anything else we’ve done. We began with a giant yard full of weeds, a hatred of yard work, and NO PRIOR PLANT KNOWLEDGE haha! And we ended with a yard full of plants we aesthetically love that are thriving with minimal upkeep and zero watering, as designed. We were able to find many of our plants for free and saved thousands of dollars overall by doing the work ourselves. If you too have a weed patch to landscape and have been scared off by quotes, I encourage you to consider doing your own yard. Obviously, climates vary but if you happen to live in one comparable to ours (coastal Southern California) and don’t know where to start, I will share what I’ve learned about the drought-tolerant plants we’ve had success with below. You can check out my orignal front yard landscape post for additional information on the process and some rough before photos, along with a total cost breakdown.
Plant list and source links at the end of this post for quick reference!
Now, some DRAMATIC PLANT GROWTH before/afters followed by a ton of photos of the yard…We live on a corner with our driveway located in the back of our house, so we’ll start at that end and work our way around. A slope dominates most of that yard and we focused our plantings there since that is what you mainly see from the street. The flat portion at the top is mostly rock and is much more sparsely planted to keep it as maintenance-free as possible.
Our driveway has been serving as a staging area while we redo our backyard lawn so I didn’t photograph that area for this post, but here’s what it looks like on clean(er) days…For reference, that big blue agave americana is as tall as me. Their nickname ‘century plant’ is deceiving – they grow into monsters within a few years!
MY FAVORITE PLANTS LIST
*I highly recommend checking Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, etc for free plants/cuttings/you dig/etc. Or even the trash :)
AGAVE ATTENUATAS aka foxtail agaves – These are the green agaves and my yard #1. Not a single bad to say about them. Fast growing. Lush looking even though we give them zero water. Not sharp. So easy to keep looking tidy, just pull off dead leaves. Pups are easy to remove if you don’t want them but very prolific if you are looking to populate a large yard fast (or share with neighbors)! Simply remove a pup from the parent plant, stick in the ground, and NEW AGAVE. We found most of our starter attenuatas for free or at a deep discount on Craigslist, and have used their offspring to fill in the rest of the yard.
AGAVE AMERICANS aka century plants – These are the giant spiky blue agaves (plus a few yellow/green striped variegated versions too). While stunning, they are the most annoying plant we have and I am working on thinning our collection. I caution to use in small quantities only, be mindful of planting location, and keep up with pup removal. Pros: VERY fast growers, sculptural, dramatic, interesting color and shape. Cons: Extremely sharp and sap is caustic, so don’t plant in trafficked areas and wear gloves/long sleeves/protective eyewear when working around them. They send out many pups, near and far, and removal can be hairy when they appear under their spiky canopies. They can also be destructive so DO NOT PLANT NEXT TO YOUR HOUSE. We had to repair a large section of stucco after one pup started growing inside it! We got most of ours from free you-dig situations from neighbors.
GOLDEN BARREL CACTI – My favorite!! A pop of chartreuse color with zero maintenance. Slow growing, but so cute and they need nothing from you. Just keep away from walkways :)
AEONIUMS – These are the flower looking things. We have a few varieties, but my favorite are black aeoniums. Cheap if you separate larger plants into a few different smaller ones – just remove branches and put in the ground to start a new plant.
JADES – By far the most temperamental plant of the bunch. Some (in a tiny bit more shade) are thriving, some (in a tiny bit more sun) are close to death and I can’t quite figure them out. But the pop of color and interesting texture is worth it for me so I keep moving them around until I find spots where they are happy. Most of ours are the yellowish ‘Hummel’s Sunset’ variety.
ALOE BARBERAE aka aloe tree – Ours was a heavily discounted downed branch from the magnificent Los Osos Valley Nursery aloe tree. It took awhile to root, but is now growing like crazy and is even branching off into a double again after I broke one of it’s heads off during planting!
SANSEVIERIA aka snake plants – Not just for inside! Since they are usually grown and sold as indoor plants, they needed a gentle transition to full sun and definitely benefitted from supplemental watering for the first year. But now – doing great! (Eventually, I’ll replace these with post cacti when I find some/save up $$$, but these have been a hearty and cheap filler in the meantime.)
GIANT BIRDS OF PARADISE – A more recent addition to the top area of our yard. Not cheap at all compared to the rest of our plants, but worth it and require very little maintenance. I was hesitant on these because I assumed they’d have high water needs, but ours have thrived on just rainwater (after supplemental watering for their first summer) – in fact we are currently planting a bunch more in the backyard because they’ve been so easy and impactful.
house color – Whisper by Dunn Edwards
front door info
adirondack chairs (I share more options in this post)
fire pit (I share more options here)
wood screens DIY
solar spot lights – Costco sells them every year in stores
porch light similar (ours is vintage but this seller makes high quality exterior reproductions – they can do them in black too!)
exterior sconces (I share more options here)
yellow gate DIY
We’re focusing much of our attention on our backyard right now, but in the future we have a few improvements planned for up front. As mentioned, I’m working on building my dream collection of cacti to put in the rock bed instead of the Sansevieria. Second, I’d like to eventually repaint the wood screens in a more contrasting color because sometimes in real life (and definitely in these photos) their form is lost in the monochrome scheme. And the big one is eventually replacing the railroad tie retaining wall that runs the length of our front yard. It looks so shabby and is failing at retaining in some places, but we are dreading the expense of replacing it ourselves and discouraged by the ugly DIY options. An exorbitant quote for a concrete wall made hiring it out not an option – so currently putting it off.
If you made it through this long post, thank you for toughing it out!! Hope you are safe and healthy during these wild times. xoxo Jenny