Got Lemons? Make Lemonade
A simple mistake can spur unexpected surprises. That’s what you’ll find when you step around back at Jim and Sharyn Richart’s place in Hacienda Heights, California. Over the years, their backyard has been transformed from ho-hum to fabulous. And it all started when their son Jason accidentally left a garden hose running.
In most backyards, that would be an oversight. For the Richarts, who live high in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, it was a near catastrophe.
“A wall on our backyard hill slid down the slope,” Jim explains. With the wall gone, it seemed like a good time to spruce up the yard.
Since that day, working in the backyard has been one of Jim’s favourite escapes from the hectic pace of Southern California life.
“I’ve always had an interest in gardening and landscaping,” he says. “This backyard has been a work in progress for the last 30 years. It’s therapy…and when you’re done, you see results.”
Jim filled in the area where the wall once stood with a truckload of soil, widening the yard by 15 feet. “It gave us more usable space in the backyard,” he says.
The missing wall was replaced with railroad ties buried 3 feet on end to outline the garden beds. Meanwhile, Sharyn added a vegetable garden and lots of containers.
Jim rigged up a drip irrigation system for the containers, which allows the couple to leave home for weeks without worrying about the plants.
“It’s all automatic,” Jim says. “Without it, I’d have to work 8 hours a day just watering the plants.”
Years later, a wildfire threatened their property. This time, a garden hose was Jim’s friend. He used it to save the landscape and house by fighting smaller fires creeping down the hillside. “We were lucky,” he says.
But the entire slope overlooking the backyard, with the exception of a few larger oak trees, needed to be replanted.
Again, Jim made the best of a bad situation. He selected drought-resistant plants, such as eucalyptus and sweetgum trees, and added irrigation to keep the hillside green all year.
Jim and Sharyn still felt something was missing. So they hired a contractor to help build a block retaining wall and stairway leading to a “garden center” that Jim built. It’s the perfect place to start plants and do other behind-the-scenes chores.
“You get what you pay for,” Jim recalls. “I had to work with the guy the whole time because we were playing catch-up…I ended up doing most of the grunt work on the project.”
From this experience, Jim decided that the crown jewel of the backyard-a natural-looking pond and waterfall-was too important of a project to trust to anyone else.