Curb Appeal! When life gives you lemons, say "screw these lemons, I'm gonna make a garden!"


About a year ago, I thought it would be a nice idea to plant a few ornamental grasses on the front edge of my fence. A way to bring joy and beauty to the good folk walking down the street. Also a way to say, “Hey, lets not revel in our vacant dirt lots and display our garbage on the front lawn like we are on the show Sanford and Sons. Let’s instead create some spaces to be proud of and try to class up the neighborhood.” So I did.

The next day I got home from work and some evil, base and vulgar person of ill repute had ripped the plants out of the ground in broad daylight. I can think of little theft more lowly and take it as a direct attack against truth and beauty. Such affronts I cannot bear. So I planted again. And again, they were snatched up. This time, I planted a small and rather painful cactus in the center of the grasses so that at least they can get a consolation prize for their general douchery.

They did leave two larger bushes thankfully, and those are becoming established. But I still had the curbstrip (that little stretch of land between the street and the sidewalk) to contend with. As it stood, it was a bare section of clay laden dust and weeds. It always bothered me but I was so afraid of spending money on plants only to have them stolen again. So I did nothing. But every time I pulled into the driveway, it would glare at me. Mocking me in it’s incompletion and all around shabbiness. See. See how it mocks me.

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I needed a plan of attack that wouldn’t cost me anything in case the shiftless plant stealing spawn of horticultural hell returned. Bear traps and dead falls were at the top of the list, but I feared that in this litigious society I may do myself financial harm. Laser shielding is also not very cost effective and would require more mirrors that I have on hand. I did research on exploding and/or man-eating plants. No good.

I opted for less lethal options. I decided to take clippings from my plants in the back yard and root them in small pots for transplanting up front. I picked the most drought resistant options so I wouldn’t have to worry about them too much. In late spring I trimmed off some over grown ice plants with brilliant fuchsia flowers, some aloe and about 5 shoots from my yucca tree. I potted them in nothing but the dirt from the yard so they could better acclimate to the barren soil of the curbstrip.

During the intense summer months, I weaned them on as little water as possible just to see how they held out. They thrived fairly well and thusly passed the drought test. Here’s a few of them ready for the planting.

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Yucca, Ice plant and aloe.

I got about two trays like this and it didn’t cost me a dime. Succulents are the easiest thing in the world to propagate. You can, quite literally, simply break them off and stick them in the ground and they’ll come right back with a vengeance. Which is pretty much all I was willing to do for this project. Just in case the plant thief comes back again and is able to avoid the bear traps and dead falls.

I began to lay out the pots for both the design as well as to accommodate for any street parking guests. The aloe and the ice plants should be fairly easy to keep out of the way, but those yucca trees can get quite large and have sharp pointy fronds. All the better to keep some neighbors from parking in front of my house instead of theirs. Another thing I need to keep an eye on with the yuccas is their tendency to create multiple trunks. Which is how I got the clones in the first place. I want tall single trunk trees so as to not block up the street view too much. Here’s some of the layout…

I also made the deliberate decision to not remove any of the weeds or pretreat the soil. I want this to turn into whatever it wishes to. So long as there is some form of green growth, I will be happy. I placed the yucca in places of prominence and laid out the other plants to compliment the (soon to be) larger yucca trees. Two yucca on either side of the driveway as well as the walkway and a few in the center of the curb strip for balance. Aloe clumped together in groups of two or three so when the yucca cuts you, you can treat the wound on site! See how thoughtful I am! In between that, the ice plant will create a lovely ground cover of unnaturally bright fuchsia and green.

To add to the purposeful simplicity of this lazy day project, I decided to use the post hole digger to make my holes. Normally, that would be a bad idea because when you dig holes for plants, you should almost always create a sloping edge crater type hole and not a vertical wall type hole. In this case however, I’m dealing with hardy succulents that have been trained to suffer. Like me, they have low expectations and a life not worth living but an iron will to live (hats off to K. Vonnegut).

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The lazy mans hole. (That sounds wrong…)

The one gift I did give them was a little help in the form of this home made mixture of gypsum, organic brew from the compost bin and a wee bit of organic fertilizer. The gypsum will help to break down the heavy clay and improve the drainage. I wanted to do this project in the beginning of winter so the heavy rains will aid in the establishment of theses babies. But with heavy rain comes large puddles when you have so much clay. In time, the gypsum will break it down.

Using gypsum to treat clay heavy soils is kind of a lost art that is beginning to make a resurgence. The ancient Egyptians used to do this for their crops to increase drainage. It’s the same stuff that drywall is made up of and is super cheap when compared to the benefits. Many people think that clay soil is the worst for a garden. The truth is, it’s some of the most nutrient rich soil around! It’s the poor drainage that makes it bad. If you can break down the clay you can release all of its nutrients as well as improve the drainage. Gypsum is perfect for this task. In some instances, it takes a couple years of application to really take hold, but still worth the effort!

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Gypsum, organic compost and chicken and worm poop. Delicious!
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Sprinkle sprinkle!
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Not a snapshot of an eighties party gone awry after a meteor shower…for clarification.

I then worked the mixture into the loose clay soil while filling in the hole around the root ball of the plants. I did this all in a assembly line style. Quick and dirty. In no time, I had all my plants in the ground and was ready to sit on my stoop and enjoy a cold beer.

Well, it’s been about 6 days now and no one has stolen anything! We’ve been getting some rare heavy rains all week so they should be good to go! I will actively try to do absolutely nothing to this section and see how it goes. During the dry hot days of summer, I will rely on the tears of plant thieves to water these babies as they writhe in agony, chewing off their own limbs, trying to escape from all the bear traps. Can you tell that I hate plant thieves?


12 Replies to “Curb Appeal! When life gives you lemons, say "screw these lemons, I'm gonna make a garden!"”

      1. A bit slow at the moment now that its the dormant season. Its a good opportunity though to reflect on the past growing year and plan for the next. I plan to do some wiring and pruning though over the Christmas break. How many have you got?

        1. Good question. Probably about a dozen. With some additional free growing trees in big pots or the ground for trunk development. I just started about 5 years ago, so not a lot of trophy winners yet. But bonsai is a long game approach right? I did buy a nice Chinese Elm specimen so I could have a more advanced bonsai to play with. Still in training though.

  1. Hi! Just recently discovered your blog and love it. So much to learn! How are your curbside yucca doing now? I have a giant one in my backyard (it was already giant and overgrown when we moved in). I have cut a few branches off intending to replant (because – FREE!) but my husband fears it will get just as giant and overgrown. I tell him I can keep it under control with regular pruning. Am I lying? 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you found me! I promise to be both informative and rediculous in equal amounts if you follow Mind Your Dirt.

      The yucca and aloe are doing well up front. Still really small as many got trampled a few times just as they were taking off! So sad. But they have bounced back every time.

      The host yucca in the back gets pruned every six months and is easy to control. I wanted only three trunks to keep it on the slim side. I wish I could post photos in these comments, I could just show you. I am doing a Backyard Progress Report soon so I’ll add them there (another reason to follow).

      So, no, you didn’t lie. It’s easy to keep them under control. You can also stick the pups in Little pots and sell them so there’s another good reason.

      Again, glad you found me! Don’t be a stranger, I do so love the comments…

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