Sunday, June 14, 2009

Under the Red Umbrella

One of my favorite places in the garden did not have a promising start. It was a dry, lifeless corner, dominated by a large telephone pole, an aging wood fence, and the looming jungle of the abandoned garden next door. Maybe 15 feet square, it could simply have been a nice focal point from the patio, a colorful bit of garden to walk through to get to the side yard. It certainly wasn't going to be a lawn! Since I'm someone who would rather be in a garden than work in it, this seemed a natural spot for a peaceful meditation circle.

So that's what I made. A simple, 10' wide circle, ringed with my ubiquitous river cobble and filled with gold fines. In the center, 4 concrete pavers form a compass rose. A plastic sleeve sunk in the center holds an umbrella in the summer. In the winter, this northwest corner catches the sun. Simple concrete stepping stones connect the circle to the main patio. Look closely...what appears to be an opening in the fence is actually a fools everyone at least once.

An overflowing pot water feature (look familiar?) and a statue of Kwan Yin are positioned as focal points from both the meditation circle and the main patio

The groundcover is Isotoma fluviatilis (or laurentia or pratia or whatever it is this week...I learned it as Isotoma, so there.) Both this and the side path were planted with one flat 2 years ago, just a couple of small clumps between each stone. It stays quite flat in the sun, a little flufflier in the shade. Peak bloom is in May, with a scattering of flowers until late fall.

The bamboo is Bambusa oldhamii...giant CLUMPING timber bamboo. These were planted 2 years ago from 15g cans...all of this is new growth since then. Each clump puts out a number of new canes each summer...I choose the ones I want to keep (they are easy to "wiggle" out when they are under a foot tall) and cut older, thinner canes as new ones come in. This wants to be a dense clump, but I prefer to keep them open, so the discipline will continue! The tallest ones are already half as tall as the telephone pole. Right! What telephone pole?

Last year I had a plain beige umbrella in this corner. It looked very sleek, but this year I was inspired to add some color when I spotted this beauty on sale for an incredible price at my local overstock store. I had wanted a plain wood pole too. Of course, the reason it was so cheap was that it had a defect...the pole had a curve in it. Which, for me, was the perfect solution to the one problem I had with my clever umbrella holder. Since the umbrella is not in a stand, it sits lower than it would on the patio. When it's absolutely level, the corners are dangerous to anyone over 6' tall. Since my sweetheart is 6'3", and I value his eyesight, having the umbrella curve was perfect. It also gives it a more casual look AND blocks the west sun better. I love a happy accident!
But the best part isn't how pretty this little corner now looks and smells, it's how wonderful it feels. This isn't a garden I dig around in all year round...spring and fall cleanup, a little weeding, plus a mid-season haircut for the Berkeley Sedge is all I really have to do. And that's good, because what I really like to do is sit under the Red Umbrella, and I do so several times a day, for most of the year. It is a place to relax and dream as I look down the whole length of my little piece of California.

When I have visitors, we go sit there. One night my sister, our friend Ruthie and I sat out there with our laptops (the Red Umbrella has WiFi, of course!) for all the world like the 21st century version of the quilting bee...pooled feminine energy, sharing time together, swapping stories (only sometimes the stories are on youtube...same thing!)

Under the Red Umbrella is where you will get my most sympathetic ear, my most honest advice, and my most creative thoughts. My neighbor slips over to share a forbidden cigarette and escape work stress and small children for just a few moments. She looks around and can't believe it's the same place it was before. And you know? It isn't.


  1. It looks like a beautiful, peaceful place. Great transformation... I love the Bamboo. Its not too aggressive is it?

  2. I want to come for a cup of tea...or something stronger. Thanks for sharing this, it's beautiful.

  3. Just lovely Laura! The red perfect - splashy and calming - who knew! H.

  4. One of the most peaceful places I sat during my month-long visit to California (and I got great pics of both Ruthie and Laura too!)

  5. I love it. What a transformation. I've always wanted one of those overspilling urn fountains. And the red umbrella is such a great touch.

  6. Congratulations! Wonderful design, and I love the red umbrella. Isn't it fun when things work out?