The front patio redivivus, and having Our House

(All about my life.)

Two occasions for this posting. First, another set of my man Jacques’s photographs, including this one of our house (722Ramona St.) as seen from the street in 1986, not long after we moved into it:


— with a note about why J thought it was important to take this picture (and one of the back of the condo, which is much more boring even than the picture above).

Second, the news that the work on my front patio (which began early in November) was finished this Thursday, so I’m finally reconstituting my little container garden there.

The condo in Palo Alto. Ann Daingerfield and I had lived together for about 15 years before J became part of the household, and with furnishings inherited or acquired we filled an apartment in Cambridge MA (1962), a small house in Urbana IL (1965), and a big house in Columbus OH (1969), fashioning our surroundings to our liking. That meant that when J came into the Columbus house it was Ann and Arnold’s House, and he didn’t feel he had a lot to say about how it was furnished (though he became an equal partner in the garden).

Then after Ann died and I started my OSU-Stanford commute, J and I rented part of a house in the “faculty ghetto” in Stanford and went shopping for a house or condo to buy for ourselves, eventually settling on 722 Ramona St. (you can just make out the house number in #1). The thing is, this would now be truly Our House, his and mine, and at first it was furnished almost entirely with things we bought together here in California.

At the same time, he and I embarked on years of reshaping and renovating the Beaumont Rd., Columbus, house, so that it too became more and more Our House. But Ramona St. was Ours from the outset, and that meant a lot to Jacques.

The street view of Ramona St. is not at all thrilling — pretty much everything is behind that ivy-covered wall (only partly ivy-covered then, now a solid ivy jungle) — but it was Our House, and it was right there on a street in the city, with all sorts of small-city amenities within a few blocks’ walk. A wonderful place to live, even if there was, then, no real garden. Well, there was wisteria dripping from trellises in the back (in the parking area), and J loved it. A photo of his:


So then we set out to remedy the gardenlessness of our patios, starting with plants we both liked that would grow well in containers (in the lighting on our front patio) and would bloom during the winter (well, mid-December through mid-March), when we’d be in residence in Palo Alto. That eventually brought us down to camellias and cymbidium orchids, and cymbidiums won out because they’re really easy to care for (and for J, were wonderfully exotic). For J’s January birthday every year I got him a new cymbidium, usually with his full cooperation. This is the one from 1994, in J’s own photo:


Now, of course, there’s a forest of cymbidiums out there, plus lots of geraniums (pelargoniums), little cactus/succulent gardens, a big hydrangea, a kalanchoe, and strikingly colored coleus plants.

The front patio redivivus. Look back at #1. and note the little brown balcony more or less above my front door and also the bit of brown corner in the upper left corner of the picture. That bit of brown corner is one end of a larger balcony, one anchored in the wall at either end; there’s another like it on the third floor. (J&A’s place is all on the first floor.)

It’s those two long balconies that developed dry rot, and had to be torn out and reconstructed completely, with new beams anchored in the walls, new front railings, and new floors. That entailed ripping up significant parts of the stucco walls.

I had to move everything off my front patio (and onto my back patio, where some plants succumbed to the harsh southern sun and others were demolished by squirrels). Long months of soul-destroying noise and mess ensued, spread out over so long a time because of the fiercely wet El Niño winter we had. The main work came to an end with re-stuccoing, but then everything halted while the guys waited for two solid weeks of dry weather, so that the wood and walls were dry enough to be painted. Blessedly, this happened during the week just ended. Meanwhile, the City of Palo Alto was trimming trees on the street — those crape myrtles you see in #1 are now about three times as tall, with thick sturdy trunks and branches — and the painting couldn’t start until the chain saws were finished. But somehow it all happened.

The cold rain is certainly over: highs of around 90 F. yesterday and today (whew! low 70s is normal). So I’ve been going out in the early morning light and slowly moving everything — plants, plant stands, deck furniture — from the back patio to the front (as a result, I’m now afflicted by mosquito bites) and trying to arrange them artfully there. (The big variegated agave I’ve left in the back: the spot I put it in there is absolutely perfect for it, and it’s been flourishing. Four offsets (“pups”) and a strong central shoot. It’s found its home.)

After 6½ months, I can once again sit at my work table, as I am now, and survey all those botanical pleasures. Jacques would totally have loved this (including the succulents; we had a bunch of sedum and sempervivum container  gardens in Columbus — in containers, so they lived on our deck in the sun but could be brought indoors for the winter).


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