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Ripping it all out & doing it may way

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POSTED January 25, 2010 12:42 a.m.

When I was buying the house that I call home I knew little about the people who first lived there.

They bought it new in 1952 and lived there for more than half a century. Their surname was Dodson and he worked at Deuel Vocation Institute’s fire department in Tracy.

Although there was a family in between them and me, the bank was the one that did a good job of covering up much of what it was like to buy a brand new home in Powers Tract 60 years ago. They took out the 1950s tile kitchen counter and replaced it with Formica. The linoleum was covered up with Spanish-style floor tile. Although the original sink tile and the unique three-door vanity covered with mirrors was left intact in the bathroom, I can’t help but think the original bathtub was much nicer.

I do know they had good taste in windows – especially the large floor to ceiling living room window that covers almost half the room’s width – as they put in newer vinyl windows several years before selling. It is one of the big reasons I fell in love with the house bedsides the hardwood floors that the bank covered up with carpet which I have since removed.

My biggest focus since moving in has been making the place reflect my tastes and sensibilities. That included light gray exterior painting, new fencing with redwood stain, removing an outbuilding and – perhaps most important as far as I’m concerned – changing the appearance of the front and back yards.

Each time I cut down a tree or dig up roots I think of the Dodsons and how careful they planted what amounts to a little orchard in both yards. I can imagine neighbors thought they were a tad eccentric since no one else on the block has 14 trees let alone all but two fruit trees. I’m sure they view what I’m doing as a bit odd as well having removed all traces of  grass in the front yard and planted 100 plus shrubs, roses, and trees that thrive in the shady canopy of larger cousins.

I’m in the process of pulling out a third tree in front – a massive walnut. Getting the remaining five feet out plus the massive root system will keep me busy for a few more months.

I’ve also removed the brick flower beds they installed both in the front and back as well as segments of sidewalk including one where they placed a horseshoe in for good luck.

They were looking for permanence. I prefer the ability to change things as the years go on. It is why I’m placing bricks in sand to create paths first in the back yard and then in the front. They also serve as breaks for various parts of the garden.

In the past several weeks I’ve planted 34 roses in the back and started a brick pathway to separate them from crepe myrtles, western redbuds and lilacs that I planted previously.

It is safe to say Orchard Supply Hardware and new Bud’s Nursery are mightily glad that I ended up buying a house with a yard large enough to keep me thinking about various possibilities.

The debates are endless. I like the crab apple tree for shade and its brilliant floral display in the spring but can’t stand the mess it creates. I vacillate between keeping it and cutting it down. It’s been saved so far because I was able to plant nine roses where I wanted to near it by removing an orange tree so they could get adequate sun. It may not survive too many more years if the sycamore tree I planted last year grows talk enough to shade a later segment of the yard in the late afternoon.

I have confidence the back yard will end up making me look like I have a green thumb. I’m not too sure about the front. It was heavily shaded so I ventured into shade gardening then realized the soil wasn’t uniform and had varied depletion issues from one area to another.

Camellias have proven dicey. I’ve killed off three rhododendrons and the azaleas are struggling. It didn’t help that a messy grapefruit tree I took out provided critical shade at high noon putting some of my shade plantings to the test. But then again, I wanted roses lining the driveway.

Essentially all of plantings that were put in years ago except for three trees and one shrub are history.

That one shrub under the bedroom window I’ve tried to pull out but couldn’t get the roots in the hard pan easily so I left it alone electing not even to water it. Somehow it has survived and grown back. The ironic thing about it is that it is a camellia. Meanwhile, the ones I’m babying are having a rough go of it.

Obviously the Dodsons knew a lot more about camellias than I do.


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