Happy Accidents

Sometimes my favorite pictures are the ones that are not planned. I have done several photoshoots in my studio with babies in old vintage buckets, and I always wanted to do one in our garden with our son actually in a bath with bubbles. Unfortunately, when he was a little baby, our backyard was kind of a disaster after months of neglect thanks to my difficult pregnancy. I didn’t get the pictures I had envisioned, and I eventually put them out of my mind. Then one day recently, my husband and I were trying to clean up the mess that our fig tree was making in the backyard. My husband asked me to go get a bucket of soapy water. As soon as I laid it down, our little man decided that now was the perfect time to get those photos I had wanted months ago. E hopped into the bucket on his own accord and started posing. I guess he remembered it from in my studio and thought it was photoshoot time! Of course I immediately ran to go grab my big camera. This little guy sure knows how to make his mommy happy. 🙂

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At first I considered removing all of the dirt and grime from his face when I was processing these photos, then I decided to leave it. If it had been a “real” photoshoot for a client, I would have of course removed it. However since this was a spur of the moment thing with my own son, I decided I kind of like his dirty little face in the photos. Dirty face and messy hair after helping me in the garden…a perfect example of his sweet little personality. 🙂
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The funniest part of this impromptu shoot is that I happened to set the bucket in front of my “happy accident” squash plant, which ended up being a big prize winner at the county fair! The whole story on that will be coming to the blog next week. 🙂
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E loves helping me wash things. He helps me load laundry every day, and always wishes he could help with the dishes. Since he wants to clean things so badly, I made him some little sponges in different shapes that he uses in his water table with some soap bubbles. I don’t like when he “washes” his books, but it cracked me up when he suddenly pulled one of his little sponges out of the tub. I did not even realize he brought it in with him!
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Trying to give the elephant statue kisses!
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These ones were after I told him it was getting cold and it was time to come out of the water. 🙂
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Maybe if she can’t see me, I won’t have to get out!
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Recently, I took our little dog to go get her follow-up vaccines at the vet. She did fine the first time but felt kind of under the weather with the second round. Since she was a rescue, we do not have too much medical history on her so we have to watch her closely after the vaccines. She was particularly mopy that evening, and our three boys were trying their hardest to cheer her up. I wish our other cat would join in on the fun with them (she is still afraid of E), but I am pretty darn happy with a few photos of these four all playing together! Another totally unplanned, happy accident photo opportunity that ended up being some of my favorite photos. 🙂
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Backyard Garden Tour – Shade Project

Our front yard and side yard get lots of shade from our big pine trees, but our back yard gets very little shade. The concrete retaining walls also seem to magnify the heat back there, making it unbearably hot at times. To make the backyard more comfortable, we came up with a plan to make more available shade.

All of the garden structures (seen here) will eventually be covered with the climbing roses, providing some shaded areas. The wooden pergola also has some shade fabric on the top to provide shade where the shade from the fig tree ends. The rest of the garden needs some serious shade fabric, but it is not something we wanted covering the garden all the time. I wanted to make sure that the birds and other wildlife are still able to access the garden, without being blocked by shade fabric. I also wanted to make sure that the roses, vegetables and fruit trees get the full sun that they need. We decided that we would install a shade fabric system where the fabric is on cables and has a pulley system so it can be drawn over temporarily when we want some extra shade, and pulled out of the way the rest of the time.

My husband came up with the plan to attach one end of the fabric system to the house and the other end to some poles behind the wooden fence. He put the wooden fence in front of the concrete retaining wall because the retaining wall was dangerously low in some areas, and I was afraid our son (or one of our pets) would climb over the low wall and fall off the cliff on the other side. The soffits on our roof were in really bad shape and need to be replaced anyway, so he tore them off so he would be able to attach into the area. It looks pretty awful temporarily.

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The big gazebo was not part of the original plan (he wanted to build a gazebo in that area but I felt that would take too long since he has so many other projects). Therefore, he wasn’t able to calculate the height of the gazebo into the equation. So in order to let the fabric go over the top of the gazebo, he had to extend the height of the poles. Doing that added so much weight that the fence then had to be reinforced.

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My husband added these funny looking (for now) beams along the fence to support the extra weight of the super high poles. To appease me for how strange they look, he promised me that eventually he will make some little tiered shelves on them so I can prominently display some of my favorite potted plants. I think it will look really cute once it is actually finished.
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Over part of E’s garden, he installed shade fabric with a 30% light reduction. It has less light reduction than the fabric we selected for the pulley system, so I was okay with it being left up all the time. He tied that fabric into the fence and house. We eventually plan to create a bit of shade over the rest of E’s garden with some climbing vines reaching over the area, but the pergola in that area needs to be replaced first.
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This project is far from finished, but I can’t wait until it is all installed!

*Update: for those who have asked, my husband purchased the shade fabric from http://green-tek.com and the pulley system from http://www.teksupply.com/

Backyard Garden Tour – Furniture

These chairs were old Craigslist finds that we had from our old house. I painted them a while back, and we recently got new cushions for them. They are fun and colorful in E’s garden area. 🙂

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These chairs float back and forth between our firepit area and the patio table. I found them for the firepit, but they happened to come with a table, which we then decided we wanted to use anyway.
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Once we found this amazing patio umbrella (Pier 1), we really started enjoying using this patio table. We can have some snacks at the table while E runs around in his garden. 🙂
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Originally, we wanted to find Victorian style circular tree benches that would go around each of the dwarf fruit trees. We couldn’t find any anywhere, even after contacting companies in England. We looked into having some made, but did not like the idea of spending somewhere in the range of $10,000 or more for a few benches. So instead, we found three benches like this at the Rose Bowl Flea Market (for a total of $110!), and circled vintage chairs around the other two trees. I like the end result much better than our original plan.
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We are really into hammocks. We have a few different hammock chairs around the pergola now, and we also put up hooks for our big hammock as well. We have a stand for the big hammock in our downstairs yard, but that area is not as nice as the upstairs now so we are using it more up here. We have had some great weekend afternoons with all of us cuddled up in the big hammock.
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I also have my little reading area set up, so I can read while E runs back and forth on the fake grass area. He loves to run laps around the little area. 🙂
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We also got a chimnea that we move around the garden at night since our firepit table isn’t very portable. We initially tried a propane powered one but it was absolutely awful (didn’t produce any noticeable heat) and we much prefer this wood burning one.
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Backyard Garden Tour Continued – Garden Structures

Continuing my detailed tour of our backyard garden makeover! This post features all of the various structures that we have in our garden.

The first structure is our big wooden pergola. My husband built this when we were at our old house that we were renting. He built is so that he would be able to take it apart and bring it with us. The diagonal pieces needed to be replaced, so my dad cut us some new ones (they still need to be painted though). I planted some David Austin Malvern Hills rambling roses in big terracotta pots around four of the posts on the pergola., and eventually they will be climbing all over the structure (this is a photo from a few weeks ago, and they are growing like crazy now!). The pergola is extra special since we had our smaller wedding reception under it in the patio at our old house (we had two wedding receptions…long story). 🙂

Under the pergola is the artificial turf that my husband installed. He started with laying down a layer of base gravel, leveling and compacting it down, then a layer of decomposed granite, also leveled and compacted down. The fake grass that he chose was from a local supplier, Thompson Building Materials. My husband compared artificial turf at a number of places, including big chain stores, and liked this one the best. Apparently it is Thompson’s own product. It is super thick and soft, and has a 15 year warranty, which is much longer than most other artificial turfs that are available. If you are in Southern California and thinking about replacing your lawn, I would definitely recommend checking out Thompson’s.

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Part of my original design included a couple of gazebos with climbing roses. I wanted a smaller gazebo for this area, with this little table and chairs, and I found this one on Amazon which was an amazing deal (available here). We just spray painted it white, and the whole thing cost less than $100! I added one of the little chandeliers that was leftover from our wedding decor. 🙂

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There are David Austin Generous Gardener climbing roses planted around this gazebo. 🙂
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Originally, the thing that started this whole garden makeover was the fact that I saw an amazing bridge at Home Goods. I took a picture of it and texted it to my husband. I also saw an amazing gazebo and a cute tripod trellis, and I sent him pictures of those too. That started my planning and convincing for the whole project. 🙂 We ended up getting the bridge, and painting it as well. It is in an unfinished area for now, but eventually we will be building a pond-less waterfall behind it (pond-less since it conserves water and is not a drowning hazard for small children).
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We also ended up getting the tripod trellis, which got spray painted (like almost everything else). I planted a non-toxic version of jasmine on each corner. If you are planting jasmine and have animals or kids, be sure that you select a variety of jasmine that is not poisonous (some are poisonous and others are not). The ASPCA website is always my go-to resource when I am unsure if a plant will be toxic to our furry kids or our son.
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When we were planning our wedding, we purchased a metal arbor at the Rose Bowl Flea Market to set up at the entrance to our wedding reception. We loved the idea of incorporating decor that would later become part of our garden at home. We brought the arbor with us when we moved, and it is in the center of the garden.

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It also has David Austin Generous Gardener climbing roses planted on it and a chandelier from our wedding. 🙂
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Last major garden structure is our big gazebo! This one was a big ticket item (also from Home Goods), and it took a bit of convincing before we brought it home. 🙂 The one that I originally saw there was actually sold out by then, but we ended up liking this one a lot more. It is the only thing that we didn’t paint white or cream, and I kind of like it that way. It has a beautiful shabby chic, chippy finish already, and I love the muted green color on this one. This gazebo has iceberg climbing roses planted on each corner (purchased from Armstrong Garden Center). Like the others, this gazebo also has a wedding chandelier. 🙂 This is where we keep our fire pit and we have had some cozy nights under this gazebo already.

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All of the roses have really taken off since I took these pictures! Once I am a bit more caught up, I will post more updated photos. 🙂 Lots more garden details coming soon! If you are on Instagram, be sure to follow me @aliciainwonderlandphotos for lots of regularly updated photos of the garden. I even have different hashtags for all of our different gardens throughout our property. 🙂

Front Yard Garden Progress!

We have made some good progress on our project in our front yard garden! We have all of the grass out, and all of the new plants in. I have a mixture of drought tolerant plants mixed in with landscape succulents. There are also a few exceptions, like the Cecil Brunner climbing roses that I planted on the arbor (I am just crazy about roses, as you can tell from our back yard), and our fruit trees which need a bit more water, but once everything has established their roots systems, all of the other plants will need very little water!

Originally, I had planted blackberries and climbing white raspberries on the arbor. When we started working on our yard a little over two years ago, we paid for a “garden expert” to come in and give us a consultation, and make sure we were planting things in the right spots, and help with plant identification. She told us that spot was fine for the berries, but it didn’t seem like they were getting enough sun lately because of our huge pine trees. I moved them to the back, in E’s garden, where they get full sun, and they are thriving there. The “expert” also told us that one of the trees that I thought was a fruit tree was just a plain old non-fruiting deciduous tree. E and I just tasted our first apricot off that tree the other day, so sometimes you have to trust your instincts. 😉

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In front of the arbor, I have my new medicinal herbs planted. 🙂 I will have lots of posts coming up about these various plants.
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On the other side, I have some of my culinary herbs. These are the herbs that like dryer conditions. The ones that like more moist conditions are in a small self-watering planter near the front door. I love having all of my culinary herbs closer to the kitchen now, which makes harvesting them for cooking dinner much easier. Before I was walking through a semi-dark back yard and it got frustrating at times.
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The upper half of our yard was a challenge because of the way the hill is graded, but we are going to turn part of the empty part into a dry river bed.
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The dry river bed will continue down through here.
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This fountain is my favorite part of the front yard now. I found it for free on Craigslist, and knew I wanted to use it to plant succulents in. It didn’t have a motor, and seemed to be missing a top piece, but that was easily remedied with the something from the collection of little garden sculptures I had collected for the backyard. 🙂
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I put down a layer of pea gravel in the bottom of the fountain layers, then put in potting soil, planted my succulents, and finished with another layer of pea gravel for mulch.
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There are several types of succulents in here that will eventually cascade over, including string of pearls, string of bananas, and donkey’s tail.
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I planted some larger succulents below the fountain, with some pretty lava rock around them.
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There are varying amounts of sun throughout the front yard because of our huge pine trees, so plant selection for all of the various areas was important. I selected plants that range from full shade to full sun, depending on the location. Some of the plants that I used include Mother-in-Law’s tongue, jade, geraniums, red valerian, Cleveland sage, dune buckwheat (native variety to the Palos Verdes penninsula, which I purchased from our local Botanic Garden), aloe vera, salvia, and a variety of other landscape succulents. Some of the plants that I planted previously include lavender, rosemary, iresine, helichrysum, pink breath of heaven, asparagus fern, and iceberg roses.

If you are planning a garden and are unsure of how much sun a particular area gets, I found a great sunlight meter online that I use to confirm the amount of light an area gets per day, full sun, partial shade, etc. You can find it here.
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We still need to put in mulch around all of the new plants, but we had been having a hard time getting mulch from the location nearby. After I wrote my blog post about free mulch for Los Angeles residents, I have been getting tons of traffic on that post. Coincidentally (or not), we have had a really difficult time getting mulch since then. 🙂 We have gone multiple times lately and the mulch has been all taken. We finally got another truckload the other day after checking with the city on the timing of the refill schedule. Once we get the mulch down, we will be adding in the dry river beds and finally the pathways in the remaining areas. I can’t wait until it is all finished!

E’s First Birthday Party!

I took tons of pictures at E’s first birthday party, and finally finished uploading them! 🙂

I wanted to keep the party simple and stress-free. We had enough stress and work just getting the garden ready, so I didn’t bother with lots of Pinterest type party details (doesn’t anyone else miss when kids birthday parties were simple and fun?!?). The night before the party, we were frantically trying to plant the remaining flowers, and then it started raining for the first time in months. We kept on planting until it started pouring, like a flash flood in Texas. We were so discouraged since we had worked so hard. Our patio is not level, and does not drain well, so every time it rains, the patio gets flooded. Around 11 pm, we gave up and sent everyone a message that we were going to have to reschedule because the patio was too flooded.

The next morning, we got up early and realized that the strong winds had thankfully blown most of the water downhill, out of the patio! My husband got out the shopvac and sucked out the remaining water in the patio. The party was back on, and it was thankfully a beautiful day! I didn’t get any pictures of the food but my husband grabbed simple stuff at the grocery store: hot dogs to grill, chili in the crock pot, veggies and fruit, E’s favorite veggie stick chips from Trader Joe’s, etc.

The house was a disaster from our garden project taking over our lives, and I didn’t want to be stressed out about our one cat trying to run away, our other cat having anxiety over strangers, or one of our dogs trying to bite anyone (she hates all men except my husband). So, I set up arrows directing everyone to the backyard. The guest bath in my office is accessible from E’s garden, so that worked out well. 🙂

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I set up the favor buckets in an old wheelbarrow, with each family’s last name listed.
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I ordered cute garden themed favors from Oriental Trading, and kept trying to think of a cute container to put everything in. Then I realized I had something perfect already on hand and plenty available…nursery plant containers. 🙂
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E picked out his favorite type of succulent for each guest.
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These wooden signs were originally from our wedding and came in handy again.
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E’s “push zone” in the patio….He loves to push around his cars and wagons.
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His train table, also in the patio. That ugly red door is part of the paint job from the elderly patients that lived here previously. We haven’t bothered to paint over it since it is going to be removed soon. 😉
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The setup before everyone arrived.
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E’s garden, ready for visitors.
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Ever since he was born, we started calling him our little honey bee. Partially because he really loved the smell of his Burt’s Bees lotions and soaps (and always tries to eat them). Also, our garden was completely dead while I was on pregnancy bed rest. As soon as E and I came home from the hospital, things started coming back to life on their own…it was like he was our little pollinating honey bee. 🙂
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Since it will be a while before the climbing roses and baby trees actually create any shade, I tried to make some additional impromptu shaded areas.
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Sharing a snack with Lily. 🙂
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He was just starting to get good at walking and was quite proud of himself. 🙂
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The bounce house/ball pit was tons of fun. E loves having friends over to play in it with him! So much better than playing in there with Mommy. 😉
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Overall twins!

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The straws were a cute Target find. The (caffeine free) soda was a rare treat for E. 🙂
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E and I are crazy about edible flowers, especially nasturtiums. 🙂 I found these adorable silicone cupcake holders on sale at Target that look just like a flower pot!
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Last but not least, how cute is this adorable package from our little friend Yuki?! 🙂

Thanks again too all of our friends and family who came and celebrated with us, despite the crazy flood drama, and all of the rescheduling (we originally had to push the date back because of the garden project)! We had so much fun with you all. 🙂

For anyone interested in their own bounce house/ball pit, you can find the one we have here!

Garden Progress!

This project has taken way longer than we expected (of course), but here are some updates! We got everything prepped for our new ground covers. Part of the area will have artificial grass – the play area under the pergola that my husband made when we lived at our old house, and brought with us. The rest of the area will have flower beds, vegetable beds, and some type of hardscape in between. Originally we had planned on gravel, but with my pelvic instability, I have noticed that I have a hard time walking on gravel. For now, we have the layer of base and the layer of compacted decomposed granite down while we decide. It’s actually not too bad on its own, but did get a bit messy after the recent rain.

Below: trenches finished, lines run for irrigation, electrical and ethernet. Yup, my engineer husband is installing ethernet in our backyard. What outdoor living space would be complete without movies, music, and internet?

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The rotted out fence and gate had to come down to make room for the Bobcat to come through.

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All that remained was the reinforcement post that my dad put up when the fence fell down and my husband was out of town.

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E thinking, “Hey Daddy, what’s this thing?”
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E had to pretend to drive the Bobcat.
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We had two huge piles like this in our driveway, one base and one decomposed granite.
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Bringing back the Bobcat.
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Bringing in the huge roll of artificial grass.
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Sneak peek of one of my small flower beds!

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