When my husband and I first moved to the beautiful Santa Clarita Valley, we were for all intents and purposes neophytes in the area of backyard planting. We bought our home just after it was built, replete with dirt in the front and back yards and a lot of decision making in order to create the “landscape” we both wanted.
OK, rule No. 1, find out what thrives in the arid climate known as SoCal. Second rule, know the importance of drainage, irrigation and trees, even though, so very beautiful as they grow, understand that their roots can basically rule the roost and cause issues with the backyard wall and fencing. That said, there’s rule No. 3, do your homework prior to hiring anyone and check their references out.
We were newly married, excited to begin our lives as husband and wife. We didn’t follow rule No. 3 and one day a man and his crew asked us if we needed cement and plants. Without hesitation we both said, “Yes!” And the next thing I did was to trade my 1982 Toyota Celica for a backyard. There was no leveling of the soil — they just poured concrete and put up a small brick border wall around the perimeter; that allowed maybe a few plants. We chose agapanthus and for the first few years, all was well.
Summertime would arrive and the purple flowers would bloom. It was very pretty to say the least.
As you entered the gate leading into our backyard, to the left in the distance you would see the mountains that separate us from Porter Ranch and Simi Valley. Each morning as the sun would rise, it would garnish that side with its bright wonder, and as the sun continued on its daily journey, rising in the east and setting in the west.
That area beckoned for something that would define it even more. I enlisted my husband’s help and we decided to plant a camphor tree. Emboldened in our newly found roles of tree decision makers, we then chose to plant a silver dollar eucalyptus tree in the far left corner of our yard…hold that thought, and yes we didn’t follow the second rule.
As the years progressed, our area continued to grow, and the gully that was below us on the other side of the street was getting ready to be developed into the next housing tract. For nearly 13 years the gully was bare. It had a few trees, some brush and it was a wonderful place for the neighbors to practice their golf swing. They’d hit the golf balls into the ravine and then the kids in the neighborhood would go and retrieve them. By day the red-tailed hawks would soar, and at night the coyotes would howl, the frogs would ribbit, ribbit in the area of the old drainage pipe that had a stream of water with reeds and mud. All of those sounds and scenery were reminders that there was still a little bit of rural untouched by the ever-changing landscape.
When it would rain, and I mean when we had the El Niño periods of rain, the gully would fill up with pockets of water. If you viewed it from a far enough distance it actually looked like little lakes had formed. I would take photos and send them to my relatives and act all hoity-toity and giggle we have lake view property now, well until it dries out of course and I would laugh out loud, long before the abbreviated version of that and everything else permeated our grammar and vernacular culture.
One day the developers of said gully had to remove that old pipe. They brought in a huge machine, the ground shook and shook for a couple of days, but it was a success and the pipe was removed so that the gully-land could be developed. Ah, but there was a slight problem: The moving and the shaking caused cracks in the cement in my backyard and the little walls in front of where the agapanthus dwelled suddenly were at a slant. Luckily, the integrity of the developer was a focal point and they resolved the damage that they had caused.
We hired a company to re-do and up-do stamped concrete, lighting and sitting walls were added, it was quite beautiful. After about 17 years our silver dollar eucalyptus tree had grown to nearly 25 feet in height. Remember back in the beginning of the story I said, “Hold that thought.” Well, in the end and nearly $3,500 later we had to remove it, for its roots were beginning to ruin the wall and fence. Neophytes, yep, a term my husband and I were all too familiar with.
The camphor tree on the other hand fared well for several more years; the afternoon sun would shine on the green leaves as the vista of the mountains peeked through the branches. One summer I noticed a part of the tree didn’t look right. It turned out that half of the tree was infected with termites, the other half, well it was only a matter of time until that fate took over that area as well. I loved that tree it had been a part of our yard for 24 years. It had to be removed; there was no other way.
When the tree was being cut down, I asked if I could have a section of it to save as a memory; after all, I still had a small part of the trunk from the silver dollar eucalyptus; so, it seemed apropos to also have a piece of the camphor tree. After it was cut down, the trunk was still in the ground, for it had to, in essence, die before they removed it. The scent of the camphor emanating from the trunk permeated the entire backyard. I felt sad. I had never appreciated the scent that it had. I guess how would I have known? I had never taken a branch and broke it in half to smell the fragrance. I wouldn’t do that to a “live” branch.
What the camphor tree taught me was to appreciate things while you have them. Even though I admired the beauty of that tree, I didn’t know that the scent of the camphor could be so inviting. The irony of having something go, and then having something else come into your life has always been interesting. For me it was only a matter of time until I started to notice that our beautiful valley had so many camphor trees in various places. Every time I see one now, without fail, I look down on the ground and grab a branch that has fallen and I break it in half and breathe in the camphor.
It’s the little things in life that can bring us the most joy!
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.