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By Jim BIshop.

The first order of business after my arrival in the San Jose area was to find a place to live. The landscaping and view at a complex in Sunnyvale impressed me so I rented a 600 square foot 2nd floor apartment. The buildings were arranged around two man-made lakes with four fountains that drowned out all of the surrounding street noise. The apartment managers raised beautiful black swans on the lakes. The swans were rather aggressive, especially when raising a brood. If they were blocking a walkway it was best to take the long way around or face being chased and kicked.

Sliding glass doors and windows spanned the width of the apartment and opened onto a balcony that was nearly half the size of the living room. I took down the drapes to take advantage of the view and make the apartment feel larger. From the balcony, I looked across the lakes and landscaping with the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the background. The lakes were ringed with lush layered landscaping and large Canary Island pines (Pinus canariensis). This was a new tree for me with its upright pyramidal shape and tiers of branches. Much to my dislike, the trees were heavily trimmed to emphasize the tier structure, which made them look a bit fake. It seemed to be a common landscape practice in the Bay Area to plant a tree that has a specific shape and trimming it into another. Still it was a wonderful view and a total escape from the outside world.

The Bay Area looked like one giant garden to me, filled with countless places to explore. I jogged through the nearby neighborhoods after work and was impressed that I could run through parts of 4 towns (Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino and Santa Clara). Sunnyvale has many blocks of small mid-century contemporary Eichler homes. Most had no grass lawn, but had front yards filled with all sorts of plants that I was unfamiliar with. Each street was lined with all of the same tree...mostly liquidambars, ginkgoes, and camphor trees. In the fall, the color display of a long line of bright yellow ginkgoes followed by the next street of read liquidambars was striking.

Occasionally on weekends, I jogged around the track at Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills. The school is heavily landscaped with California redwoods, sycamores, and pine trees and looked like a forest retreat. Large mounds of soil landscaped with shrubs and trees I was unfamiliar with lined the roads to hide the parking lots. The toyon, pyracantha and cotoneasters were so loaded with berries in the fall that they laid on the ground. I cut branches to decorate my apartment for fall and winter. I’d also use the sycamore leaves, large pinecones, and acorns that were everywhere.

I lined the top of the outer balcony wall with planters and created a double of row of 6 inch clay pots on the ground in front of the wall. I used hanging baskets to block the views of other apartments and frame the mountains. I tried my first fuchsias (another plant that I didn’t know). Besides the incredible jewel-like flowers, they also drew hummingbirds. In one long planter were yellow marigolds and trailing dark blue lobelia. In another I grew bright orange marigolds with sky blue lobelia. In the winter the marigolds were replaced with yellow and orange violas. Lobelia was a new plant for me. I loved the clear bright colors and continuous blooms they produced. In the pots on ground I forced tulips, Dutch iris and daffodils in the spring. In the summer I replaced them with wax begonias and coleus. I frequently visited a nearby family owned nursery where the owner’s daughter would tell me all about the plants. Inspired by the cactus of Arizona, I sought out a local grower of cactus and bought several specimens for inside and on the balcony. After I moved, I learned that the balcony fell off the apartment...doubtless from all the stress created by my potted plants.

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