Our apartment in Los Angeles, which could be described as modest by some LA standards, wouldn't exist in New York City. As I've written before, to a New Yorker, space in Los Angeles is an embarrassment of riches. Because there is space to inhabit, our building along with most in Los Angeles is built for arms open wide. Out here, space is an embrace, from the ocean crashing against the never-ending horizon at the beach to processions of palm trees towering over boulevards.
Southern California homes are designed with outdoor living in mind. A drive along the classic film strip of Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills affords glimpses of the showy landscaping of mogul mansions, where tennis courts, citrus groves, outdoor art pieces, gazebos and pools are protected by stately iron gates, often attended by guardhouses. In areas inhabited by those whose fortunes are still ascendant, outdoor living occurs poolside and parkside, in plazas and on porches, on patios and balconies both public and private.
Common to most apartment buildings of its provenance, our urban home is fronted by a patio with a rock wall and a bit of yard. The yard is overseen by a splendid California laurel who has been watching over this turf since this area was fields of poinsettia farms, and by an unkindness of ravens who make their urban home in those branches. The branches shade both the office window and the hummingbird feeders, whose users exhibit no concern whatsoever in shooing the ravens from the area at feeding time. From the low hedge at the sidewalk to the hellos of neighbors passing by, everything is open and welcoming.
We let the indoors in whenever we can, and that gift of southern California living is also a responsibility, because outdoor spaces - including yard and patio, carport and garage -- require care. Here is Urban Home Blog’s Guide to Caring for Outdoor Living Spaces. As with all lists and guides at Urban Home Blog, this is a list of suggestions rather than a comprehensive checklist of essentials. This list is based on my ongoing experience as a homekeeper and lifestyle author, and, as always, none of these is a compensated endorsement.
CARING FOR OUTDOOR LIVING SPACES
It sounds obvious, but when caring for the outdoor spaces of your home, it is helpful to understand the atmospheric patterns in your area. Your local county extension can help you understand local atmospheric conditions and weather patterns, and so can The Farmer's Almanac both in print and online. But it isn't necessary to be a climatologist to identify the basic weather patterns where you live - whatever you've noticed is likely what's true. Just remember that conditions change seasonally, and will vary throughout your area.
In southern California, local weather includes a specialized phenomenon, the same one that nurtures those world-renowned wine grapes: the microclimate. As John and I learned during last spring's May Gray, a simple drive along one of the city's boulevards can start off gray and clammy and conclude in dazzling sunshine and dry heat, all while passing through a variety of local weather occurrences and all without leaving Los Angeles! Each of those zones is a microclimate, and each one is settled over its own parcel of topography. They slip and slide into one another depending upon larger atmospheric and geological conditions, but they can get as specific as the square foot. This is as true of the home as it is true streetside. It is as true of large homes with landscaped grounds as it is of compact homes whose outdoor space is a stoop, a patio or a balcony. And it means that the conditions that apply to one home may not necessarily apply to the neighbors.
Yes, we all have access to the weather report, but for your home, it is worthwhile to invest in a weather station and learn how to interpret it. For household use, obtain a weather station that accurately reports barometric pressure and temperature while being easy to understand. Where feasible, it is ideal to place one weather gauge outside and one inside, with both linked to a single station that supplies the readings for both zones. The included instructions will advise the optimal placements for weather gauges; typically it is a semi-protected area when outside, such as a porch or eave, and a contained traffic area when inside, such as a hallway or foyer. Acurite 634 is easy to understand and inexpensive. For homes with yards and gardens, a rain gauge is a nice addition; we like Productive Alternatives' Stratus.
That rain gauge is especially important to the green members of your household. Through years of gardening columns, I have always advised that plants are members of the family, and should be cared for accordingly. The plants in the yard are not less family members because they get to live outdoors - in fact, living out there means they are routinely exposed to conditions that indoor dwellers are spared. Whether you are your own landscaper or a gardener does it for you or for a management company, learn the basics about the plants in your outdoor space. At a minimum, know the species, basic care requirements, and health issues plants may be prone to, such as disease, infestation or damage. Two good resources are The Plant Encyclopedia and My Garden Guide. Also learn if there are any heirloom plants in the vicinity, especially trees, as these carry special responsibilities - often including advocacy.
Learning your USDA heartiness zone is vital for caring for outdoor life, especially plants, and agrees with learning about the weather patterns as discussed above. This information is easy to obtain and understand; two invaluable resources are the USDA and your local county extension. The latter can also connect you with local garden clubs. Unless your lease or gardening agreement precludes caring for or planting in your outdoor space, understanding the weather, the zone and the plants that thrive in them will enable you both to care for the plants that are already there and to decide what plantings you want to pursue.
Basic gardening kits are widely available but can be of varying quality and do not offer the option to thoughtfully choose individual tools. Just as with kitchen tools and the household tool box, it is best to obtain gardening tools individually. Choose the best tools your budget allows, balanced against practical value such as usage. Any home and garden center or hardware store offers trained staff to help; for the former, try Home Depot or Lowe's, for the latter in Los Angeles, try Koontz Hardware. For modest outdoor gardening needs, obtain a portable-sized trowel, spade, bulb planter, and pitchfork; a pair of lockable pruning shears; and a pair of gardening gloves with rubberized grips. For watering, obtain a large rust-proof wide-spray watering can. For larger yard care, supplement the basic gardening kit with a full-sized hoe, spade, shovel, and rake. For watering, add an easy-coil gardening hose with extra couplings, a watering wand, and sprinklers if they are warranted.
A kneeling pad and gardening clogs are useful, and if you're gardening in the sunshine, don't forget your sunblock. A soil tester allows you test the basic characteristics of the soil, which is always a good idea and is a necessity for caring for plants that require specific conditions, such as cacti and succulents or roses. For plants and soils themselves, consult with the local garden club, who can recommend the best local nurseries. Nurseries, hardware stores and seed exchanges all provide access to seeds, and you can save seeds from kitchen produce. Store seeds in clear glassine envelopes labeled with the species and common name, harvest and drying dates if saved, and expiration date if prepackaged.
While most gardeners default to storing their portable gardening tools in a bucket, for ease of transport store them in a plastic toolbox or a strong canvas tote bag. Remember to clean your gardening tools after every usage - typically a pass under the hose or spigot is fine. Use a wire brush to loosen stubborn clumps of earth. Dry gardening tools with a gym- or car-towel (see below) dedicated to the purpose rather than leaving them to air dry. Inspect gardening tools periodically, and oil them as warranted with a basic household oil such as 3-in-1 or WD-40. Finally, to truly bring the outdoors and indoors together, keep a composting bucket and corresponding composting catalyst such as charcoal in the kitchen for cooking scraps. Compost the scraps and return them to the yard or garden according to the instructions and schedule supplied with the composting bucket.
Those larger gardening tools may very well be stored in the carport or garage. Parking spots often include storage space, from simple bins and cabinets to lock and key storage units. Whatever your outdoor storage, use it for bulky items, those that are infrequently accessed, or those that pertain to outdoor living. Avoid using cardboard containers for outdoor storage, even if the storage is enclosed - cardboard deteriorates in response to exposure. Use specially treated wooden crates or plastic bins with snap-lock lids. Storage spaces are often prone to extremes of heat, cold and barometric pressure, so consider keeping a high-capacity moisture absorber such as Damp Rid in the storage space. In the event that mold and mildew appear, that will require special handling; start by learning about these fungi and some ways to manage them here.
Of course, the household member that the garage, carport or parking space primarily stores is the family car. It goes without saying that regularly scheduled service appointments for household vehicles are vital; schedule those visits at the beginning of the year while you are scheduling the year's other appointments such as doctor, dentist and veterinarian. While you're at it, renew your yearly membership in a respected automobile club such as AAA. Yearly, have the club send you a map book of your area, and keep it with the vital deeds in the glove compartment. A map book of your area is invaluable beyond the paper maps it contains - it will contain local municipality information from emergency services to rest and renewal resources such as gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. Most of us also have a GPS device such as Garmin Nuvi -- most automobile clubs can program or download driving directions right into your device. The auto club can also advise on the right road and first aid kits for the amount and distance of driving you do. Wherever you live, be sure that the emergency kit provisions for emergencies specific to your area - in southern California, that includes earthquakes and mudslides.
While professional maintenance is vital for the safety and durability of the car, you can manage some car care yourself. Whether you do it yourself with suds and buckets or let a pro do it at a roadside car wash, washing the car is a given on a regular basis as well as before and after long road trips. Car care businesses such as car washes, gas stations and dealerships can provide the best supplies for washing the car, based on such considerations as the car's paint, detailing and finish. Don't forget to care for the inside of the car. Maintain a supply of interior detailing items such as interior cleanser, leather conditioner, window cleanser, and microfiber detailing cloths, and use them routinely - ideally, weekly -- to detail the car's interior. Keep a supply of small rubbish bags to contain the daily refuse of driving. Properly dispose of the bag and its contents at the end of each journey.
Finally, as you and your family enjoy the benefits of outdoor living, remember that other species make their home there as well. In our urban home, we refer to these as “patio family.” Three favorites are bats, bees and hummingbirds. Some of the ways we provide for these extended members of our household include composting as noted above to provide healthy vegetation for bees and other insects, not disturbing them or their living spaces, hanging bat houses, and maintaining hummingbird feeders. Obviously each family makes its own choices regarding caring for outdoor life, based upon considerations specific to each family such as health concerns, beliefs, etc. Our belief is that we are part of larger systems, and we take care to be respectful of that. Ecology is a cornerstone for how we keep our home, both outdoors and inside. From family pets to the plant life discussed above, the pleasures and privileges of outdoor living are attended by responsibility to the lives that co-inhabit the space.