"Cursed" spot in garden?

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Dwayne wrote:

The spot is too small for that. What's more, the back deck is only a few steps away. There's already a table on the deck. But the spot is also too large for a garden gnome, as suggested by "Cereus-validus". If I put something there besides a plant, a bird bath would be the right size. Of course, I would need to make sure that I don't breed mosquitoes in it...
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John Ladasky wrote

I tend to agree with Robin that there is a problem with too much water. Not too much in summer, when you have control over the amount, and are sparing with it. But too much in winter, when you have no control over what Ma Nature provides, and that has been quite a lot recently. The combination of clay soil, lots of water, and cold winter is not a good situation at any time for lavender, which requires not just good drainage, but excellent drainage. I am north of you and have excellent well drained soil, but still need to plant lavender on a raised area to get it thru the winter. You mentioned that the plantst do ok until the next year, after they have gone thru a wet, cold winter. These same conditions are probably not good for the quince, either.
You might try adding more soil of a lighter texture and provide a raised bed, berm, or mound for better drainage. Or you might try something that doesn't seem to mind cold, wet conditions in winter, like New England aster and goldenrod, or maybe callas. They do well in those conditions up here. And the birdbath idea is not bad either. Near the deck where you could watch, and the apple tree for cover. I have never had any problem with mosquitoes in a birdbath. In the summer it dries up too fast, and the scrub jays empty it every time they take a bath!!! You will have more of a problem with algae I think. You could plant some low annuals around the area. They would not be there in winter, and could be replaced with cool weather annuals.
If you do decide to go with a soil test, you will not get it done at the extension service in Calif., but will need to find a private soil lab.
Good luck and let us know the outcome Emilie NorCal
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If grass once grew there, how about trying an ornamental grass?

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