Climate Wars: Why Malaysia’s Tropical beats California’s “Mediterranean”

Surrounded by a sea of overgrown green even Kermit The Frog would consider too much, our newly hired “stager” parked her moderately priced car in front of our house and quickly surveyed the project. Unclear why a house in the San Francisco suburbs that’s in excellent condition needs a major outside overhaul, Diane and I recently gave in to our real estate agent’s wishes and agreed to a major exterior cleanup project. Having successfully found a great app to sell our crap, we even raised enough cash to pay for the project.

staging notes

This is only page one

Classified as “Mediterranean Climate”, the inland suburbs of San Francisco are a paradise for gardeners, botanists and undocumented workers that do every conceivable form of maintenance seven days a week. Literally the ONLY homeowners in our entire neighborhood that refuse to pay for yard work, a task our generation grew up doing ourselves, we admit that our quarter acre corner lot is a bit “overgrown”. Regardless of cut-rate prices charged by unskilled laborers that generally live an “all cash” lifestyle, given the choice between retiring early in Malaysia versus or up with the neighbors, the choice was always a no-brainer.


Besieged by an astoundingly large task, we watched as Kim walked around each nook and cranny of our property, taking notes, making irritated gestures and compiling what turned out to be three pages of “exterior staging notes”, enough to make a Silicon Valley mansion owner grimace.

Problematic is not what grows here, it’s how much of it grows. Willing to undertake the challenge ourselves, Diane and I actually gave it a shot ourselves the first few years, sacrificing many weekend afternoons of leisure in favor of our seemingly cheap self-maintenance mission. Working reasonably well for about two full seasons, both with normal rainfall,  Diane and I figured if we did this in Canada, we can do it here. HAAAAAA !!

Typical Calgary day in June

Typical Calgary day in June

What’s the difference between a gardening season and in Canada and California?  About nine and a half months a year. Easier than boiling water, the “gardening season” in Calgary doesn’t even start until after May Long Weekend (otherwise known as Victoria Day). Breaking out the planters, fertilizer and lawn mower, you scrape off the late spring snow and hit the ground running for a few summer weekends. Lacking warmth nine months a year, you’re happy to be in the sun.

Conveniently, Labor Day arrives and ends the season every year. (It’s spelled Labour Day in Canada but unlike the beginning of summer holiday, falls on the same day as America). Already tired from the couple of weekends spent planting, gardening, mowing and trimming, nature kicks in with a frost almost magically on the first Tuesday after the holiday weekend and follows it up with some snow. And that’s the end of the gardening season for nine months.

Ivy ruined my paint

Ivy ruined my paint

Here in California, stuff never stops growing. Throw in the worst drought in 100 years featuring over 330 days of sunshine and it becomes a perfect storm. Almost impossible to control even with experienced professionals, the past season overpowered anything we’ve ever seen in our seven years at this property. Knowing you probably think we’re exaggerating, allow me to elaborate with a series of photos I snapped yesterday, ahead of the project’s insanely complex start. Frustrated with the ivy’s relentless climb up the house, I scraped it off one part and quickly learned why you don’t ever try something as dumb as that.

Below is a crazy rose-bush on top of the trellis in our backyard. Normally a beautiful refuge from the summer sun, it’s become fourteen layers of uncontrollable mess that produces spectacular yellow roses every spring. Two weeks later, they fall and turn into a huge raking project.

crazy roses


Continuing the tour of our overgrown back yard, you’ll notice magnolia leaves. While thought of as an aesthetically pleasing tree, it’s a huge pain in the ass. Dropping leaves 12 months a year, I hope they don’t grow in Southeast Asia. Producing fruit not even the birds eat, the California pepper tree is another big mess that never stops growing. Making things even stupider, we have plants on the side that have died, apparently from crappy sprinkler placement. Adding more to the bill, new plants will need to be planted.

Turning our attention to the front of the house, the highlights are a  yew tree known simply as “the green monster” to us, a side view of various plants that tower way over the windows and have thorns so spiny even the mice steer clear and some strange ugly thing seen all over my neighborhood that looks like a big Panama straw hat.

Even Kim had no suggestions for Oscar (the guy stuck with a three-day project that’s worth thousands but will come in well under that because early retirees can’t waste large sums of money and our real estate agent knows this).

Nice if you live in New England

Nice if you live in New England

While treated as stately in New England, ivy in California is another enormous pain in the ass. Easily one of nature’s most indestructible plants, it will no doubt survive a nuclear war along with the cockroaches. Sadly, I tried pulling some of it off in past years and ruined the wall. Unsure whether to leave some ivy or simply gut it and power wash the windows, our real estate agent looked to Kim for guidance but got nothing and decided to table this for now.

Probably the nicest feature of our property is the flowering crab apple tree on the front lawn. Producing a spectacular scene of beautiful flowers for about three weeks a year, it’s hopelessly unshaped although it still looks nice. Servicing trees is the most popular and expensive gardening activity and only a professional arborist can protect the tree’s health, ensuring healthy roots and a long life. The picture below is from our first month we owned the house. Use your imagination and guess what it looks like today.

apple tree

Wonderfully relaxing during my weekly yoga class, lavender’s sweet scent is always a welcome part of the session. Trying to trim and control its growth in the garden is another story. Constantly infested with bees, it’s hard enough to get anywhere near it, never mind keeping it trim. Constituting a violation in the eyes of the city, about a year ago my corner lavender plant made its way all the way to the sidewalk, blocking passers-by and moms taking their kids to the local elementary school.

Attempting to remedy the situation, I broke out the giant gardening implements and simply gutted it. Learning that even the heartiest plants don’t appreciate being cut down like a tree branch, the lavender plotted its revenge by simply refusing to grow back. Stripped to an ugly bunch of dead branches, Kim gave me one nasty looks as if knowing I was responsible for its demise as she scribbled down more notes. Deciding the entire section needs to be replaced with something that grows quickly, Diane and I looked at each other as the exterior staging notes grew to three long pages. Clearly my duties as a House Husband would have to be limited to mostly inside activities that don’t kill living things.

Iinsideronically, even the inside plants in this crazy place grow like wildfire. Way back in 2008, Diane and I visited the local garden center looking for an inside plant that would help fill the room. Ensuring us the small little plant we brought home never exceeds about four feet, the clerk seemed to know what he was talking about. Five years later, it’s like a small intestine that would unfold into eight feet or more if we had a higher roof. Refusing to understand what the ceiling is, it just wraps around itself ten times and leans to the window looking for sunshine. Undaunted by its small pot, dying is simply not an option in this land of ever-growing foliage.

Beginning today, the clean up project starts. Oscar is the gardener in charge and informed me he’ll be here at 1:00 PM sharp. Only the first step, the apple tree’s leaves don’t even drop until mid-December, leaving a short eight week period before first blooms appear again. One month before listing the house, Kim comes back to decide how she’ll stage the house, another ridiculous ripoff whereby you pay someone even though you’re the seller.

Although Diane and I have no intention of purchasing property in Malaysia, I think we’ll still avoid renting a house with any kind of tropical foliage. Having visited three of the world’s four major rainforests, I’ve seen first hand the amazing array of flora and fauna that loves the heat and humidity more than us. Feeling like I’ve done my time, we’ll stick to a high-rise condo and let the gardeners worry about the tropical plants.

Have you ever sold a house that required a “staging”? If so, please share; We’re anxious to see other examples.

Hot off the press: New rules enacted November 1st might make trouble for American MM2H applicants (myself included). Watch for my next post


4 thoughts on “Climate Wars: Why Malaysia’s Tropical beats California’s “Mediterranean”

  1. rmgthatsme

    Well at least with all that sunshine and very little rain the grape harvest from the vineyards must be fantastic… Really envy you being in wine country, this year’s vintage must be spectacular and is something to appreciate before your move to Malaysia with its high alcohol taxes! Sip something refreshing and chilled while the view improves before your eyes.


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Yes, there’s always good in everything and we’re told the wine grapes like the extra sunshine. The seasonal grapes at the farmers market this month are fabulous !! We do occasionally hit our favorite winery which I covered in this post : . I hope you’ll read it if you haven’t already. Don’t envy us too much; we still pay higher gas prices than anyone and our house costs the equivalent of three normal American houses. Everything comes with a price. But Safeway only charges under $10 for our favorite local winery’s stuff and it’s actually good enough to win awards !! Probably won’t find that in SE Asia without paying a premium. Thanks for the comment !!


  2. Eric Hausmann

    Congratulations on your progress. My body aches just reading your post. Before we moved into a rental, we owned a house at the base of Forest Park in Portland. Forest Park is the largest in-city park in the US. Calling it a park is a stretch; it’s practically a mountain. The hillside behind our house was so steep, the trees are all slanted (which didn’t concern me until one night at 3am, when I was jolted awake by the thunderous sound of an old growth fir tree that committed suicide and proceeded to slide down the hill towards our kitchen). Luckily, it slammed into one of its fir brothers and stopped 10 feet short of exploding our home. Monstrous toothpicks everywhere.
    The day to day maintenance of this place (which we naively thought was so beautiful at signing) turned out to be a landscaping nightmare. We’re not exactly the type to *want* to trim, cut, and do house things outside. We’re both city brats, and as adults, are definitely have more hotel than hiker in our blood. The leaf problem in the fall was unreal. On a gusty night, It would pile up a foot high all around the deck and patio by morning. With the lack of light, coupled with insane amounts of rain, our gutters were constantly getting clogged. I will never live on a slanted property with so many trees again.
    But the worst of it was the blackberries. Oh sure, they are delicious, but they are also evil with giant thorns. The slither down the hill and wrap themselves around anything and everything, tangling and knotting themselves around trees, plants, trash cans, or anything else in their path. We used to have an older Toyota in our parking area that we weren’t using. When I finally decided it was time to clean it up and sell it, I had to hack, chop, and slice my way through to get to the drivers door. When I finally got the hood open, several blackberry vines had grown under the car, through various parts of the engine. Seeking light, they squeezed their way out through the sides of the hood toward the sky.
    Now, much happier renting a house on flat earth with small rose bushes and an apple tree, we still own a ridiculous amount of gas-powered land things and contraptions with blades. I can’t wait to sell it all to some other naive first time buyer.
    Thanks for allowing me to indulge at length. (I just finished a large coffee.) Now I’m going to look out the window and appreciate the unblackberried view. -Eric


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Eric
      Great reply; made me laugh. Yeah, all property in the suburbs is too much for normal people to maintain properly. One thing we don;t have that you do is rain; we have none at all. The forecast for the next 10 days is sunny dry almost beach weather with no clouds and almost 80 degrees inland. While that may eliminate the clogged gutter issue, it means everything grows 10 times faster; The plants love sunshine and soak up enough moisture from the morning dew to thrive. Even if we don’t water all winter it would not stop the plants. They’re alive !!

      Today I watch as Oscar begins the front yard mess while I blog away inside. At least I’m done with this mess now; If I’m finally paying someone let them deal with it. PS – Put all your garden stuff on (is it available there?)

      See you in Ipoh (maybe not with new stupid MM2H rules just imposed – see my post on Friday)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s