I'll let my garden go native this summer!

California is now at 50% of normal rainfall, and the water district is contemplating how to encourage home owners to use less water. So it's understandable that some people I talk to are considering going native -- and by that, they mean stop watering their lawn and waiting what the wind will blow in. After all, if the wind blows it in, and the wind blows in California, it must be a California Native, and should look pretty all spring and summer until the start of the next rainy season.
Unfortunately, there are some problems with that reasoning. First, almost everything that the wind blows in is not a native but an exotic. Privets, oxalis, non-native grasses, and other seeds blow into my garden at a very regular basis. California poppies don't even make it from the back yard to the front (though they reseed readily in the back). Secondly, pretty much nothing that blows in (except for Yellow Star Thistle, maybe) looks green without water. The photo up left shows my back yard in its first year, after we decided to stop watering the previous owners' lawn in our back yard (we'd wanted to start from scratch and it seemed pointless to water). A good friend of mine calls this approach of no-water-no-attention zeroscaping, and is bad for your soul and your reputation in the neighborhood.
An alternative is using drought resistant plants. I already discussed the East Bay MUD book as a good starting point in an earlier post, but for most home owners, starting with a garden designer or at least a class it probably best. I had a beautiful design for my Garden done by Chris Todd, who is listed, together with many other other local designers, on the goingnativegardentour Web site. Or, if you live in the city, consider Garden Chick. If you live in the East Bay, the Bringing Back the Natives Tour has a list of designers. Many designers are willing to do a few hours of consultation to get you started.
Here's a view of the same area in the second spring, with Euphorphia (not native, but drought tolerant), Festuca californica, and, on the left, California poppies soon ready to bloom. Ahhh, that's better...


David said…
Great post. Although I am all for native plant landscaping and getting rid of your lawn, "going native" is a lot more than just neglect. You need to be thoughtful, and have a good landscape plan even if you are "just using natives". One of the stigmas with native plant landscapes where I live is that they just look weedy or messy. Part of that reason is that they are often full of weeds- whatever blew in as you called it.
Thanks again for a great post,
Michelle said…
Zeroscaping! LOL That does seem to be the favored approach to landscaping whenever we face droughts in this state.

Your "after" shot is lovely. I must say I have a fondness for Euphorbias.
Town Mouse said…
Alas, the really large Euphorbias are no more! They grew to over 5 feet, so we couldn't see much of the rest of the garden from the sun room. To make matters worse, I managed to splash my eyebrows with their milk while pruning them and washed the stuff into my eye. "Euphorbia?" said the nice eye doctor at the emergency room."Oh, you brought a sample, I've never seen one but I get a lot of patients. Sometimes the juice squirts." Then they irrigated and, fortunately, no damage was done.
I still think they're pretty and have a few small ones tucked in here and there...
Interesting post - yes going native does not always mean the romantic vision of local wild flowers.
Your after shot is lovely, although I can understand why you don't have large euphorbias anymore, having been "attacked" by them myself they no longer have a place in my garden (well apart from 2 very small ones)
I love the zeroscaping comment too! About 80% of the calls I'm getting these days are for less lawn or no lawn. Your suggesting of starting with a class or consultation is a good one. Regarding plants specifically, not only is there less informtion readily available on natives but traditional nurseries aren't that knowledgeable and often don't carry many, so it helps to consult with someone who can identify resources at a minimum.

Although this may not be true for designers who specialize in native gardens, unless it is very small, I think it is much harder to design a front yard when there is no lawn at all. While in a traditional garden I can knock out a layout plan in a few hours for a budget minded client, it takes more brain power in a lawn-free environment.

Is your strategy for your own garden 100% native or are you including other mediterraneans?
Town Mouse said…
My garden is a complicated mix with an interesting history and will be revealed in the months that are closer to the tour...;->
Gail said…
Hi...Boy is it a mistake to let the winds blow...I know I have an invasives haven, well I did before The Last Days Of Bush (honeysuckle) happened! Good post.

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