I've been having uneasy feelings that things weren't working. I cleared out the weedy grasses, and their place was taken, not by natives, but by major infestations of spurge, chickweed, chervil, and a handful of other bad characters from out of town.
What I've learned is that wholesale weed removal rips off mother nature's skin, like a bad case of road rash. It disturbs the soil and lays it open to the sun - creating ideal conditions for the next plague of weeds.
Here's the "before" picture from today's weeding session, in an area almost totally covered by chickweed and spurge (you can click to see closer). This area is at the bottom of our property on the northern side, where we took out the huge bay trees just over a year ago.
You could actually call miner's lettuce a weed, too. Dominance of a single species is one characteristic of a weed, and they have certainly sprung up in abundance this year. I thought it was because of the wet winter, but now I'm not so sure.
The wholesale slaughter method looks godawful when you're done. Here's the after picture:
The miner's lettuce is so brittle, it is really hard to weed around it, and as I say, I am not sure why I bothered, since it's behaving in a weedy way, except to leave something native growing there.
There is a blooming Cynoglossum grande, Hound's Tongue, in both pictures. In the before picture, there's a blue flag near it as a marker. In the after picture it's a third in and a third down. To cheer us all up, here's a close-up of its pretty blossom:
It was coyly turning its blossoms aside - here's another view:
A neighbor here has a patch of these that comes back each year - I only ever seem to get one, but it does come back year after year. They are perennials that disappear in summer. I love those big floppy hound tongue leaves, the sturdy panicle rising in the center, and the cheerful blue flowers. If you want to grow this in your garden, Jepson says to give it sun or part shade, good drainage, and some summer water. It is a woodland plant, not a chaparral dweller. But Yerba Buena nursery says it makes an excellent choice for dry shade, such as under oaks.
But let us return to the question of how to get rid of weeds and restore the natives -- I have now found a proven method that not only results in effective restoration, but also resolves my immense and ongoing frustration at not being able to keep up with the weeds. With the Bradley method, you can only progress as fast as the natives regenerate. I love that.
I should confess that I have refound this technique. I read about the Bradley sisters a few years ago. They came up with their method while restoring bushland near Sydney, Australia. Somehow I just forgot about them. I think I panicked, or just let perfectionism take over. But now I so totally get it I won't ever forget. I'm going to close by sharing it with you, and I hope you will remember it always too.
The Bradley Method is very simple. This description is lifted shamelessly from Wikipedia:
The aim of their work was to clear small niches adjacent to healthy native vegetation such that the each area will be re-colonised and stabilized by the regeneration of native plants, replacing an area previously occupied by weeds. The Bradley method follows three main principles,I urge anyone engaged in habitat restoration to read this very readable article on the method, and how the Bradley sisters came up with it, here: CalEPPC News Fall 1997. One very encouraging quote from one of the sisters is this:
1. secure the best areas first
2. minimise disturbance to the natural conditions (e.g. minimise soil disturbance and off-target damage).
3. don't overclear, let the regenerative ability of the bush
set the pace of clearance
My sister takes the dog for a walk on most mornings, and I do the same in the afternoons. On these walks we might average, between the two of us, about three-quarters of an hour spent actually pulling up weeds.Three quarters of an hour a day to restore forty acres - maybe half an hour a day would do for my property. Nibbling away, like a little mouse, year after year, till one day - ah! restoration has been achieved!