Yesterday, Ms. Country Mouse and I finally had a chance to get together -- I hadn't seen her since before I went to Boulder, she's been soooo busy. We had signed up to take a class about gardening for wildlife at Tilden Botanical Garden, and Country Mouse picked me up bright and early.
After an hour's drive, we were away from the freeways and up in the hills above Berkeley. On the bay side, a layer of fog obscured the view of San Francisco, but on the other side we could glance golden hills dotted with oaks. We parked the car, went over to the botanical garden, and had a quick look around. Then the class started.
Both teachers were passionate and very knowledgeable wildlife gardeners. Interestingly, almost all of the students were also passionate and quite knowledgeable wildlife gardeners, which made for thoughtful questions. The teachers first showed a slide show and told us the most important things for wildlife:
- Don't use pesticides and herbicides.
- Grow a diversity of plants that produce nectar, pollen, seeds, berries, nuts, and fruit in different seasons.
- Offer water sources year round.
In the second half of the class, the teachers introduced us to a few plants up close and personal, and with a very informative handout. We learned about some top wildlife plants in different habitats. I was glad to find that I already had many of the plants in the garden, and I'm now thinking of getting a few more in the coming week. Here are the top picks for riparian plants:
Sambucus mexicana (Blue elderberry) offers flowers in spring and berries, to be enjoyed by birds and people, in the fall. Native peoples made flutes from straight canes. Below, a photo of elderberry in my garden -- clearly, the birds enjoyed the feast.
Ribes sanguineum va. glutinosum offers nectar for hummingbirds in early spring and berries for migrating songbirds in the fall. This plant is also truly a show-stopper and delights the humans that are tiring of the grey winter days. Here's a picture from my garden in early April.
Vaccinium ovatum (Evergreen Huckleberry) offers early spring flowers that attract insects and hummingbirds and berries in fall that feed birds and other wildlife. The fruit can also be enjoyed by humans though, like some other native plants, this one takes a while to mature. I've had a huckleberry in the redwood habitat for 5 years and I'm still waiting for flowers or berries. But who can argue with a full shade plant that gets by with very little water? Here a photo I took of a mature Vaccinium in the SF Arboretum.
Oenothera hookeri (Yellow evening primrose) offers an abundance of seeds for birds in the fall. A truly stunning plant, up to 5 feet tall, and a great choice for large gardens. I must admit, though, that I have reservations about a plant that reseeds quite so readily. I'm not sure it's a good choice for the suburban garden, where neighbors might not appreciate free plants, and for the wildlands, it's only appropriate in areas where it's native. But it really is a stunning plant, and everyone at the class was in love with it.
Sysyrinchium californicum (Yellow-eyed grass) offers nectar for bees and butterflies and seeds for birds. This plant like plenty of sun and water and, like many riperian plants, will spread nicely. I had one in my wine barrel water garden for a while, but I've had to move it out because I have to cover the barrel over night to deter the raccoons from digging out my waterlily bulbs.
It was great fun hearing the teacher talk about how to propagate each plant, and I also enjoyed the questions and comments from my classmates.
Coming soon: oak woodland and chaparral plants for the wildlife garden.