I was at a fundraiser for my granddaughter's preschool a couple of weeks ago at a venue in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its lush gardens were - especially in this time of drought - rather startling.
|The venue has huge lawns - some call these sterile swamps.|
After all, here is what the Santa Cruz mountains look like au natural - very close to my home.
|Local chaparral and trees, with a creek flowing through the distant right area. Quite a different color palette|
OK, let's play a game like we're at the optometrist's office, and you have to pick between lens One? or lens Two? ...
|Do you like fundraiser venue One? or ...|
|Country mouse garden Two?|
|Do you like One? - Fundraiser venue has - Color! Texture! Variety!|
|Or Two? - Country Mouse native garden.|
It's vibrant and colorful and thirst-quenching. I do wonder how much water it takes to provide that refreshing view.
|Fundraiser venue - One?|
|Or Country Mouse garden - Two?|
Santa Barbara daisie are on the California Invasive Plant Council's watch list, though the jury is out as yet on how much of a problem they might be.
No - Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) are not native. Don't let the common name fool you. Try another common name, like Latin American fleabane.
Option Two is more relished by wildlife - and the greenhouse is relished by a country mouse!
I noticed signage around the fundraiser venue for example that they are certified by Audubon as a bird sanctuary, and they provided a list of maybe a dozen or so (mainly non-native) pollinator plants in the garden for butterflies. Their bird bath, however, was dry. True it was not in the main pleasure grounds, but still I couldn't help but harrumph at the irony.
I also saw quite a lot of invasive plantings, and in the "natural" woodland walks, garden plants that have escaped into the wild in our region: Alyssum, sweet pea, vinca, pride-of-Madeira, forget-me-nots - and more whose names I don't know.
|One? - How many invasive plants can you spot here?|
|Another view of choice One? Forget me nots are terribly invasive around here.|
|Or Two - some wild and some planted natives in a Country Mouse garden woodland setting.|
|Another choice "Two" - Deer weed (Acmispon glaber), here with yellow face bumble bee aboard, volunteers in my south facing garden and grows where it sprouts.|
|And - another choice "Two." Another weed that I let spread almost anywhere it grows in my garden, because it's a local native verbena (I forget the species name) - and the bees love it. But I think maybe I let my garden go too wild.|
So where does this all leave me? The fundraiser venue made a big impression on me. It's big and bold and beautiful - it provides nice surroundings for weddings and other events - and yet - I find it also disturbing. Mainly for the carelessness - or lack of awareness - in their stewardship. If they had lush European style gardens, and also natural areas that are well tended - I could be OK with that, if their irrigation could be kept somewhat reasonable.
And I did take away the lesson about what gets us in the emotional gut: design, design, design. Color, texture, form, repetition - and all the other things that the worthy Fran Adams taught us in that adult ed class so many years ago now.
When you realize the sterility of most gardens designed for visual appeal alone, and turn to gardening for wildlife - learning about a whole new palette of plants and their relationship to each other and the soil and the critters - it takes time (or expertise you can hire and support a worthy professional!). I've got a fair bit of understanding of local native plants under my belt, and that's where my curiosity takes me - I'm turning into an amateur naturalist bit by bit.
But it is indeed possible to integrate good design into a wildlife garden AS WELL. It's not my forte, and I have a tendency to privilege the wildlife over the design (as demonstrated by my overgrown paths).
That fundraising venue's pleasure gardens did inspire me to do better - to honor not just the natural landscapes that inspire and surround my gardens, and the wildlife they sustain, but also the aesthetic pleasures of order and harmony, restfulness, and the delicious turn of a garden path inviting us to explore.
|Weeds glorious (and native) weeds, and a Mylitta Crescent butterfly (I think).|