Asilomar Dune Restoration 1: Of signs, and the things they signify:

I have so many photos and thoughts to share, about our January weekend away at Asilomar in Monterey, I don't know where to begin. The tide pools, the amazing rocks, the huge waves, the shoreline plants, the historical buildings, the chance enjoy a relaxing lunch idling on the terrace.

But what I've been thinking about most since returning home is signage.

What I mean is, the signs telling visitors about the ongoing restoration efforts. At the risk of boring readers (I have been known to go down boring rabbit holes before) I'll share my experience of the signs. Next post will be the one with more pictures of the plants.

The interesting thing is that there are three restoration projects going on, converting wildlands that were ruined by foot traffic, or covered in iceplant like this garden:

To their natural state, which looks more like this garden - one of a few native gardens I saw on my walks about the neighborhood near Asilomar:

It takes an aesthetic adjustment to see the beauty in "scrub." But for me it certainly is worth twiddling the knobs.

At first I thought the dunes area was just all wild and natural, a nice contrast to the golf course. And the boardwalks are great - they provide access to people in wheelchairs, keep those on foot from tromping destructively around, and also they are much more pleasant to walk on than shifting sand.

Then I saw a small sign at the Pebble Beach (south) end of the 1 mile strip of sand dunes, and I was a bit disturbed. (You can click to expand or read the text below.)

So - this is a man made thing? - A recreation of what was there before we trashed it by tromping all over the dunes and planting iceplant? Why does that make me uneasy? It's what I'm doing here, after all, on my property. Restoration. And the plants are, even in January, looking pretty, like this gum plant (is it Grindelia stricta var. platyphylla?).

The text of the sign is nice but so vague. Do they know what they're doing? Here's what it says:
(The Pebble Beach Company Sign) Get a look at California natives
Around you are plants native to California coastal sand dunes and bluffs. They’re the same species which greeted European explorers some 400 years ago. Since then, human activity destroyed much of the native plant cover, and ice plant and other “exotics” took over.
To restore and protect the dunes, ice plant has been removed and native plants added. All of the plants come from pebble Beach Company’s native plant nurseries. For your enjoyment, the boardwalk lets you view the plants without damaging them.
"Native plants were added" - What native plants? I wish they would tell me. They have photos of a few plants, with common names.
California sagewort
Painted sea cup
Menzies Wallflower (endangered species)
Dune gum plant
Seaside daisy
Lupine. Buckwheat. - What lupine? What buckwheat? Do they know what they're doing here? I've decided that it's just that the Pebble Beach Company's marketing department wrote the sign for an audience of golfers. It wasn't written by gardeners. I'm sure the gardeners are doing a good job. I'd love to know more about the Pebble Beach company's nurseries and so on. But I can't find anything on the web. Maybe next time I visit there I'll make an effort to visit.

After we finished rambling along the boardwalks I found out - via the signage - that there are three different bodies at work restoring this narrow one-mile strip of dunes: The Pebble Beach Company, The City of Pacific Grove/Rana Creek, and State Parks (Asilomar State Beach and Conference Center). I wonder if they all talk to each other? Do they share plants? It seems so odd.

The city of Pacific Grove hired Rana Creek to do a big chunk of it. Here's a link to Rana Creek's (very short) page about the project. Who is Rana Creek? Their "about" page sounds like it was written by the Pebble Beach Company marketing department, I have to say:
Our design solutions provide value-added return on financial investments through the reduction of stormwater runoff, water reuse, energy management, sound attenuation and amenity enhancement.
They are not writing to you and me. They are writing to government and corporate entities that are required to do mitigation projects and need to justify hiring Rana Creek for Very Large Projects. Well, more power to them - they are doing good work, I'm sure.

Here's the City of Pacific Grove (Rana Creek)'s restoration signage:
(City of Pacific Grove Sign) Why all the dead ice plant?
Ice plant is a vigorous non – native ground cover that competes directly with native vegetation, including several rare and threatened plants right here in Pacific Grove.
A joint effort between Rana Creek habitat Restoration and the City of Pacific Grove is underway to convert these dunes back to their native state.
This process includes the eradication of ice plant and the restoration of the dunes with over 30 species of native plants including the Federally endangered Menzies’ wallflower, Tidestrom’s lupine and the Federally threatened Monterey spineflower.
This 5 year project will result in a beautiful, thriving native habitat for rare and endangered plants, butterflies, birds, lizards and of course, people!
They do better than the Pebble Beach Company sign. They specify Tidestrom's lupine, for example. They talk about wildlife. They talk about the invasive properties of iceplant. They throw in the people at the end, I think, for the benefit of people who dislike "tree-huggers" for putting habitat needs ahead of people's.

But it wasn't till I got to the Asilomar State Beach and Conference Center signage, and also saw their nursery, that I felt I could really trust the process here. I didn't get a good picture of their main sign, but here's the text - I hope you agree it provides more and better information, and it's still succinct:
Balance Lost and Found Again
Decades of logging, grazing, recreation, and foot traffic brought asilomar’s dune ecosystem to the brink of extinction. When the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) established the Asilomar summer camp grounds in 1913, the dunes became a recreation area.
By the time California State Parks acquired Asilomar in 1956, the dunes were crisscrossed with walking paths. Foot traffic damaged remaining native vegetation, weakened the towering dunes, and permitted the sand to blow away.
In 1984, California State Parks embarked on a dune restoration project. This required removal of non-native plants, propagation of plants genetically native to Asilomar’s dunes, and construction of a boardwalk to provide a pathway through this fragile ecosystem.
Today the dunes have been returned to a near pristine state with native plants and animals. Dunes Natural Preserve status protects Asilomar’s dunes for the future.
Boardwalk Brings Balance
The boardwalk creates a balance by providing us access while protecting the dunes. Wildlife is not disturbed and native plants remain untrampled for future visitors to enjoy.
Benefits of Dune Restoration
· Prevents sand from blowing away
· Protects endangered species
· Provides habitat for native wildlife
· Restores the natural beauty of the dunes.
And our ramblings eventually took us to the native plant nursery.

Here's the sign, in case expanding the photo doesn't make it legible. (Expand to look at the nice pictures of the flowers, anyway).
(Asilomar State Beach Signage) Home Grown
State Park staff grows about 50 species of native plants in this nursery for Asilomar's dune and forest restoration. Native seeds are collected on-site to prevent genetic contamination of local plant populations.
Seeds are planted in cylindrical tubes with internal ridges that encourage long root growth. They spend a few weeks in the hot house where they grow rapidly. Then young plants are moved to the shade house where they begin adjusting to the wind, salt spray , and temperature changes of the natural environment. This adjustment eriod enables plants to "harden-off," meaning plant cell walls thicken and thier chemical composition is altered.
The nursery grown plants are hand planted during the rainy season. With an estimated 80 percent survival rate, evidence of their success is all around you.
Two Houses for New Natives
The "hot house" is enclosed with platic. This protection creates ideal conditions for young plant growth. Temperatures are controlled and plants are watered regularly.
Mesh roofing over the "shade house" protects tender young plants from direct sun and wind while they acclimate to their natural surroundings.
Wonderful information, much more interesting to people who are - interested. I want some of those tubes! I wonder where they get them? I also want a shade house! Oh, Mr Wood Rat, dear!

If you've made it to the end of this wordy post, you'll probably be really interested in this link, to the only really informative info I could find on the web about this wonderful dune area, and it's from the California Native Grasslands Association. FYI here are a few of the actual botanical names they include in their very interesting page on the dune grasslands

Menzies' wallflower (Erysimum menziesii ssp. menziesii)
Tidestrom's lupine (Lupinus tidestromii)
Yellow sand verbena (Abronia latifolia)
seaside painted cup (Castilleja latifolia)
beach poppy (Eschscholzia californica var. maritima)
California thrift (Armeria maritima)

And in my next post, I promise - lots of pictures and few words!


Terra said…
I enjoyed this post since I support the reestablishment of native plants. In our area ice plant, pampas grass, and French broom are invasive problem plants. Thanks for pointing this out. Like you I have many native and xeriscape plants in my garden.
Interesting post Country Mouse. I'm glad they're at least trying to restore some of that area. It's probably the cynic in me, but it all seems a bit hypocritical. Restoring natives to the land because it's the right thing to do, but behind the native plants, acres, and acres, and acres of water-hogging golf courses (can you tell I'm NOT a golfer? :P) I know, what would Pebble Beach be without golf courses. It's a good start, but they could do much more. I do however at least give them credit for making the effort. A least they didn't just plant more grass!
Diana Studer said…
I have never seen ice-plant growing wild in South Africa in an unbroken swathe like that. Be afraid, be very afraid! But then, who plants a garden with just the ONE plant? I understand invasive, but that gardener has just thrown in the towel (could hide the bath-tub in there too)

So there is at least one Californian plant in my garden - thrift - they are not very happy, they'd rather be beside the seaside ;>(
Country Mouse said…
Terra - thanks, hope you enjoy the next post too, more pictures!

CVF - I had those thoughts about the golf course too, but you know, the tide is not in our favor, and it's good that we are making progress, as you say. It was also disappointing to see so many gardens with no native plants at all.
EE - Who plants with one plant - those whose other alternative was to cover it in concrete, I think! I did see more than one garden like that, but most folk have a mixture of common garden plants, and a lot of jade plants too. It's scary how well iceplant grows on the coast here. It can look pretty in bloom, covered in flowers, but otherwise of course, it is a disaster. They're ripping it out all along the coast in central california I think. There are other kinds of iceplant used in Monterey along a seafront park - not sure if they are keeping that lot. They do look stunning in spring a carpet of brilliant flowers - be interesting to know if it's a species that's just as invasive or better behaved. I also don't grow much of the seaside natives - beach daisy grows well for me, erigeron glaucus, and doesn't spread beyond the bed I planted it. I bet there are lots of native California plants that would be very nice and well behaved exotic ornamentals in your S.A. garden, though. So many climates and microclimates here, there must be a good match for you.
Brent said…
This wasn't boring at all since communicating the value of native plants to the public is often difficult. The varying degrees of thoroughness and approachability of the signs is an interesting comparison.
I'm looking forward to more posts from Asilomar, which is located about 5 minutes from home. I posted my first and only Asilomar posts 09/28/10, since we tend to only drive by on the way home from the grocery without ever stopping. The three entities doing restoration doesn't surprise me, even as the land ownership boundaries are imperceptible to visitors. We had several lively City Council meetings when they decided to spray lots and lots of Roundup to get rid of the hottentot fig (the larger of the 2 iceplants in PG; I doubt they'll ever get rid of the smaller magenta iceplant since it's a tourist draw). Rana Creek has huge holdings of land about 20 miles out Carmel Valley Road and have a native plant nursery open to the public. Did you get to hike Del Monte Forest (part of the Pebble Beach Co. lands)?
Town Mouse said…
An interesting post. Not sure I agree with everything, but that's part of the fun!

In defense of Rana Creek, I'd like to point out that they are a small nursery working hard to make natives and plants for green roofs available to the public and to organizations. Maybe they can't afford a slick website, plants don't usually make people rich.

I had the great pleasure of visiting in 2009, and very much enjoyed talking with the manager, walking around, and buying some plants. Here's the link to that post:
Country Mouse said…
Oh - Rana Creek company is a lot more than the nursery! I recall your visit there and that post. The web site is very polished and geared to a corporate audience. I've seen other websites doing similar work, and with a similar approach. So.... what do you not agree with? let's have a discussion!
Yes, Rana Creek was the entity responsible for the new living roof on CalAcademy in San Francisco. If you've ever visited their non-public facilities across the road from the public nursery, I don't think anyone would suspect they're suffering from lack of money.
Town Mouse said…
Ah, I see. OK, Rana Creek includes other services, and they do have a website geared toward organizational customers. I still wish there were more companies like them.

Regardless, I just have a very different reaction to the different signs. I like the first sign with the English names, even a small child can relate to that.

In the garden descriptions for the garden tour, we use English for plant names as well to make them easy to read. (Then during tour day we use both English and Latin names on the labels.)

In contrast, find the Asilomar sign to wordy and less appealing to a wider audience.
James Kempf said…
Hi CM,

I think you went down a mouse hole, not a rabbit hole. :-) But an interesting post anyway.

Mr. Mouse
Kelly said…
I got the feeling that you were concerned about whether the restoration plants are locally indigenous. I can't speak to the Asilomar project, but north of Asilomar are several restorations led by the state parks. Master Gardeners, CNPS members and other volunteers help to collect local seeds and then volunteers help to propagate the seeds. I am currently "fostering" two trays of seedlings (about 200 plants) that will be planted out in the next few weeks. Records are kept so that plants are planted back into the areas near where seed was collected.
Country Mouse said…
Yes, indeed, Kelly - I was concerned (based on the sign) that the Pebble Beach Company restoration in particular might not be propagating from local seed - but I expect they are, really. It would just be nice if they would say so. Good for you for helping with this wonderful effort to restore the coastal wildlands! I'm making a fair start at propagating where I live, from local seed, to revegetate the land where exotics are more dominant (and I weed and weed and weed!)
Country Mouse said…
(Ho ho ho James - I missed a trick there but you didn't!)
Call me weird, but I have ALWAYS liked the look of scrub better than iceplant!

When I lived in San Francisco, I learned to truly hate and despise iceplant, whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to provide an excellent habitat for the snails which loved to come over the fence from the area where the ice plant was and feast on my plants.

Looking forward to your next post.
Country Mouse said…
HMH, sorry for your snail problem. And iceplant problem. I sometimes do wonder, as I try to trap the California mice and eject them from my home, whether I'm not carrying wildlife gardening a bit too far, though!
Christine said…
See? Not a boring post at all- it's rousing! I, too had a problem with the signs. It says, "hey we're restoring this!", but it ends up sounding like an apology for ripping out the ice plant. I think it should celebrate the habitat more- perhaps show an example of a symbiotic relationship between the plants, animals and insects. The restoration, however (at least the one I saw at Asilomar) is enchanting!
Stevieboy said…
Great post, Country Mouse. Following your writing from top to bottom was exciting, relaxing, challenging, soothing -- just like what I find walking the boards over the dunes at Asilomar, trying to understand what I'm seeing, hearing, smelling. I'm a golfer and a native plant enthusiast from Kentucky. I'm impressed with the restoration efforts because they showcase original diversity.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks, Stevieboy - I'm so glad this post gave you pleasure. It's a particular pleasure to me when someone picks up on an older post and reads it - thanks again!
John said…
Ecological restoration is an interesting exercise with many positive benefits. But we are not fully restoring natural systems until elk nibble the sedge once more and grizzly bears share the abundant salmon with us. How can we restore something we barely understand?

The web of animals formerly dependent on an intact Monterey coastal dune system include not only the black legless lizard, the snowy plover and Smith's blue butterfly.

At an early meeting of the Society for Ecological Restoration, a founding member made the non-entirely tongue in cheek motion that the name be changed to Society for Approximations.
Country Mouse said…
John, I couldn't agree more. I'm hoping to do something in writing - a 'getting started' guide for home owners/land managers - my working title for it is 'restoration: a comedy' - in recognition of the true impossibility of ever restoring what is irretrievably lost. But when was it lost - before the first people came and started their burning practices? It's a conundrum and better perhaps to look forward to what we perhaps can do than to try to turn back time. I need to get connected to this society whereof ye spake! I'm so just getting into all of this.