Trip Report: Native Plant Symposium

Last Saturday, Ms. Country Mouse and I were thrilled to have tickets to: California Gardens: Beauty and Sustainability With Native Plants, a symposium on native plant gardening and design. I'd very much looked forward to the event, with great speakers, and a plant sale and book sale it promised to be a lot of fun.

Living very close to the venue, Foothill College in Los Altos, I was, of course, almost late but made it just in time to pick up my badge, meet my friend, and find a seat. I was still a little hot from rushing up the steep stairs, but noticed far to soon that not all was well in the Smithwick Theater. Not only was this place cold, but cold air was being blown down on us by a clearly broken heating unit. Fortunately, I was wearing long undies, a sweatshirt, a jacket, warm socks, and a scarf so I settled in and enjoyed the first speaker, Bart O'Brien who talked about Year Round Beauty with California Native Plants. I found the over 100 slides a bit ambitious for 1 hour, but did enjoy the great information about the many plants the talk showcased. Some of my notes included:
  • Redwoods are happiest with 60 inches of rain and might not do well with 20. 
  • Quercus lobata needs to tie into the ground water table. 
  • Cut back Muhlenbergia rigens in spring (April)
  • Prune Mahonia like Nandina from bottom, don't prune at top. 
  • Bart's favorite manzanita is Arctostaphylos australis (great size for my hedge!)
  • Dudleya hassei is a nice ground cover, Dudleya 'Frank Reinelt is an easy dudleya
  • Zauschneria 'Route 66' does not have the common 'floppy branches' problem. 
  • Perityle incana might be a nice choice for the side garden where the tea tree is. 
I was slightly less thrilled with the next two speakers. Both did not actually address the topic of their talk, at least it did not feel that way to me. But I was also getting colder and crankier by the minute. I finally retrieved a blanket from the car and got a hot drink, but was very much ready for lunch. To my delight, the lunchbox was delicious! A Thai tofu wrap with freshly grated carrots and a tasty sauce, made even better when I heated it in the microwave. And more hot drinks. The world looked better and, while the heat never did get fixed, it was inspiring to see that about 90% of the symposium participants stayed for most of the day.

If native plant gardeners can show that much enthusiasm and endurance, we will persevere!

The four afternoon speakers were inspiring and knowledgeable and left me feeling hopeful and ready to go planting, and share their great ideas.

Bernard Trainor, originally from Australia, had the nerve to request that the lights be turned off so we could actually see the photos he had brought. And so, just once, we actually looked and listened instead of scribbling. The pictures he showed of large landscaping projects were sobering. The construction machinery completely strips a hillside while putting up houses, then his company comes in to design what he calls a 'contextual landscape'. He relies heavily on locally propagated plants. " aim is to create new ecologies and systems that bridge the connection between people and places." And the photos were amazing.

Judith Larner Lowry's talk, "The Gift Keeps Moving: Gardening for Habitat / Backyard Restoration" owner of Larner Seeds, delighted us all by not taking herself too seriously. "Yes, I was planning on having a Coastal Bluff garden", she said,"But a third of a mile from the ocean is too far away." It was sobering to hear that even a true expert must live with what they have. "Be open to surprises!" she exhorted. She also talked about the Fostering Forbs Project, which is interested in a diverse layer of native groundcover plants. Her slide show, like the one before, had about 60 slides, much more digestible than the 100+ in the morning, and she ended with a delightful little video of quail huddling an taking dust baths in her garden.

Carol Borstein spoke from my heart when she said: "Although ... California native plants are frequently grouped in a low or no maintenance category, this simplification is often inaccurate and misleading. Using slides from private and public gardens, Carol talked about plant choices and many other aspects of sustainable gardening. I plan on a separate post based on her excellent handout.

Paul Kephart's talk about Large-Scale Applications of Living Architecture was, to me, the most inspiring an thought provoking. He talked about several of the projects his company, Rana Creek, had completed. It gave me hope to hear that the biodiversity of both plant species and insect species on the roof of the Academy of Sciences is so great. It made me smile that school children get involved in monitoring the roof of their school in Hillsborough. And I was glad to hear that by collecting storm runoff, using graywater, placing solar panels that pump the water near green surfaces for better efficiency, Rana Creek actually manages to save some money while doing the sustainable thing. Everything seemed possibly when one listened to Paul, and I left smiling, grateful to the organizers who had made this possible,  and very much looking forward to a hot bath.


Christine said…
While I wish I could have been there, I'm thinking that Providence kept me from turning into a native plant enthusiast popsicle. I can't wait to read more about what you learned and I'm glad there were speakers from many perspectives.
Country Mouse said…
I'm so glad to read your excellent trip report! I'm stuck in book editing for another few weeks but will attempt a post before the weekend is out. I also enjoyed meeting so many people in our local native plant community - it was great fun to see some folk I haven't seen in a long time.
I really wanted to go, but our schedule has just been too crazy. Thanks for posting some highlights, and enduring the chills and cold! I'm going to have to hunt down that Zauschneria, as I definitely want to add some to the gardens this year for some later season blooms.
Chloe m said…
It is good you stayed to hear all of these speakers, it sounds like it was worth the suffering. It is good you have a blanket in your car. I always keep one in my car because I am always lugging potting soil, manure etc and put it down before so my car does not get too dirty. My blanket would have been smelly
It was good to read about what you learned. What a valuable experience!
ryan said…
Sounds like some good talks. All four of those afternoon speakers are ones I would like to hear. I always like construction photos, but I don't really see many of them at anywhere other than at people's talks.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad to hear about your trip. I recognized the names of some authors I especially like. I'm sure you're all energized now for Spring projects.
Right now, I'm enjoying Judith Larners book, 'The Landscaping Ideas of Jays' and I'm excited to read the Forbs post on her site you mentioned. The little spring bulbs are just now sending up their thin round stems, getting covered again and again by snow. Sturdy babies! Time for us all to walk in the woods and see what's there.
Brad said…
I'm glad you stuck it out. That first speaker's plant list is interesting. I don't mind floppy zauschneria so much, but I'm sure there are many who do. I'm curious about the other plants he rec'd. I'll have to check them out. And it sounds like the afternoon was great. Although we all do our own part, it's good to know there are people doing stuff on a larger scale.