Going Native Garden Tour - A Visitor's View

This year, after requests for it for several years, we finally had a two-day garden tour. My garden was on tour on Saturday, and it was a great experience. Wonderful volunteers (including Mr. Mouse and Ms. Country Mouse), thoughtful questions from the visitors (mostly).

Then, on Sunday, I had the rare opportunity to be a visitor to some gardens. Ms. Country Mouse and I decided to focus on two gardens, both amazing and a little off the beaten track. In the first garden, we had the great pleasure to attend a book talk by Helen Popper and we were amazed to see how much biodiversity can be available in a very small garden.

Bucking the current trend in garden design to use ten species and repeat them (preferably at right angles), the owner and designer had created a pollinator paradise with annuals and grasses, several different vines, and well chosen foundation shrubs and small trees. The garden included a Franciscan manzanita and three California buckeye. And I especially enjoyed the many small paths that allowed easy access to the planting, both for weeding and for a closer look.

Visiting the garden made me rethink the amount of hardscaping I have in my garden - who knows, maybe this will be the inspiration to take out a little more of the many square feet of aggregate.

The second garden was on a much larger scale with a house on a one acre lot, surrounded by interesting combinations of plants and a very large number of Ceanothus. It was amazing to see how large Fremontodendron, Lavatera, and Galvezia speciosa will get if you let then - and how beautiful they look unconstrained and at mature size.

But most impressive were the ceanothus. Light blue to a very rich, dark shade of blue, large flower clusters and gracefully elongated clusters like the ceanothus from San Diego county below.

 We learned a lot from the owner who told the story of the conversion from blank subsoil to simple drought tolerant plantings to a native plant paradise, without  irrigation (except for some handwatering in the first year).  

With all that beauty, you might think I came home elated and excited. But here's the catch. In my own neighborhood, I've gotten used to my neighbors' preference for smallish pieces of lawn surrounded by knockout roses, rosemary, and other more or less drought tolerant plantings. I know that most of my neighbors are too busy to get involved with their gardens - between kids, dogs, cats, jobs, and sometimes parents, it's just not possible for them to find the time. But seeing other native plant gardens at their peak, beautiful and inviting, and seeing the same pattern of a total lack of neighborhood participation made me sad. One neighbor across the ceanothus garden had turned on the sprinklers on his huge lawn - was it to force visitors to not park at the curb in front of his house? One of the neighbors of the biodiversity showcase had completely paved over every last inch of his sizable front garden. 

I feel fortunate that several of my neighbors came by to see my garden, and one of them even bought quite a few plants. But now I'm worried that she'll stick them in the ground and forget about them - and that she'll never look at a native plant again after that. So I'm wondering what we can do to get the word out about how little it takes, how great the rewards can be, and how important gardening with natives is for us, our children, and our planet. 


Anonymous said…
Great pictures!

I suspect that the best way to get people interested in native plant gardening is to draw them in with a tour like this (as you did with your neighbor) and then send them home with very detailed information sheets about the plants they buy or express interest in. I think one of the big selling points of native plants is that you can get a more specific idea of whether they'll do well in your particular spot than you can usually get with non-native plants. With natives, you can look up detailed range maps, ecosystem types, and even lists of specific plants that most commonly grow with one another. With non-natives, all you get is a USDA zone and a rather vague label about whether the plant needs a lot of water or a little water, a lot of sun or a little sun.
I'm finding that being willing to mentor those that are interested in incorporating native plants into their landscapes can really help to inspire them, as does planting them in your own garden and being willing to offer 'tours', even if they're not as organized as the GNGT. Follow up is important though, even something as simple as 'how is that Ceanothus, or Epilobium doing for you?' My neighbor's garden was primarily water-hogging roses, and rhododendrons when I moved in, but now, after seeing what we're trying to accomplish here, she's become much more excited about the native plantings. When I have time, I often offer to go to the nurseries with her when she's sourcing new plants to help her select those best suited to where she wants to plant them, and I really enjoy it. I'm sure she'll never remove the Rhodies or the roses, but she's genuinely enjoying what the native plants can bring to her garden.
Brent said…
I was involved with a project called One Pot At A Time that gave wildflower seeds for free to interested gardeners along with instructions for planting in a pot. They asked that you return seed at the end of the project as payment.

This is the type of project that might give beginners an interest in natives. Even if they didn't collect and return some seeds, then some might escape back into the wild anyway.

I thought it was clever.
James said…
Sounds like a great weekend, and it sounds like my weekend coming up, when I get to help docent a residential garden on Saturday and get to take in some gardens on Sunday. I learn so much in talking to owners of gardens and it looked like some of their excitement rubbed off on you--and even your neighbor! Was that San Diego ceanothus a C. cyaneus? Mature plants of that species are some of the most spectacular of that genus. That would stir excitement in even the most hardened visitor.
Country Mouse said…
Mentoring and providing a lot of info, but in small doses is good. I have a neighbor that is interested also and I guess you could say I am mentoring them. My comment is really the follow up post that - um. follows.