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.