Inspiration from an unexpected source

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?
On the ridge where we live, an artificial dry creek bed is the best I can do. I'm not sure where the fundraiser venue's ponds came from - I should have asked. They have a few large ones. But it has to be said: my garden has a long way to go to reach the decorative qualities of the fundraiser venue.

Do you like One? - Fundraiser venue has - Color! Texture! Variety!

Or Two? - Country Mouse native garden. 
I do have some color in my garden - here are golden rod and seaside daisy, and I'm working on texture and variety. See the recycled fake fireplace rock path in the top left? But I have to say, the fundraiser venue's landscaping had a strong pull on my emotions.

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? 
One is definitely prettier. But are those Santa Barbara daisies in the foreground of choice One?

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.
 I've been working on my woodland areas this year. I think next year they will be really burgeoning. Here are sedges, blackcurrant, redwood sorrel, Indian lettuce, and Fernald's iris.

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.

My grandson, learning to do a bit of weeding, at the fundraiser venue, which has beautiful stonework, paths and walls, throughout. The weed between these pavings is ubiquitous in our region - in gardens anyway. I struggle with it every year, and it seems to be less every year - but it still persists. Here it's being allowed to grow like a ground cover. Unfortunately it won't stay within the paved path area.

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).


Diana Studer said…
at first I thought the landscaping was AT the pre-school. It would be truly sad to teach small children that - ponds and lawns and invasives and dry bird baths - are the right and pretty way in a drought.
Town Mouse said…
Interesting how at times we are so drawn to the green lawns and fairly conventional aesthetic. I find that many of my friends primarily care about having lots of colorful flowers - no matter the environmental cost.

However, with the Going Native Garden Tour not too far in the past, I can say with confidence that it's possible to have the best of both worlds - great design that is environmentally responsible and encourages biodiversity. This marriage of the best of both words is what we can all shoot for - and I think you're well on your way!
ryan said…
The fundraising venue looks old-fashioned to my eyes, but most of the elements were considered okay at the time the garden was created. I see a ton of habitat value in the fundraising garden -- mature trees and shrubs and that pond is nature's most valued resource, a year-round source of fresh water. I'd like to see them reduce the sizes of the lawns and spend some of their maintenance time weeding in the woodland areas, but I think it's great that the owners realize that there is value in providing habitat, even if they might not be meeting my highest standard.
Country Mouse said…
Ryan, you are right to call me on this - sometimes I focus on the negative! Thanks for the reminder.