by Charlene Burgi
Yellow, orange and white blossoms caught my eye recently while I was driving through an older neighborhood of Marin. The sight brought me back to my days in the nursery. This was the time of year jewels of color could be seen gracing the forsythia, spiraea, weiglia and flowering quince. This wisp of memory started me thinking about how our gardens have evolved and where that evolution is going.
Back in the day, large lawns denoted wealth. This concept carried over from our European forefathers. Large estates with acres of lush green lawns are still found in England today. The acres of lawns found in this region of the world also come with year-round rain that satisfies the irrigation needs of this thirsty vegetation. But I digress.
Country English gardens were a mainstay for many years. Waves of color filled flower beds of every hue. The French intense vegetable gardens were also trendy for some time as we crammed edible plants on top of each other for maximum yield in a small space. There was even a time we “gardened in a bag.” We were guaranteed edible crops by slitting the side of a two-cubic-foot bag of organic soil, adding vegetable plants and watering as needed. A great idea for someone with minimal space and a desire for the taste of home-grown tomatoes!
Grasses of all colors, shapes and sizes soon filled our gardens. The breeze blowing over some of these monocots mimicked the waves of our oceans. The trends were moving toward plants that did not require large amounts of water to sustain their existence. Splashes of color could be found in the plumes of many grasses, but some gardeners found that the seeds from those plumes spread by the wind to create an over-abundance of unwanted grasses that invaded their gardens and their neighbors’.
Where do I see the trend headed now? Natives. California native plants are finding their way into our gardens. The beauty from these survivors can be found along our creek banks and in our forests, plains and deserts. I am not suggesting that you dig them up when you see them, but pay attention to their growing environment. Are they in a cool damp place, or providing glorious color in the hot dry sun without any irrigation? Mirror this environment in your garden and invite some of these natives in. Who knows, they may have lived in that spot before your home was built! California natives won’t be as demanding as the lawn that needs to be mowed once a week and fed monthly to maintain the lush green we demand. The natives won’t require that we “dead head” spent flowers to keep them blooming, or replace short-lived perennials and annuals to keep the cottage look fresh. Native plants bring gifts of surviving without draining our reservoirs and providing color and nectar that feeds butterflies and other beneficial insects. In return, they ask that we don’t overwater or pamper them. They will survive as long as they are planted in conditions similar to how they live in the wild.
If you would like to learn more about California natives, note that the College of Marin is offering four classes on this subject in March taught by Charlotte Torgovitsky. Call to register at 457-8811 for class CRN #15103. If you cannot make those classes, we will be hosting our Bay-Friendly Gardening Basics class on February 26 in the large board room at Marin Municipal Water District from 9:00 a.m. – noon. We will touch lightly on natives that day. Additionally, we will have a class specifically on natives April 23 with our special guest Charlotte assisting with the curriculum that day! You can register for any or all of our Bay-Friendly classes here. See you then.