by Charlene Burgi
Morning is my favorite time of day. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I head out to the front porch to take in all that nature provides. It is a time for me to dream, reflect and appreciate my surroundings. Lowing cattle, squirrel chatter, buzzing bees, quail calls and chirping birds fill the air that is music to my ears.
As I look around I think about what it took to draw these critters close to the house. There is always plenty of water available to attract wildlife. The native trees and chosen low-water plant material provide shelter and food for our furred and feathered friends. I also remind myself that the evolution of this front garden took time.
First, Jack constructed a waterfall and pond. This water feature provides water for birds and insects. The multi-level pond allows shallow places for birds to bathe as well as wet flat rocks for butterflies and dragonflies to rest upon while quenching their thirst. Squirrels, chipmunks and an occasional prairie dog have also discovered this to be a place to wet their whistles.
Native columbine, blue oat grass and iris were tucked into and around the natural rocks in the front garden. In time, and with careful consideration, we filled in open spaces with other plants such as manzanita, sage, catnip and lavender. We watched to be sure they would not be eaten by deer and rabbits or destroyed by freezing temperatures. The strategic planning of the front of the house accomplished its purpose—drawing nature closer to us.
I am a firm believer that gardens must evolve. Evolution must include keen observation that doesn’t happen overnight. With time, observing the land will reveal otherwise hidden information. For example, sun exposure at various times of year can influence such things as tree placement. Should a deciduous tree be chosen that welcomes the winter sun? Sun exposure is also critical in determining hydrozones. Where is it shady for the dry shade plants, and does that spot stay shady all year? Is the vegetable garden going to get enough sun, or will winter sun shade the area and inhibit a good environment for winter crops? Is there a natural wet area in the winter that requires plants that can withstand wet feet? Do evergreen trees need to be planted to block prevailing winds?
Before plants are even considered, there also needs to be an awareness of the lay of the land and the natural flow of rain water for proper drainage. This information can influence the success of our gardens. For example, in Lassen, we look at areas in the garden that will be impacted by snow sliding off the roof and potentially breaking plants below. We know those areas must be saved for plants like peonies or agastache that emerge from their roots every spring. The water from snowmelt must be considered and redirected away from the house and toward plants growing under the canopy of evergreen trees, where they otherwise might not get enough water. In Marin, rain gutters and downspouts are critical components for good drainage in the garden and should be included in one’s observations.
This morning, as I finished my cup of coffee, I walked into the backyard to check on the donkeys that were waiting for their morning meal. As I looked around I noted the blank canvas of the backyard waiting for the artists to begin creating our masterpiece. The evolution of this garden is soon to be underway. We have lived with it and observed the existing conditions. In time, this may be the new spot to enjoy an afternoon ice tea!
Do you already have an existing garden that needs help but aren’t sure what to do with it? Consider hiring a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper for the job. Or do you have a gardener that might appreciate gleaning more information about how to do the “right” thing in your garden to make it more water efficient? This coming month MMWD joins Sonoma County Water Agency to offer our Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) training program in Spanish. The FREE, three-week, seven-session course begins Tuesday, October 9, at Pickleweed Park in San Rafael. Please share this information with friends and family as well as your local gardener. Expanding their knowledge will benefit many gardens and contribute toward a healthier environment. Remember, gardens continue to evolve!