by Charlene Burgi
This week found me at our cabin located far into the mountainous regions of Lake County. Three tiny cabins sit in the midst of an oak, fir and pine woodland. Manzanita fills in the voids between the trunks of the trees. During the spring months, dogwoods make their presence known as their white blossoms peek through various clearings as if shyly introducing themselves to the lucky person hiking by. Occasionally the sky-blue flowers of Ceanothus present themselves, and various wildflowers pop up randomly along the shaded hillside.
Along seasonal creeks in the heat of summer, one can happen across the fragrant Calycanthus, otherwise known as spice bush. Its scent typically captures your attention before you spot the rusty maroon flower on this glossy green shrub. Aside from this treat, during this time of year the hillside remains flowerless.
What lacks in flower color is gained elsewhere. Beneficial insects seem to thrive here despite what appears to my undiscerning eye as a lack of food source. Butterflies flit about the cabin decorating the air with their bright-colored wings. Occasionally, a dragonfly appears with its iridescent blue body and gossamer wings that catch the eye. It makes me wonder what I am missing that sustains these beauties. Mosquitoes are found in abundance and serve as a marvelous food source for bats that dart through the evening skies. Pileated woodpeckers are heard hammering away on some bore-infested pine tree.
Nature here is breathtaking. Hot summer months don’t seem to affect the native plants and beneficial insects that thrive here. It makes me wonder why more of us don’t plant native gardens. Drip systems, controllers and spray heads are an unspoken foreign language. The mulch is not from a local store but composed of fallen oak leaves from years past that protect the roots from drying out in the hot sun. Seeds from the oaks, fir and pines take a firm hold in the rich loam that has built over centuries.
This truly is a native garden. The plants here are indigenous to this mountain. It is not studded with the sages, pines and juniper of Northeastern California, or the drifts of California poppies and lupine found in the open foothills along the Pacific coast—or indeed on the valley floor only miles away. The microclimate here has created its own hydrozone that is unique to this soil type, this region of heat and cold, this exposure to sun and shade and annual drought that comes every May and lasts through late fall.
I am curious: Why don’t more of us grow indigenous gardens? Is it a lack of awareness of what grows naturally in our surroundings? Have you taken a ride up to MMWD’s Mt. Tamalpais Watershed recently? The “landscaping” there is equally as beautiful and as indigenous as this little slice of heaven further north. The trails are fabulous for hiking, wildlife abounds, and plants that are similar to those found here also thrive on the watershed. In fact, there is a far more diverse palette of native plants on the watershed. It is a great place to look for ideas about what grows locally (obviously, though, “take nothing but pictures”).
Consider creating a truly indigenous native garden for your landscaping. I guarantee the maintenance to be minimal and water savings to be great! I bet you could easily save 20 gallons of water a day during the summer with that type of landscaping!