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California Native Plant PR

Thursday, August 04, 2005

September Los Feliz Ledger Column

Story of a Backyard Makeover, Part One

"My Dream Garden"
Birds bunk in Toyon
Lizards race through Red Buckwheat
Bees buzz about Black Sage

Last December, the yard of our new house held promise and that was about it. Loads of space and multiple levels inspired our minds to race with grand outdoor visions.

It would take some doing to get there, though. What was planted at the time foreshadowed future headaches. Menacing morning glory (Ipomoea indica) spanned at least five or six backyards, including ours. Pernicious periwinkle (Vinca minor) and invasive ivy (not sure of exact species, but it was relentless) were also in abundance.

These rapacious plants and their cohorts had to go, every last one of them. Nothing was even remotely native to California. It was a tangled mess and only got worse over the next few months.

Thanks to unusually heavy rains, what once looked slightly appealing was, come spring, smothering everything in its path.

We were determined to make it all disappear. So, as soon as the final drops of precipitation faded into memory, our team set out to show the post-winter jungle who was boss.

Three days and five guys with pickaxes later, only bare Earth remained (although our battle with morning glory, ivy and periwinkle – the unholy trinity – rages on). We could finally acquaint ourselves with the “bones” of our yard.

As fate would have it, the bones weren’t in good shape. But we weren’t about to let crumbling concrete, trip hazard sprinklers and stacks of stepping-stones stop us. Our dreams were driving this ship now.

We had long since abandoned the fantasy of a salmon run and a pond with a small beach for the dogs and agreed to get real. We needed to concoct a design that wouldn’t break the bank but would fulfill our needs.

The husband had modest requests. Space for a hammock and a small lawn for lying on with dogs and wife would make him happy. As for the rest, he trusted me to come up with something appealing to both of us.

My first priority was to incorporate native plants in a way that would entice both human and animal friend alike. I wanted to create a sanctuary. Since reading in Sunset magazine 2 1/2 years ago about The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, I knew it was something I’d eventually try. Our new yard was the perfect opportunity.

In keeping with the theme of giving back to nature, I was intrigued by rain gardens, a concept I learned about from Elizabeth Schwartz, my native plants teacher at UCLA Extension.

Rain gardens ingeniously reduce the amount of polluting runoff from homes by directing water to strategically placed indentations in one’s property. When done correctly, rain seeps into the water table and is filtered naturally instead of heading into streets, carrying with it pesticides, chemicals and other toxic substances into storm drains and ultimately, the ocean.

To create our own version of a rain garden, I decided we would have three dry creek beds to be fashioned out of much of our existing hardscape (which would help us fulfill other priorities – recycling and saving money). Two beds along the outer edges of the yard will serve to direct rain downward and into terraces (irrigating plants there). Whatever water is left will, in theory, be caught by the small lawn and third creek bed along the bottom edge of the yard and drain into the ground.

Armed with our best ideas, it was time to seek a like-minded landscape contractor. With determination, faith in a landscaping deity and good luck, we finally found someone in Los Feliz after a search that lasted about three months.

They begin major work on all hardscape areas in September. Ours is a tall order but I’ve been assured that everything should be ready by late fall – prime time to install natives. I’m good with that.

My next step is selecting just the right California natives and food plants (fruit trees, herbs and vegetables) to bring our dream garden to life and getting it certified as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat. More on that in part two coming next month.

For more about . . .
•Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program - check out the NWF website: http://www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat/.
•Rain Gardens - simply do a search on Google. It yields a huge amount of information.
•Native Plants and Rain Gardens – consider taking Elizabeth Schwartz’s classes (Gardening with California Native Plants I & II) through UCLA Extension: www.uclaextension.edu.