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California Native Plant PR

Saturday, October 08, 2005

October Los Feliz Ledger Column - Blog Version*

Story of a Backyard Makeover – Part Two

[*Note: The version that was published in the October Ledger was incomplete and had a type-o in the paragraph about garden intruders.]

Plant selection for a new garden can be a little daunting, especially when you’re starting with a blank slate, as my husband and I are. We’ve cleared out the invasive plants, started work on the “hardscape” (everything in the garden other than plants) and now look out at bare dirt every day.

At this point, there are so many color, size and shape possibilities that I am a bit overwhelmed—like a kid in a candy store.
Comfort comes in reminding myself that the palette will ultimately be revealed as I plod through the process in a logical, methodical fashion I call “conscious gardening.” Those of you who have read this blog before might remember the concept.

“Conscious gardening” draws on basic landscape design principles but tosses in some ecological correctness for good measure. It achieves optimum results by working backwards from immediately identifiable factors. These include— direction the garden faces; potentially problematic vertical obstructions; slopes that need stabilization; soil type and drainage; garden intruders like dogs, cats, coyotes and other critters; existing plants that will affect new ones; dimensions of your planting areas and your ultimate goals for the garden.

An additional, equally important aspect of conscious gardening is the inclusion of plants from the local plant community (group of plants that grow naturally in the area).

The first things I look at are sun exposure and existing plants. Our yard faces east, so it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. There are three medium-sized trees that will partially block sunlight from new plants in the summer. Two of the trees are deciduous, allowing more sun through their bare branches in winter. The plants that make it onto my short list will have to be comfortable with a daily dose of part sun and part shade.

Next, I look to the soil. Upon close inspection, I discovered it is a mixture of sand, clay and maybe a little loam (a mixture of clay, sand and silt). To determine drainage, I dug a hole (the Sunset Western Garden Book recommends that it be two feet deep and two feet wide for an accurate read), filled it with water and waited to see how fast it drained. I did this two times and discovered it took less than an hour the second time. That tells me I’ll need to select native plants that grow naturally in well-drained soil.

As for garden intruders, our three bounding hounds claim the yard during the day and uninvited guests arrive at night - stray cats and wandering coyotes capable of leaping over our six-foot fences. Sturdier plants will be selected to increase survival rates in case of trampling, and we’ll likely construct a few enclosures to protect more vulnerable plants for the same reason.

We have no vertical obstructions, save for a few unsightly overhead power lines that won’t hinder the growth of new plants.

Our hillside was long ago stabilized with terracing (dividing the hill into multiple levels or tiers). To make the terrace walls more aesthetically pleasing, I’ll select plants that will trail down for a waterfall effect. Remaining slopes will be kept intact by native groundcovers with deep root systems and foliage that isn’t too heavy (never use shallow rooted succulent ground cover such as iceplant – not only is it invasive, but it pulls down hillsides and advances erosion - this is a problem on beaches throughout California, where iceplant is destroying dune systems). I’ll also include some native shrubs with multiple-branching habits. This is great for stabilization.

Dimensions of our planting areas still have to be determined. Knowing their exact sizes and mature width of the plants I’m considering will narrow down my list even more and dictate the amount I’ll order.

Throughout my conscious gardening process, I’ll stay mindful that I want to create a backyard wildlife habitat and check the requirements for certification (at: www.nwf.org).

And finally, the majority of the plants I will select are local to Los Feliz, part of the Coastal Sage Scrub plant community.

After all of the above information is compiled, I can begin my search for appropriate plants. Some favorite resources are the Sunset Western Garden Book, Native Landscaping from El Paso to LA by Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski and the Las Pilitas Nursery website (www.laspilitas.com). I’ll also attend lectures and peruse nurseries and plant sales.

Shopping and researching is the fun part but it’s also when I have to be flexible because the places I go to buy plants may not have everything on my list. A few backup ideas will come in handy.


  • This writer is a genius!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:34 PM  

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