During this time of drought, people are bringing their attention back to the amount of water taken by a suburban sized yard. By the way, drought is a natural state here in California. I remember moving here in 1982 and being in the middle of a seven year drought. The ebb and flow of water in the state of California is its natural condition. No need to panic when there is drought if we already have in place a natural garden.
Having grown up in the Midwest where our large yards were green with grasses, trees and bushes aplenty, I understand the expectation of green in the suburban landscape. What isn’t valued is the fall and winter landscapes of lighter greens, golds and tans. Winter white is exceptionally beautiful and full of potential.
There is an emotional component, as well as a social one, of green being wealth and abundance. This wonderful imagery doesn’t have to be changed when living in different areas – our view of beauty and what defines green, does. In the West, we have a large variety of colors and hues all year round. If you take the time to look closely, the immense beauty lies in the subtlety. The less vibrant colors are peaceful and serve as the perfect background to the patches of brilliance that pop out in front. The whole effect is intoxicating to the soul.
Over the years, we have diligently created a garden that reflects the beauty, waterwise, and edible elements of a natural California landscape. Think about it, every spring you go up into the open space areas to absorb the lovely vistas of the native landscape at its best – full of spring foliage, bugs and life!
The naturalized garden has many advantages. One of them is the gorgeous, prolific green growth that appears each spring – without watering! People look around our garden admiringly and then ask, “Are you changing anything to cut back on water with the drought?” And we say emphatically, “No!” We have established a drought resistant garden many years ago. People just don’t recognize that it is drought tolerant.
When we first moved onto our property 16 years ago, there was one lonely California Poppy, one small patch of Miner’s lettuce and one Feverfew plant way in the back. We started by getting rid of all of the grass; then, we brought in chickens to give us eggs, eat the weeds that we don’t want and fertilize the land. We have filled the garden with flowering natives that attract and feed the birds, bees and butterflies. We spread the seeds of mustard, cleavers, mallow, wild fennel and other natural herbals that fill our bellies with healthy greens each spring without watering or planting.
With the use of wood chips (see my previous blog for more info), the soil is happier every year and requires less water, too. The plants are healthier and more abundant, especially the beneficial volunteer natives, and it’s easy to remove whatever doesn’t belong.
Let them go to seed and they will come back each year in new areas with delightful abandon. As a result, every year there are more of them spread around the yard, providing green foliage to host all the wonderful insects and spiders that serve us in the garden. Not to mention the amazing health benefits for us when we make spring greens broths. Now, each spring we are greeted with an abundant sprinkling of all of them throughout the garden. Nature’s design is gorgeous!
Many of the wildflowers have simply volunteered to join us. Feverfew, California poppy, Pacific peas, Vetch, and others that we don’t know the names of have created a lush beauty around the yard and our new pond. Many of these, I have seen on hikes in our surrounding open space. How delightful it is to wander around there in the spring. After 16 years, I feel that walking through my garden gives me the same benefit. Native wildflowers are popping up everywhere, gorgeous butterflies (hard to catch on camera, but I saw a light yellow swallowtail this year that was 2″ long!) and each year more lizards, snakes and newts.
I’ve found that there are so many beautiful natives. During hikes in the area, I make a mental note of a plant I enjoy and then research it, find a local plant person to buy it from and put it in my garden. One of my favorite places to find natives is Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville. What have I planted? Yarrow, all kinds of sages, mugwort, milkweed (the monarch’s home plant), penstemons, and more! Some people worry about plants like mugwort that will spread when happy. Natives that are accustomed to a limited amount of water can definitely become difficult if given too much water. Some of them will actually die out because they don’t like it. Others will thrive and spread too much.
I find that if I give plenty of water until the plant is established, then nature will take care of the rest. Many natives I only water once a week or less even when the weather is hot.
Every year, I see new volunteers in the yard somewhere that I have seen while hiking in the hills around us. This year, I found the wonderful pineapple chamomile that sends up the loveliest scent when stepped on. It tends to grow on the trail and is impossible to avoid! It’s currently growing in my driveway. Who’d a thought?
Since eating our yard is a favorite activity, I am always on the lookout for edible natives. I’ve mentioned a few above, but one of my favorites is the Bay laurel tree. I keep mine in a pot so it doesn’t get huge. Of course, many herbs will naturalize in the garden, too.
Plant them, let them go to seed and they will come back for you year after year! One of the herbs I like to allow to naturalize in my garden is Calendula.
Calendula provides winter color and will pop up in unexpected places to show its happy face. Even in the spring when it is starting to die back and go to seed, its beauty is out of this world! If we accustom ourselves to seeing all stages of the plant’s life as having a natural beauty, then the garden will look good in our eyes all year long. Green is not the only color in the palette of nature. The huge array of colors and their varying shades are apparent throughout the year. So, walk slowly through the world. Open your eyes and look closely to see and appreciate the wondrous hues of nature.