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  • October 15th, 2007 | 8:43 AM
Blog Action Day - native plants

Today is Blog Action Day, a single day in which bloggers all over the world post on the same topic. This year the topic is the environment. 

I can't write unless I am comfortable in my environment. Sure, to an extent that means I need a comfy chair and an ergonomic set-up for typing. But to me it means more than that, it means that I have to be happy in my surroundings. Some of that is inside and some of it is outside. I'm an introvert so I get my energy from my time alone. My home is comfortable, cozy, filled with books in just about every room. It's a good environment for my writer self. 

I also love the outdoors and get energy from driving along the backroads in Santa Cruz amongst the redwoods and ferns. It is both soothing and energizing at the same time. In the last house we rented we wanted to try to replicate that same "back to nature" feeling in our yard. We didn't own the place so there were limits to what we could do. We decided to start small and practice for a time when we had a home of our own. There was a sideyard that used to be used for RV storage - translation: It was dead, not even any weeds growing there and packed down hard as cement. It looked like this:

My husband had majored in enviormental issues (as well as politics and economics) and suggested we look into California Native Plants. 

Native plants are, as you might expect, plants that grew in your area long before civilization arrived. They co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships and are the foundation of our native ecosystems, or natural communities. And here's the thing, a native plant garden is so much easier to take care of than a traditional garden. If you plant the right plants for your area they will improve the soil, send down deep roots that will be able to deal with your natural waterfall (or lack of in my case here in California) and they will encourage the reappearance of native wildlife from bugs to butterflies to birds and more.

There are some plants that are the sole food for native wildlife. In California, our state insect is the Dogface butterfly. Sadly many people will never see one because larvae of the Dogface buttefly feed almost solely on the California Native plant False indigo. This plant is on the endangered species list maintained by the California Native Plant Society.

So with just a little bit of research I was hooked on the idea of taking our barren sideyard and using it as an experimental California Native plant garden. We took a trip to Native Revival in Aptos and spent several weekends digging holes and planting plants. After 3 weeks we ended up with this, already an improvement over the bare, dead dirt.

We didn't put in a sprinkler system because the idea was to see how the garden would do if we left it to Mother Nature. We followed the nursery's suggestions to water the holes well when we planted, to water once a week for the first month, and to mulch heavily. Then we mostly left it alone. And one year later, with no extra water, no fertilizer, no supplements at all, we had this:

It's safe to say that I have been converted to the idea of using Native Plants as much as possible. The yard was always full of wildlife activity even though we lived in the middle of the city, three houses from the freeway. Neighbors with a bird bath told us they had never, in 45 years of living there, seen as many different birds in their yard as they had after we planted our native plants. We left that garden behind earlier this year when we moved but I'd like to think we gave a little back to the environment by improving that patch of bare dirt.

We bought a house this year and a few weeks ago we had everything ripped out of the backyard except for a single tree and the grass. The grass will be going too but not yet. We put up a new fence and are busy working with the Native Plant designer, (Pete at East Bay Wilds) planning our new yard which will be filled as many Native Plants as possible. 

Pete can't promise me a Dogfaced butterfly but he has promised to help me improve my environment which will, in turn, improve my writing.

There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 26 comments — Leave comment )
October 15th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
That is amazing! What a transformation!

Thanks for sharing that gorgeous garden.
October 15th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
Re: wow!
Thanks Barbara. We were really impressed with how quickly everything filled in and how lush it became with so little attention. I'd love to see what it looks like now.
October 15th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful transformation - you restored that little nook of the world exactly to what it was supposed to be before it was an RV parking space!
October 15th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you. It was really exciting to see it come to life. I can't wait to attack our new yard on a much larger scale.
(Deleted comment)
October 15th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I think the metaphor for writing, for me, is that we already have everything we need to have in order to succeed. We don't need anything else. Native plants bloom because it's in their genetic makeup. Writers can bloom just as brightly if we are only true to ourselves.
October 15th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
Oh my, how lovely! I especially like that the first picture actually looks doable.
October 15th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
Doable was a big part of it for us. We even had a little "practice" pond in there. Now we have more confidence for taking on the big yard.
October 15th, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
ahhhh choooo
looks lovely. we should look into that, it makes perfect sense!
October 15th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
It really does make a lot of sense to work WITH nature. And there can be amazing results.
October 15th, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous! It just shows how much difference one person, or in this case, two can make!
October 15th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It doesn't take much, not really, to make a difference.
October 15th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for sharing this, Susan. You truly did create a little piece of beauty in the world.

You inspired me to post about the environment, too.
October 15th, 2007 05:43 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah!!! I'll forward to reading your post.
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October 15th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Oh no - gardenless would be heartbreaking for me. I hope you are in a place you can enjoy in some fashion. the house we were renting was a huge HUGE lot and all I could think of was what we could do with native plants. This new house, while it is OURS, has a very tiny yard so it is really going to be a challenge.
October 15th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
Loved seeing the transformation. What a difference! Please come to my house and plant something :) . . .
October 15th, 2007 06:34 pm (UTC)
Your garden is eco-smart AND it ROCKS!!!!
October 15th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks. You know when we moved, we actually took a bunch of the rocks with us. The guys helping us move thought we were crazy but dang it, rocks are expensive! :-)
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October 15th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks Laura. Hopefully I won't jinx it by saying "You ain't seen nothing yet." :-)
October 15th, 2007 08:23 pm (UTC)
WOW! that's really inspiring. Just beautiful.
October 15th, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I wonder if the people who live there now kept it? I hope so.
(Deleted comment)
October 15th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
October 16th, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)
I can't tell you how much I loved this post and the photos. You've inspired me!
October 16th, 2007 02:43 am (UTC)
Very, very nice Susan. Reminds me of Texas! But you're in Cali, right?

I considered doing native plants in my backyard once. That was until I visited the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, and saw a Texas-sized, wild spider, I assumed attracted by native plants. It was yellow. And I changed my mind.

(Deleted comment)
October 16th, 2007 04:19 am (UTC)
You're very welcome. Hope you got a little smile out of it.
October 16th, 2007 04:31 am (UTC)
Wow!! Very cool!
October 16th, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
these are so beautiful. i love native gardening- it makes so much sense...
( 26 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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