{igallery id=3859|cid=129|pid=1|type=category|children=0|addlinks=0|tags=|limit=0}

We have a young garden, and a big chunk of it used to be a driveway.The lot is about an acre, fully exposed to sun and wind, and has clay soil that was compacted by heavy trucks and machinery. The rather steep hill behind the house has looser soil and backs into open space (mostly willows). The neighbor on our left has a few oak trees (Quercus agrifolia), and the neighbor on our right has a mix of native (silk tassel, manzanita, wax myrtle, and ceanothus) and nonnativeshrubs. We also have a fair-sized vegetable garden in raised beds, and we are positively organic. Most of our acre garden is planted with sun-loving, drought tolerant natives with some (about 20%) noninvasive nonnatives. We have no irrigation system aside from hoses and the many buckets of grey water that we save after washing dishes or vegetables.

We started with small steps. We got rid of plants that were sickly or invasive. We fenced off half the property, leaving the half facing the road open, and I started sheet mulching like mad. Since my husband didn’t want to cover the entire yard with wood chips, we compromised and I used a mulch-like compost. I put down 2-3 layers of cardboard with 5-6 inches of compost on top. I am aware that most of the natives in our area prefer a lean soil, but the soil around our house was so damaged that that I decided that compost would be okay. I did not sheet mulch the hillside, however; I just cleared away the weeds and planted into unamended soil. Once the rainy season started, I successively sowed various native wildflowers. Suddenly we had brilliant beds of color, and the place was alive with insects and birds! My neighbors told me that they had to add another tray to their beehive, and other neighbors started to comment on the garden. They wanted to know what I was growing and where I got the seed and could they collect some seed from my garden.

This was great until the wildflower season ended and we were left with bare soil again. That’s when I started planting shrubs. Because I wanted to connect our garden with the gardens around us, I chose many of the same plants that were growing in our neighbors’ gardens.The first plant I put in was a Ceanothus thyrsiflorus that a friend gave to me. That was not quite five years ago, and since then we’ve changed the layout of the yard so that (we hope) it doesn’t resemble a driveway anymore, put in a dry stacked stone wall, and experimented with plants. Thanks to our thriving gopher population, most of the plants go into gopher cages; and most of the plants are slow-growing shrubs that are still pretty small. I am constantly editing the garden: putting in more of this, taking out all of that, creating new beds. Since these shrubs need years to reach full size, I also planted various native perennials, coyote bushes, native wildflowers, and some drought-tolerant nonnative plants around the shrubs to create protective microclimates.

A few years ago I planted one Asclepius fascicularis and I was amazed to see a single monarch butter.y come from out of nowhere to find the milkweed just as I was firming the soil around the plant. Now the air is crazy with monarchs and the plants are full of caterpillars. The quail love the Calandrinia seed. This year I heard spotted towhees in the front garden where the shrubs are now big enough to hide their nests. The back garden is still open enough to attract flocks of western blue birds. For the first time, a couple of them made a nest in our blue-bird house and raised a family. We also found mason bee nests in the pegs of our umbrella stand, which inspired my husband to build a mason bee house. We can’t wait for next spring when the bees arrive! Lots of my human neighbors stop by as well when I’m working in the front garden. Sometimes we talk about native plants, but other times we just chat about whatever comes to mind. We are creating community.

Plant list