An Oak Woodland Garden in Novato

An Oak Woodland Garden in Novato

By Charlotte Torgovitsky

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We live on Cherry Hill, a spur of Mt. Burdell that reaches out towards Deer Island. Our property is on the south facing slope, 225 feet above the wetlands that surround the island and Novato Creek. The woodlands are an interesting, hybridizing mix of Coast Live Oak, Blue Oak, and Oregon Oak; on the north slope of the hill there are also Black Oaks, Madrone and beautiful old drifts of California Fescue. Manzanitas grow on the crest of the hill in the sunnier places.

Next to our two acre property is about 50 acres of wildlands, including a meadow. Much of the land surrounding our home was used to graze cattle in the days of the Black Point Creamery; many of the typical oak understory shrubs are gone, but the meadow is still dominated by Purple Needle Grass. During the rainy season lots of other native plants show themselves amongst the meadow grasses; Ground Iris, Soap Lily, Blue-eyed Grass, Buttercups, Milkmaids, as well as a number of flowering bulbs such as Blue Dicks, Ithuriel’s Spear and Mariposa Lilies.

I love the setting, living next to open space, and all the wild animals; I’ve seen coyote, bobcats, and gray foxes, lots of birds of all sorts, and of course, the deer live here, too. Lizards and tree-frogs populate my garden and find lots of hiding places in the dry-stacked stone walls. Because of the proximity of wild land I’ve been careful to avoid including potentially invasive non-natives plants in my garden. The main intent of my gardening activities has been to re-introduce a natural bio-diversity, and thereby also enhancing the foraging opportunities in order to bring nature closer to home.

Native plants are the best at providing for native creatures since they co-evolved, and life cycles are closely aligned. My front garden border is about 70% native plants and 30% drought-tolerant Mediterranean species that help extend the season of bloom through every month of the year. Plantings under the native oaks are strictly natives; and once established get no water other than the rain.

Photos by Bob and Mieko Watkins