Chapter Meeting – October 9, 2023

Chapter Meeting – October 9, 2023

“Wildscaping for Songbirds”

Guest Speaker: Veronica Bowers

Monday, October 9, 2023 7:30 pm

Your garden is your outdoor sanctuary. With some careful plant choices, it can be a haven for native birds as well. Landscaped with native species, your yard, patio, or balcony becomes    vital recharge station for migratory birds passing through and a sanctuary for nesting and overwintering birds.bird house

Each patch of restored native habitat is just that – a patch in the frayed fabric of the ecosystem in which it lies. By landscaping, or wildscaping, with native plants, we can turn a patchwork of green spaces into a quilt of restored habitat. More native plants mean more choices of food and shelter for native birds, native pollinators and other wildlife.

Wildscaping for Songbirds will demonstrate the importance of restoring nature in our communities, one garden patch at a time. From a birds-eye view, learn how to create wildlife-friendly gardens that help combat the loss of open spaces and create green corridors that link your wildscape to larger natural areas by providing habitat for songbirds and supporting biodiversity.

About the speaker:

Veronica Bowers is the director and founder of Native Songbird Care and Conservation(NSCC). Located in Sebastopol, California, NSCC is a state and federally permitted wildlife rehabilitation facility devoted exclusively to the care of native passerines. Native Songbird Care & Conservation cares for approximately 1,000 songbirds each year.

LogoVeronica has a passion for songbirds and has been working exclusively with this diverse and challenging group of wildlife since 1999. Veronica became an accidental gardener nearly 18 years ago when she began learning about the vital connection between our native plants and native songbirds. Since then she has fallen in love with native plants and has created the Songbird Sanctuary Gardens on the grounds of Native Songbird Care & Conservation. The gardens include 1.5 acres of songbird habitat comprised mostly of native plants and support over 70 species of songbirds throughout the year.


Why Garden with Natives

Why Garden with Natives

California Natives are adapted to our climate and soils

California native plants evolved over thousands of years in our soils and climate.  California has one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth.  These range from seashore to high mountain top; from coastal areas with a temperate Mediterranean climate to deserts with dramatic temperature extremes including some of the hottest on earth.

Natives are beautiful

DL-meadow-smallClarkia in a Native Garden


California native plants can create a garden that is every bit as beautiful as one populated with exotic plants from faraway places.  And native plants can be combined with other common garden flowers and shrubs.  However, a garden in which California natives predominate is hard to beat for natural beauty.  Our local natives, many with green, gray and silver foliage, provide a restful and tranquil quality to the garden.  But if you want bright color, local natives such as California fuchsia (Epilobium canum),  California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Clarkia will knock your eyes out.



 Reduce water usage

One of the myths about California native plants is that all are drought tolerant.  Many are, but the diverse plant habitats in California include riparian, wetlands and bogs, with plants that need regular water.  By using some of the many California natives that are drought-tolerant, you may be able to significantly reduce your water use.

Reduce maintenance and reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticides

It is another myth that California native plants in the garden need virtually no maintenance.  While some are maintenance free, most require some periodic attention such as weeding, pruning, and checking irrigation.  But being adapted to California soils, most need little or no fertilizer.  And because native vegetation attracts lots of good bugs you are much more likely to be able to rely on nature’s balance for control of insect pests rather than resorting to pesticides.

Increase biodiversity

Biodiversity is increasingly recognized as the key to a healthy planet.  By developing, paving over and building on huge swaths of formerly pristine land, we have set in motion an unprecedented threat of extinction for not only many plants, but also birds, butterflies, bees and larger animals.

Bumble-Bee-BuckwheatNative Bumblebee on Native Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)Native gardens can play an important role in maintaining and expanding biodiversity.  Scientists have found that in urban and suburban gardens native plants are much more effective than exotic plants in supporting biodiversity.   Plants and insects, which are at the bottom of the food chain, are the foundation of all other biodiversity.  California native plants and insects have coevolved and are the food source for local butterflies and birds.  Most insects are “plant specialists” and can’t survive on exotic plants.  For example, research by Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, found that native plants in gardens, in comparison to exotic garden plants, produced four times the insect biomass, three times as many insect species and 35 times more caterpillar biomass  (D. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press 2007)).  This is the food chain and source of biodiversity that is missing in gardens that use only exotic plants.  Another example closer to home: Gordon Frankie, a bee researcher at UC Berkeley, has found that many California native plants are highly attractive to local bees; see Best Bee Plants for California.

 Attract Wildlife

One of the great joys of gardening with native plants is observing the critters that are attracted throughout the year.  Our Marin native gardeners report that their gardens are focal points for birds, bees and butterflies.

Why Garden with Natives

A Southern Marin Native Plant Garden

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The theme of this virtually 100% California native hillside garden is the wealth of garden-worthy native plants local to Marin County that can create a beautiful and diverse garden landscape. The vast majority of the approximately 200 species of plants in this garden are California natives that grow in the wild in Marin County.  The garden is sectioned into different habitats that include riparian/woodland slope, coastal shrub, dry meadow, brushy meadow, hedgerow and chaparral.

•    Attracts Pollinators and Birds – One of the joys of the native garden is the return of beneficial insects and bees.  With the huge and sudden decline of European honeybee pollinators, California native bees are the pollinators of last resort.  Native bees flourish among the wide variety of flowering plants in this garden.  A variety of butterflies visits the garden for nectar and larval plants.  Insects, nectar, seeds, berries and protective cover also attract a variety of birds, including Bewick’s wrens, scrub jays, ruby-crowned kinglets, juncos, towhees, golden-crowned sparrows and Anna’s Hummingbirds.

•    Woodland Slope – A dry creek bed and path wander down the slope among California currant, scarlet monkey flower, red twig dog wood, creambush, elk’s clover, salal, California myrtle, solomon’s seal, coastal irises and a variety of ferns and Spring ephemerals are among the many native riparian plants found in this area.

•    Dry Meadow – A dry meadow features drought tolerant grasses, perennials and a few shrubs. It also features a variety of annual wildflowers that are sown annually to supplement those that reseeded from the previous year.  Most showy are the clarkias that come in many shades of pink and red.

•    Hedgerow – One side of the garden is planted with large native shrubs that form a hedgerow that provides cover for birds.

•    Declining Water Use – Grouping plants by habitat results in more efficient irrigation and lower water usage. Plants in the most drought tolerant zones receive no supplemental water after they are established. Drip irrigation is used throughout the garden except for the dry meadow.  Plants in the chaparral and hedgerow areas have been completely weaned off of irrigation.

•    Virtually No Fertilizers or Soil Amendments – Because most California natives are happiest without much fertilizer and soil amendments, this garden uses no continuing applications of fertilizer.  During planting only a small amount of soil amendment was worked into the soil to lighten up the clay/chert soil and a small amount of organic fertilizer was added.

•     No Pesticides or Fungicides – California natives are adapted to surviving and, if happy, thriving in Marin without pesticides and fungicides.  The variety of plants and habitats in this garden attract a large variety of beneficial insects and birds that maintain a natural balance in the garden. Nature is allowed to take its course rather than resorting to chemical warfare, and nature’s course in this varied ecosystem has favored this benign neglect.

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