Community Spotlights

The Native Garden: Conserving Resources with Hardy Species

March 24, 2014

Author: Rainy Hake, Executive Vice President, Alain Pinel Realtors
This article ran in the March 21st, 2014 Palo Alto Daily News publication Premier Homes, pg 10. An old song proclaims that it never rains in southern California; some years, it doesn’t rain in the north, either. Or snow, for that matter. With the effects of the recent drought creating a need for water-rationing measures, and with both mandatory and voluntary water restrictions already in place, many gardeners are looking ahead, wondering how to adapt to anticipated conditions.
According to Rebecca Jepsen, an Alain Pinel Realtors sales professional and certified Santa Clara Master Gardener, now is the time to rethink your garden and landscape. With the Bay Area at only 39% of normal rainfall, it is critically important to decide where to allocate the extremely limited supply of water.
In the past 20 years, planting native species in gardens has come into vogue as both an ecologically and economically sound practice; replacing entire lawns is also gaining popularity. A native plant is defined as one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention, and includes everything from mosses and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California is home to multitudes of native plants: some 6,500 species, subspecies, and varieties of plants occur naturally within the state. These native plants are uniquely suited to withstand California growing conditions – including extended dry spells. Many California native plants, once established, require little watering beyond natural rainfall.
For a great native habitat garden, Jepsen recommends adding ceanothus, manzanita, toyon, ribes (currant), hollyleaf cherry, monkey flower (Mimulus), coast aster, godetias, lilies, buckwheat, crabapples, and California poppy.
In addition to being drought-resistant, the benefits of planting native species are numerous. Native plants attract pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. An essential ingredient in the food chain, facilitating pollination can positively impact local fruit and vegetable yields, while supporting and growing the population of these vital pollinators, whose numbers have been on the decline in recent years.
Once established, native plants are low maintenance.  While it’s impossible to escape weeding and watering altogether, native plants will require less pruning and grooming overall.  Because native species evolved alongside local predators, the plants developed an innate resistance to these pests; when native plants are grown in appropriate conditions, they require little or no fertilizer or pesticides.
Native species can also help defend against invasive species taking hold.  Non-native, or exotic species are considered invasive when, due to a lack of predator in an ecosystem, they are able to outcompete native species, disrupting important ecosystem processes. In the Bay Area, colorful choices like Scarlet wisteria, and Periwinkle are considered invasive – having been introduced as ornamental, over time, these plants escaped the garden and became established in wild habitat.  This causes harm in myriad ways, among them depleting precious soil and water resources, creating a higher risk of wildfire, and, by not holding soil well, making land more prone to erosion.
Making the switch to a native garden can seem daunting, but determining the characteristics of the garden can simplify the process.  The primary considerations for a native garden are similar to those of a conventional garden: amount of sun and wind exposure, site temperature, water source and delivery method, elevation and topography, and soil factors like type, pH levels, and drainage.
And, as if the natural benefits weren’t enough, some local water districts offer rebates for lawn conversion and irrigation upgrades.  Checking with experts at a local nursery, or searching online will offer an abundance of information to get started on a garden to enjoy, whether it never rains, or it pours.
Photo Credit: Patrick Doheny via Flikr.

About Author:

Rainy Hake currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Alain Pinel Realtors where she plays a role in managing the strategic direction of the company, and also oversees the Marketing, Technology, Training and Strategy departments. She has over 15 years of experience in the real estate industry and holds and MBA from the University of Oxford.

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