Archive for the ‘Plants and Landscape’ Category

Here’s a working list of native plants I will consider for my site.  native-plants-species-list   All these plants come from plant communities that can be found near where we live, so they should have a good chance of doing well based on our site conditions.  I went into greater detail in the previous post about the usefulness of considering local plant communities in selecting native garden plants.  

Of course, we never really know how an individual plant will do in its particular garden spot until we try it.  The exact sun exposure, soil type and drainage, temperature swings, and other factors the plant will encounter in its garden spot must all be right (or right enough) for it to thrive.  The plant will tell us if the conditions are right or not!  With natives, there’s always an element of guesswork (as well as suprise) but we can make informed choices and expect to modify things a bit along the way!


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In our new ‘watershed-friendly’ landscape, I want to grow plants that ‘belong’ to this place – that will thrive in the climate and soil conditions that exist here with a minimum reliance on added water, chemical fertilizers, or other energy on my part, and that will provide some degree of habitat and forage value for native birds that also ‘belong’ to this place.

Current thinking is that using local plant communities as garden models is the best way to achieve this vision. The concept of plant communities and their relevance for the garden is simply described in the book California Native Plants for the Garden (Bornstein, Fross and O’Brien 11): “In nature, groups of plants that are typically found growing together in similar environmental conditions are often characterized as a plant community. … Gardens modeled after a local plant community will have a high likelihood of success.”

So, what is my local plant community? In my neighborhood, there are many large valley oaks and coast live oaks, with fewer but present bay trees and buckeyes. Assuming that the large oaks in my neighborhood have been here since before the area was subdivided and developed, I’ll assume that the pre-development native local plant community here was oak woodland. The large valley oaks and coast live oaks can be used as a clue in assuming what other plants could have been in this area prior to development, and what I might like to consider for my native plant garden. According to the book A Manual of California Vegetation (Sawyer, Keeler-Wolf 312), associated species in the ‘valley oak series’ include: black oak; blue oak; California coffeeberry; California sycamore; California wild grape; coast live oak; Oregon ash; Poison oak; and valley oak.

In the ‘coast live oak series’, Sawyer and Keeler-Wolf (241) list the following associated species: bigleaf maple; black oak; black sage; blue oak; blackberry; box elder; bracken; California bay; California coffeeberry; California sagebrush; chamise; coast live oak; common snowberry; Engelmann oak; hairyleaf ceanothus; hazel; laurel sumac; madrone; ocean spray; poison oak; scrub oak, and toyon.

This starts to present a nice list of woodland plants I might consider.
But I have to realize that although my surrounding neighborhood has lots of old mature oaks, and this no doubt was oak woodland, I don’t have even one mature oak on my property – instead, my site gets blasted with the hot Sonoma sun.I can and will plant some valley oaks, but they’ll take many decades after I die to serve as the shade structure for understory oak woodland plants.

In the meantime, I’ll take a dual approach. One strategy will be to heed the advice from Judith Larner Lowry’s book, The Landscaping Ideas of Jays (205), and plant native large shrubs and/or small trees (like toyon and elderberry) that will provide more immediate shade. After several years, woodland understory plants can be planted beneath them.

The other strategy will be to submit to the current conditions of the site, and use plants from other local plant communities that are more sun tolerant – coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and grassland. Many decades after this project, as the oaks I plant ultimately shade out the sun-loving plants, more woodland understory species can be added.

If I end up making a rainwater garden, use grey water, or have an outdoor shower, plants from the riparian and wetland plant communities can also be included.

As I read through various resources, I’m noticing that the plant world isn’t divided into plant communities in a consistent way. For instance, the Calflora website http://www.calflora.org/ lists a larger number of plant communities with greater specificity, while many other references divide plants into fewer, broader categories. It’s just something to keep in mind as I read more about this. In general, the plant communities I’ll be working with will be: coastal sage scrub; chaparral; foothill or oak woodland; wetland-riparian; and valley grassland.

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