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Habitat Gardening In Sonoma County


Habitat Gardening In Sonoma County

by Ann Rosmarin

Lao Tsu once wrote: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” After thirty years in snowy Ohio where I built my landscape design business we moved to California. I fell in love with Sonoma County as soon as I saw these wheat colored hills cresting on our drive from the south, reminding me of my native South Africa in winter. Changes were essential to my finding a home where I could garden and paint outdoors for the entire year and our Mediterranean climate, with it’s extended growing season, offered just that!

Now, I am surrounded by spectacular views in all directions, mountains, the Pacific to our West, forests and a wonderful diversity of fauna and flora to rival anywhere in the world.  Sonoma offers me the unique opportunity to combine all the knowledge and gardening experiences I had growing up in South Africa as well as living in England and Cleveland, and everyone I know has requested a visit!

We face challenges, however, in our gardening world, larger than fighting gophers, deer and breaking through ground as tough as concrete. What we do in our own gardens and larger landscapes can make a difference: In Cape Town for example, baboons were often seen skulking in gardens as food became scarce on top of the mountain areas. Baboon patrols were set up to stop traffic and gently persuade the baboons to forage back to higher grounds. Eucalyptus forests have also been slowly eradicated, as they consume vast amounts of water and are not endemic to the area. As a result, the native fynbos has reappeared in all its glory, leading to an increase in wildlife and the baboons are happy in their protected habitat.

Here, in my new home in Sonoma County, I am increasingly aware of the huge efforts that are being made to increase peoples’ awareness of concepts like biodiversity, preservation, sustainability, conservation and habitat gardening. Even the small changes we implement are a beginning and forge a way to change our future and the lives of future generations.

What is a diverse landscape? It means, simply, to design and install landscapes that are sustainable, encourage biodiversity, attract and protect birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, other beneficial insects and wildlife. They should be free of pesticides and provide clean water. The plant selection should be diverse, suitable for this climate and include as many native species as possible. Reducing a lawn or eliminating it entirely and substituting trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, sedges, perennials, will not only decrease your water bill but also create the platform for a wildlife habitat garden. Large leafed plants and vibrant perennials designed in large, repeating drifts not only provide attractive landing pads for bees, butterflies and other tiny creatures, they eliminate the constant need for weeding! Butterflies and bees need plants to provide nectar and other plants for laying their eggs and providing larval food so, observe and do some research. Giant holes in the leaves of your plants may look unsightly but before you reach for your handy insecticide, remember that these could be the results of butterfly caterpillars! Instead of removing trees or fallen branches, consider leaving them on site if possible to provide a habitat refuge for wild creatures. Butterflies and lizards love to bask on boulders and stone walls and a water feature or muddy stream edge provides a spot for male butterflies to gather minerals for mating.

Design your garden in layers or levels, with the tall trees and hedging providing an upper canopy for birds and nest building as well as windbreaks for butterflies.  Create a middle, understory layer using colorful shrubs, ornamental grasses, succulents, perennials and groundcovers with the emphasis on natives and Mediterranean plants. Grow plants that do not require regular pruning. Allow for sustainable plant communities to establish and encourage plants to naturalize. Select plants that provide visual interest, texture, scent and form throughout the seasons.

There are an abundance of local nurseries, gardens to visit and plant related sources to peruse that offer many dazzling varieties of plant material and ideas for creating biodiverse gardens. (See Footnote below.) In designing a habitat garden, review the principles for conservation, decide on a plan of action, enjoy the process and when you aren’t fixated on weeding or dreading the chore of mowing the lawn, relax in knowing that you too have changed your direction!



Sources of information: Russian River Watershed Association