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Gail's Garden - May 2016


Gail's Garden - May 2016

by Gail Fanning

Registration is now open for the free Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, which will take place Sunday, May 3, 2015, at various locations in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Over 5,000 people are expected to register for this annual event, so early registration is a must! This Tour is self-driving with the chance to see thirty native plant gardens developed by regular gardeners like you and me. More than fifty “how-to” talks will be offered throughout the day, on topics like: selection and care for California native plants, lowering your water bills, designing a low-maintenance garden, attracting butterflies, birds, and bees, and gardening without pesticides. Take a friend and enjoy a great day out in the garden! 

Butterfly on CeanothusWe are all part of the web of life: even those worms and spiders and wasps that some people despise are important to the ecosystem. Our gardens can provide a home for so many different species, if we just allow a bit of naturalness. Here are some ideas from on how to make your garden more wildlife friendly: 

Don’t be too tidy. Leave stems of perennials standing over winter so that their hollow stems can provide hibernation refuges for beneficial insects like ladybugs and some species of bee. Piles of brush can be a cozy nest for quail.

Plant as many wildflowers as you can to provide nectar for bees. Try to plant flowers with single and not double blooms. They look less dramatic, but are easier for bees and other insects to feed from.

Leave some weeds. Many weeds like nettles, mustard, pigweed, and blackberries, provide valuable food for butterflies, moths and other insects. So if you can, leave a little wildness around the edges of your garden.

Grow some sacrificial plants. Remember that you can’t have butterflies if their larvae are not allowed to eat some leaves!

Put in a pond, no matter how small. It’s one of the most dramatic things you can do to attract wildlife quickly to a garden. Within a few weeks you’ll have insects, birds, amphibians and small mammals visiting your pond.

And lastly, eliminate the use of pesticides. Most pest problems can be minimized with good plant care and organic remedies.

Which native plant gets your vote for best all-round garden usefulness? My favorite is Ceanothus, commonly known as California Lilac, with its shiny green leaves year-round and its bright blue, delicately scented blossoms in the spring. Did you know it is available locally in at least 12 different cultivars, with heights from 1’ to 20’, and bloom in all shades of blue and even white? 

The brightest blue is ‘Blue Sapphire’: absolutely brilliant color on a 4’ bush, it has a graceful arching form. Best in full sun, it does need regular water. For a tall ground cover or low hedge Ceanothus, you can’t beat ‘Yankee Point’, but be sure to give it room to spread out: Mine is at least 10 feet across, and it tends to pile up on itself to reach 4 or even 5 feet tall over time. I love its glossy green leaves, and although the deer do nibble a bit when they are especially hungry, the plant recovers quickly from any damage they do. It is happy with no regular water. I also love the small tree Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ which grows to about 20’ tall with a graceful spreading form: deer do enjoy it’s large leaves so it must be protected until it gets above their reach. An unusual new Ceanothus with variegated yellow/green leaves is ‘Diamond Heights’: I haven’t tried it yet, but it is certainly different than the average Ceanothus. For more information and some excellent pictures and videos about this native gem, go to Add one to your garden soon!