Dec 21, 2018
by Roger Raiche David McCrory, Planet Horticulture
In 1875, famed horticulturist Luther Burbank referred to Sonoma County as “the chosen spot of all this earth.” This quote holds up today. We live in a blessed spot with an almost overabundance of beauty, generally pleasant climate, good rainfall and a wide variety of topography and natural features. There is incredible potential for those who like to garden and appreciate landscaping. Gardens can be as unique as the people who create and tend them. Everyone has different dreams about what their landscapes can provide for them from relaxation, brilliant displays, play, food, herbs, wildlife habitat and more. We all hope our homes and the land around them will become a personal paradise with a balance of abundance, comfort, and pleasure that feels good to us. A good garden needs to be rooted in a realistic appraisal of where we are in the world – the pluses and minuses of the climate, the soil, the exposures, the pests, even our neighbors.
Even individual parcels have a wide range of climate zones. Don’t be fooled by maps that lump us into USDA 9a and B or Sunset zones 14, 15, 16 and 17. Those can be useful starts for analysis, but the reality is that you may have all of those Sunset zone climates in one property. Elevation and proximity to the coast are primary indicators of climate zones. Valleys and low-lying areas tend to collect cold air. Ridges tend to drain cool air. Knowing your low-temperature areas informs if you can grow certain plants year-round, like some sub-tropical plants, and it also tells if you will have adequate winter chill hours for certain types of fruit trees. Areas on the sunny south side of a house, close to a home, can have a dramatically different microclimate than the north side of a house, away from the home. Structures and overhead protection from trees can create their own microclimate influence.
Soils influence gardens, and again, Sonoma County has an incredible range of soil types, from rich, poor draining adobe clays to sandy loams to Gold Ridge sand to serpentine to volcanic and more! Each soil type has it pluses and minuses, and while it they all can be amended, supplemented, or modified for specific needs, it is best to chose plants that will perform well with what you have. Yet, it is relatively easy to bring in a couple of yards of topsoil to create vegetable gardens or display beds if needed and leave the remaining space for more robust plants. And, if one there is one thing that improves almost any existing soil, it is to add organic mulches.
Our variety of climate zones and soils are the two most important reasons our county has the 2nd most diverse natural plant assemblages in the state of California and is one of the great biological hotspots in the world. There are over 1400 native plants that occur in the County, with 20 known to occur only in the County and nowhere else on Earth, and about 125 are considered endangered or threatened to some degree. We should cherish our rare plants and rare plant habitats – they represent thousands of years of evolution and adaptation to this place we now call Sonoma Co. It is a very satisfying type of horticulture to work with rare species.
We use the word “native” to refer to plants occurring in the area – county, region or state – before Europeans arrived, more or less about 300 years ago. This is different from “drought-tolerant” which refers to any plant that can deal with prolonged drought and continue to survive. There are many degrees of drought-tolerance, so the term is subjective. Our Planet Horticulture style of landscaping works at blending climate, habitat appropriate plants from around the world in a heightened naturalistic look. We utilize microhabitats of the site to enhance the diversity and individuality of the plantings. We also love to show people their native landscapes, create trails and access and appreciation for these natural gardens.
Even if there are only widespread native species on your property, working with nature to create a wild garden – rather than wholesale transformation to other plant types – is a beautiful way to connect more in-depth with the natural world. The needs of our lives can often be artfully blended with natural landscapes while taking care of issues like fire safety, vegetation management and so forth.
It may surprise you that even in profoundly altered suburban neighborhoods, some native plants are part of the landscape, often unintentionally. Supplementing or creating native gardens to favor low water, pollinator-friendly, species diverse landscapes - perhaps preferring local rare species available in the nursery trade - can be a very rewarding focus of landscaping that reconnects us with nature. These types of gardens provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and the hundreds of native pollinators (and honey bees) over a long season. In addition to being naturally beautiful.
We look forward to sharing our garden experience and thoughts with Gazette readers over the coming seasons. Happy Gardening!
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