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Sonoma County Gazette

Gardening with California Native Plants

Apr 25, 2017


by Nancy Bauer, California Native Plant Society, Milo Baker Chapter

One of the gardens on the spring tour will be Durs Koenig’s two and a half acres of wildlife habitat in Forestville, a place where many birds and other local creatures call home, including 100 quail. Once covered with vinca, English ivy, African cape weed, Himalayan blackberry and pampas grass, the land is now close to 65 percent native trees and shrubs.

Louise Hallberg’s garden was his inspiration. Durs has copied her naturalistic style and plant diversity to create a rich landscape of his own. Her success as a habitat gardener, Durs realized, was because she “hadn’t raked, weed- whacked, mowed or hedged.” Before planting his wildlife habitat, Durs enriched the soil with green manure, mainly buckwheats and vetches. Gradually, stands of toyon, manzanitas, ceanothus, coffeeberries and coyote brush joined the black oaks and live oaks that remained. These native trees and shrubs offer cover and food sources for woodpeckers, western bluebirds, swallows, and other bird species. Some of the wildlife residents have returned the favor. As we walk the land, Durs points out the one madrone he planted—the local wildlife have planted seven more! We move on to a 17-year old valley oak that was planted as an acorn on January 16, 2000.

Around the same time Durs planted that valley oak, he began to restore the area around an ephemeral creek, planting thick patches of currents, huckleberries, serviceberries, thimbleberries, and salmonberries. These thickets are favorite hiding places for his three coveys of quail. Pipevine, the host plant for the pipevine swallowtail, grows at the edges of a thicket in the moist area near the seasonal stream. Patches of sticky monkeyflower and California bee plant host the beautiful variable checkerspot that Durs has seen in his garden. Ceanothus, oaks, buckwheat, checkerbloom, milkweed, and native grasses are also larval food plants for other butterfly species.

Skinks, lizards and garden snakes use the cover of large and artfully arranged brush piles that dot the open spaces, perfect foraging spots for many bird species. Sixteen birdhouses provide additional cover and nesting sites for mostly western bluebirds, swallows and woodpeckers. Downy woodpeckers serenade Durs with an evening song each night before retiring to their nest boxes, and he rarely fails to listen.

When flowing, the stream is the most popular watering hole for resident birds, but a tall birdbath near the house provides another place to bathe and drink. A game camera has recorded a bobcat, coyote, and foxes as well as the usual suspects, raccoon and deer. Recognizing the warning calls of resident birds paid off one day, says Durs. He was able to rush to his fence line in time to see a bobcat nonchalantly strolling by, checking out the neighbor’s new fence across the way.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 California Native Plant Society Milo Baker Chapter news letter.

Eco-Friendly Garden Tour

TOUR ECO-Gardens: Sat. May 13 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The tour is self-guided and is provided free of charge. Register to attend the tour at The 2017 tour includes 24 gardens. For 2017 the California Native Plant Society Milo Baker Chapter are presenting 9 gardens in Forestville, Sebastopol, SR, and Glen Ellen.


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