Arid Environment

Converting conventional landscaping back to nature is a positive trend for water and wildlife. | Cover Collections

AMONG THIS YEAR’S GARDEN TRENDS IS THE CONCEPT OF “REWILDING,” or reverting conventional home gardens back to a natural state that more resembles how the land would have looked had humans not taken over. Think tearing out lawns and replacing them with native plants and natural materials that make a nice place for native bugs, birds and other wildlife to thrive.

Reverting land, no matter how small a piece, to a more natural state also works out as a good way to save water. Natives use far less of it than lawns and many non-natives that have graced gardens trying to resemble something one might see on the East Coast or Europe than in a naturally arid place like California.

Local landscape designer Richard Boynton of All Things Green was a trendsetter without even trying. He’s been evangelizing the use of natives since 1978. “It takes a long time to change the public conversation,” he explains. Boynton says he’s hearing from more people than ever interested in ditting lawns and non-natives. “What they have isn’t working anymore,” he says. They’re tired of watering grass in the face of higher water costs during a drought.

In addition to a desire to conserve water, Bonyton says there’s a growing interest in planting for wildlife, like creating gardens for pollinators or attracting birds. He leans heavily on using native plants from the region or other parts of California, most of which he procures from Drought Resistant Nursery, which has a wholesale nursery in Carmel Valley and a retail location in Monterey. Although he will use water-wise, non-native plants from other areas of the world with similar climates to the local area, like the Mediterranean, Australia, and sometimes Africa.

Carmel Valley landscape designer Marie Goulet of Wild Land Workshop, takes a similar approach to incorporating mostly natives. One of her main goals is to repopulate yards with plants that would have naturally grown and thrived had people not intervened. “The more we develop the more in my mind it’s our responsibility to replace what we take away,” Goulet says. “I feel almost ethically bound to that concept.”

She takes a philosophical approach to her designs. “People in general are more healthy and happy when they’re able to have an abundance of diversity in their lives in the natural world, even if it’s a ton of houseplants,” she says. A more natural design will bring a sense of security and will have a calming effect on people surrounded by it.

Goulet advises people who are interested in taking their yards back to nature to take time for a walk in their surrounding ecosystem and get curious about the plants they see there. If your home is in a coastal scrub region, for example, take a note of what plants are surviving. “Understand the context of where you are in the world,” she says.

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Also important is to note how the sun travels over the yard throughout the day and what your water situation is. Try to build in as much diversity in plants and trees as possible. Aim to have something in the garden blooming or fruiting year round, so that when one plant or group of plants is done for a season, another takes over, providing food for pollinators and birds.

Achieving such diversity is hard in a small space, Goulet concedes, but she says even adding five native plants specific to your ecosystem can make a difference. It can give a place for birds to live, hide or find sustenance. Adding a water feature, even just a bowl, is also helpful.

Talking to experts at local nurseries like Drought Resistant Nursery is a good place to start when choosing plants. One great online resource for learning more about what native plants will grow in your space is calflora.org, a nonprofit website run by a team of experts dedicated to helping people understand the native plants of California. Click on “What Grows Here” to access a map. Plug in your city or area and indicate what types of plants you may be looking for (water tolerant, riparian, shade tolerant, commercially available) and click on “search.” Up pops a list of plants native to that specific ecosystem.

Another good resource is the Monterey Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (chapters.cnps.org/montereybay), which has links to information on how to identify local wildflowers and gardening with natives, among other helpful resources.

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