Margaret's flower yard

Margaret's yard is looking good. She has mostly wildflowers visible at present, but there's a few shrubs in there somewhere too. Margarent lives closer to the beach, so she's on more of the sandy back dune soil, but she says that one block away it can be dense clay at the surface, probably an artifact of the the grading for her housing tract.

There's more beautiful photos at http://podfeet.com/NosillaCast/photos/margarets_flower_yard/album/index.html

All photos are courtesy of Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast podcast hosted at www.podfeet.com A Technology Geek Podcast With An EVER So Slight Macintosh Bias.

Here's what Margaret had to say about her start with native plants:

'How I Started Native Planting' in Margaret's words
I have NEVER watered my lawn. Brown in summer, green in winter. Never believed in watering a lawn in SoCal. I grew up during the '70s drought, so I was well-schooled.

While riding my bike I met Brad Henderson before he planted. I admired his house. A couple of years later I read about his problems in the Daily Breeze. I remembered being outraged as I am very familiar with the (lack of) landscape in Lawndale. Reading the article I also discovered, "There is such a thing as California Natives that aren't succulents?!"

A few more years went by as I did not have money to pursue conversion of my lawn. By happy coincidence a friend's daughter was volunteering at the SEALAB and told me about their plant restoration projects. She urged me to contact Monica Acosta at the SEALAB.

One year later, I did. Summer 2006 - Dec 2006 I started weeding out my yard. December, 2006 I hired a friend to rake up behind me while I rototilled my lawn. My next door neighbor came out and SHE too decided to hire a gardener to rototill her yard. I was her catalyst. She even went inside and gave this book to me: 'Gardening With A Wild Heart' by Judith Larner Lowry.

Yard rototilled, I headed off to the SEALAB and met Monica. She warned me that her plants are not the kind you see in gardens, but rather in seaside restoration projects. Also, I wouldn't get instant gratification. I was unfazed. Since I had no clue what native plants to buy (or even what they should look like), I followed Monica around while she described the plants. I did bring a drawing of my front yard with measurements as reference. Basically I said, "Give me 5 of those, 2 of those", and so on. Monica was also the one who gave me reference to Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Ranch Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 'California Native Plants For The Garden', The Complete Book of Salvias: Sages For Every Garden' and the name of the maintenance book that you and I got when we became Payne members. Monica also advised me to buy some wildflower seeds from Larner Seeds and just throw in the yard to kind of fill it in.

I went home and planted as well as laid down a pathway and brick work (with same friend who raked). It took us a couple of days. The following week we had the coldest night with frost on the ground. Everything survived! Plants in ground, I decided to read the 'Gardening With A Wild Heart' book. Boy, am I glad I did. The author has a militant, but not off-putting style about her. Her message was wonderful. Basically, to just do it and not get caught up in the details. She has a wonderful story in the book that starts out, 'A Plant Is Not a Couch'. Here is a passage from the book:

"A plant is not a couch" has been our motto for some years, somewhat cryptically calling attention to the element of uncertainty that is always part of dealing with living things. We hope to encourage our gardening customers to relax, take chances, be of good heart, take the losses lightly, and enjoy themselves.

I was so laid-back that I didn't even bother to research before I planted!

A couple of months pass by and no rain. I had by this time made a trip to Payne, and bought plants while my neighbor went to Las Pilitas (we gave each other our wish lists). I'm working on my yard +/- 15 hours a week. I received lots of compliments and questions from the dog walkers. Unlike you, I have not had any negative comments. Lucky for me, my neighbor two doors down has a run down, unpainted (until last year when the neighbor offered to paint at cost) and weed filled yard. I guess all the attention was focused there. Also as I was outside so much that first year, the neighbors knew I was up to something. Where was I? Oh yeah, a couple of months go by. I'm hanging out with my friend I hired to help with the initial demolition. She lives with her sister in Lawndale 6 months out of the year. Together we went to the Henderson house to check out his plants. Brad was outside and came over to talk. I proudly told him how we converted my yard and how I had met him years earlier. He was very gracious...even gave me a copy of the Huell Howser video. I watched it and was happy to see that he advises new native plant gardeners to read the 'Gardening With A Wild Heart; book. CHECK.

By this time I had also read the other books. I am glad I didn't start first with the Bart O'Brien books. It might have overwhelmed me. Very informative and NOW a good resource tool, but in the beginning I would have been paranoid that I was planting or maintaining incorrectly. Too much information is not necessarily a good thing.

I made it through that first drought year just fine. Even bought more plants from Payne as well as Rancho Santa Ana. Only my Dune lupines from the SEALAB died after about 6 months. They just did not like my clay soil. This year, everything took off. I even had to 'weed' some of the wildflowers so they did not crowd out my other plants. Summer, 2007 I rototilled the backyard and in Nov, 2007 I planted Festuca rubra molate and meadow wildflower seeds in the backyard. So far, so good.


  1. Hi Brent,

    Thanks for the posting my yard and story in your blog. Maybe more SoCal residents will go native after they read this story and by following your adventures.


  2. It was my pleasure, Margaret!

    I'm reading a book, _Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens_ by Douglas Tallamy which makes a strong argument for using natives.

    I'll write more about it later, but its worth mentioning here as well.

    The three sentence summary of the book is that plants which share a common evolutionary history with the local food web ("native" plants for the most part) support insects in far greater numbers than alien plants. Insects (the most abundant herbivores on the planet) in turn support most larger animals. Fewer insects means fewer large animals.

  3. Margaret's yard is what I wished my yard looked like right now! Amazing.