My Home Ground

One great way to get a butterfly garden started is to plant a really good nectar providing species; and then observe the butterflies that come into your garden to feed. This will be a good indication of which butterfly species are already present in the general area.

The adult stage is technically called the 'imago'; but it is commonly called a 'butterfly'. This is the reproductive life stage in which the creature's main purpose is to find a mate and the host plant on which to lay...

Linum lewisii A beautiful Western perennial, perfect for the border or in a meadow blended with bunchgrasses, poppies, clarkia and flowering bulbs. Summer blooming, flowers open over a long time; full sun, low water, 12-18” tall, needs good drainage, deer ignore it.

Blue Flax is ordinarily seen growing wild in meadows and grassy fields; and in these conditions it is a small plant, usually no more than a few linear stalks with a cluster of flower buds that open daily. In a controlled...

All of these native annual wildflowers are great for pollinators and other beneficial insects!

Clarkia unguiculata / Mountain Garland The blooms of this native clarkia range from white, pale pink, salmon, and bright pink to magenta—all on the same plant. Flowers in full sun or partial shade. Clarkia grows in sandy, well-drained soils, but also thrives in clay soil. Spring blooms, 1-3 ft. tall, drought tolerant, moderate water for best flowering display.

Eschscholzia...

Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies

Asclepias fascicularis Milkweeds provide important resources for many beneficial creatures, including Monarch butterflies. The fine leaves of this native milkweed gives it’s a soft, wispy look. The plant isn’t long-lived, but reseeds itself readily. Summer blooms, 3’ tall, low water, full sun, dormant in winter.

Asclepias speciosa Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to provide food for their caterpillars once they hatch. Star-shaped...

I’d bet that we’re all pretty happy that the rainy season is over and cherishing the beautiful sunny days. With a good layer of mulch to help retain moisture in the soil, plus the warm days, plants are now putting on growth that can almost be measured day by day!

Over several years now, I’ve been creating a meadow in an area within my garden; and this year some nice patches of clovers have taken hold. It’s mostly a non-native rosy-colored clover, but it's still good for the animals! ...

I’m experiencing a love-hate relationship with the rains as they continue, with so few dry days in between for the outdoor activities that are such a big part of my life. I’ve measured more than 30 inches here on our Novato hillside since January first!  

The scarcity of truly dry days in between poses all sorts of frustrations for the dedicated gardener; it’s great to have the rains, and this is the time of year to plant, but it’s not good to work the soil when it’s totally soggy....

The Flickers have now left my oak woodlands and moved to higher elevations in the Coast Ranges; I’ll look forward to seeing them again when we’re camping in the forests this summer. Meanwhile, the Tree Swallows are here already and I’m waiting to hear the first calls of the Ash-throated Flycatchers as they arrive from wintering grounds in Baja California. For the last five or six years they have shown up about the fifth of May, and by June are raising a brood in the nesting box hung in an...

Even if it’s just for an hour or two, I make time to do some work in my garden every single day, and my favorite time to be outside is at dusk when all sorts of creatures are stirring. Since my tasks, like weeding or potting up seedlings, are often simple and somewhat repetitive, I’m in a meditative state and absorbing all that goes on around me.

The last of the bees, usually bumblebees, are still buzzing about; Nuthatches sound like little tin horns as they fly to another tree to...

The Natural World has been my touchstone; a certain intimacy with the land and other creatures that always rings honest and true. When I think about why I like to garden it always comes back to my desire to be a participant with nature. I came to California as a child from the other side of the world, but now I have become ‘native’ to this place, and it suits me to get to really know this hillside that is now my home ground, rather than seek many others to climb.

I am a student of...

A number of animals store acorns for later consumption; notably the Acorn Woodpeckers with their ‘granary trees’. They place each acorn just so, packed tightly into a hole, and then tend to their store regularly, moving the acorns to smaller holes when they start to dry up and shrink.

Western Scrub Jays also store acorns, but they do it individually in holes in the ground. They prefer the long, skinny acorns of the Coast Live Oak – these fit perfectly in their bills! They are very...

I was lucky enough to be outside at just the right time about a week ago when I noticed a lot of activity around a Toyon - the most spectacular Toyon I’ve ever seen, and it lives on the top side of the meadow next to my house and garden. This Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is a tree, about 30 feet tall, with a trunk that looks to be about 7 to 9 inches in diameter. Several smaller Toyons that are more shrub-sized also grow close by.

The large clusters of bright red berries were the...

At the end of the dry season my garden is just that; at a glance many of the native plants look dry and dead but once you look more closely, there’s always a bit of green within the brown. Plants are dormant, but definitely not dead; seeds are abundant, as are all the creatures coming to the garden to partake in this abundance.

Goldfinches come for the tarweed seeds, each plant with a flock of five or six birds taking the small flat seeds from each spent flower. Bushtits, most always...

Some of my favorite annual wildflowers are the gilias, and the whole genus is pretty much deer-proof. I like globe gilia (Gilia capitata) with its round heads of small blue flowers; these grow wild on Mt. Burdell. I haven’t seen bird’s-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor) in the wild in Marin, but I sure love it in my garden. It does fine in the ground or in containers, and the intricate coloring of the delicate flowers is a true marvel. Even more marvelous is the turquoise pollen!

Wildflowers...

(all photos are by Bob and Mieko)

It’s a beautiful thing to watch the deer, a number of the does heavily pregnant, browsing at the meadow’s edge, and not at all disturbed by the rainfall. They’re eating the clovers and vetches in the grasslands, taking the leaves from the soap lilies and blue dicks, and sometimes also just the tips of the fresh new growth on the annual grasses; but never eating the ground iris, or the thistles that also grow in the meadow. They’re also browsing the...

Now that fall is soon upon us, and hopefully the rainy season as well, the time is perfect to plant California natives.  Many gardeners have issues and great frustration with the deer interfering with their planting plans. I happen to love and respect these animals, and from personal experience know that it is possible to create a beautiful native garden despite the presence of deer. You can have it all; a wonderful habitat rich in natural resources, complete with the native wildlife; your...

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