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November 12, 2013 > Column Alameda County Water District: Reflections on Water

Column Alameda County Water District: Reflections on Water

Submitted By Stephanie Penn, Water Conservation

How I Got Inspired by California Native Plants
By Stephanie Penn, Water Conservation Specialist
Photo by Stephanie Penn

My obsession started with a small publication I found while sorting through an enormous stack of papers on my desk. I guess thatÕs what I get for trying to read everything my supervisor gives me.

The publication developed by Bay Nature Magazine and titled Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants, outlines the importance of considering the microclimate we live in when making decisions about what we grow in our gardens. The idea is simple - if you landscape with plants that are adapted to our local climate your garden will:

* Provide a unique sense of place;
* Provide valuable habitat for wildlife;
* Require less maintenance;
* Need less fertilizer and pesticides;
* Require less water.

The concept made so much sense to me. I was totally captivated.

IÕm used to getting my nature fix by heading to a park, the coast, or even the Sierras. But this publication opened the door to an idea that hadnÕt occurred to me before. With a little careful planning the urban landscape also has the potential to look natural and beautiful. Maybe even the concrete parking lot outside my office window could be transformed!

So with a copy of my new little publication in hand, I embarked on a journey of learning as much as possible about water-efficient gardening with California native plants. I devoured every book on the subject I could get my hands on, visited public gardens, attended plant sales, visited local nurseries, and planted a few natives in my own garden. Over time, I started noticing them while out hiking and on neighborhood walks.

Paying close attention to native plants results in being more in tune with the Mediterranean climate we experience here in California. Our climate, which is characterized by warm dry summers and mild wet winters, presents unique landscaping challenges. By growing plants that are adapted to our local conditions we can work with the seasons instead of against them. Many native plants require only a third as much water as traditional lawns. This method of water use efficiency is particularly beneficial because it reduces peak water demands.

But the benefits extend beyond water conservation. There are aesthetic rewards as well. The brilliant colors of Sage can light up a whole front yard. The varied sizes and shapes of a thoughtfully designed grouping of perennial bunchgrass can add interest to a commercial landscape without sacrificing formality.

This new way of thinking about landscaping is on the rise throughout the Bay Area. Landscapers are implementing water-efficient practices, nurseries are stocking a larger selection of water-efficient plants, and residents and businesses of the Tri-City area are installing these sustainable landscapes. Beautiful native plant gardens are popping up in the middle of a sea of turf grass.

Even the view out my office window has changed. Last year, much of the landscaping surrounding ACWD headquarters was planted with California native species. Now that the plants are maturing, we are making good use of an outdoor seating area that serves as a non-traditional meeting room as well as place to enjoy lunch on a nice day. While sitting outside we now enjoy frequent visits from hummingbirds attracted to the fuchsias, a variety of butterflies, and an abundance of other beneficial insects. The new landscaping was such a success that we are gearing up for phase two of the project Ð a renovation of our twenty-year-old demonstration garden. Stay tuned for updates on the project!

Are you interested in learning more about California native plants? Maybe you have already heard about this new way of landscaping and are ready to trade in your lawn for water efficient plants? If this is the case, you may be eligible for a rebate to help pay for the cost of the materials. Visit our website at for more information.

Oh, and my obsession with native plants? IÕm glad to say that it hasnÕt abated one bit.

Reading List:
Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants
A Bay Nature Magazine Publication

California Native Plants for the Garden
By Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart OÕBrien

Gardening with a Wild Heart: Restoring CaliforniaÕs Native Landscape at Home
By Judith Larner Lowry

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