Getting Started – Part 3 of 3

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So let’s review. There are many ways to convert a traditional lawn-dominated landscape into a sustainable, lively habitat garden. At one extreme there is the clean slate method where everything is removed and one starts out with a clean slate. Advantages are, that if done well, you can have a beautiful, coherent landscape in a reasonable amount of time. Disadvantages are that it is expensive, there’s no time to learn as you go, and if it fails it fails big for all to see.

The other extreme is the plant-by-plant method where you progress slowly and gradually changing out individual plants in an existing landscape. The advantages here are cost is spread out over a long period of time, you learn to work with native plants gradually, you never have a sparse, young-looking garden, and neighbors will never suspect what you are up to. The disadvantages are significant too. You are constrained by the existing garden conditions, and it is very difficult to move to a more sustainable, low-water use garden. Furthermore, progress is slow.

But truth be told, most of us are somewhere in the middle. Some start with the front yard, leaving the back for another time. Others leave several large, mature trees and shrubs in place, creating garden beds around them. And then there are those like me who select areas of the yard in which to create new habit gardens, while at the same time gradually whittling away at large expanses of lawn.

The pros for this intermediate approach are:

  1. You can experiment without risking the loss of your complete landscape.
  2. As you gain knowledge about which plants do well in your area with your maintenance practices, and which plants you like best, you can expand into other portions of the yard.
  3. Although you are limited by existing conditions and the needs of trees and other plants in nearby spaces, you can modify your garden incrementally, learning and experimenting as you go.

The cons are:

  1. Unless you are very careful your yard can look like a hodge-podge of unrelated garden beds.
  2. It can take a long time – in some cases forever – for your entire yard to have a completed look.
  3. You are constrained by existing plants – in my case, the massive deodar in my front yard or the large old avocado in the middle of the back yard.

Here are some before and after pictures of areas that morphed into native, wild gardens.

Woodland garden: August 2002, left; February 2010, right

March 2009

Sidewalk coastal sage scrub garden: April 2002, left; September 2010, right

April 2009

More recent conversion of the east garden in the backyard: August 2007, left; August 2009, right

August 2009, left; March 2010, right.

Whittling away at the edges of the lawn – and yes I did get caught, October 25, 2010.

Right now is the best time to be planting your native garden. Temperatures are down, we’ve had some rain, and the California Native Plant Society, San Gabriel Mountains Chapter is having their plant sale this Saturday. Time to get dirty!

2 thoughts on “Getting Started – Part 3 of 3

  1. I've just been cleaning up the last of the debris on our orchard slope, and sorting through our seeds we've amassed this year. It rained last night, so the soil is nice and damp. I must admit, the slight sense of trepidation at actually sowing them! Most of the large perennials I'm starting in pots so I have more control on where they're planted, but the annuals are heading

  2. Yes, I agree that for most of us this approach probably works best. I myself could not have afforded to do everything at the same time, but I knew the chances of survival for my natives were so much better if I created a small habitat. And so far, it's worked.

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