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June 24, 2004

In the Garden

Native plant and wildlife tour


THE REDWOOD REGION AUDUBON SOCIETY AND THE North Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society are once again sponsoring a tour of gardens featuring native plants and wildlife habitats. I'm especially pleased to see a couple of commercial sites on the tour this year. I've always thought that shops and office buildings should look beyond the standard agapanthus and the (horrible, unforgivable) nandina and do something interesting with the small but highly visible outdoor spaces they own. Most native plants are low maintenance and don't demand much water, so they're a cost-effective choice. Apparently the Northern California Community Blood Bank, which is on the tour this year, felt the same way, and now they, along with the robins and cedar waxwings in the neighborhood, enjoy native flowers in the spring and berries in the fall.Photo of Hodgkins' garden

Another don't-miss garden on the tour is the Potawot Health Village at United Indian Health Services near Mad River Hospital. They have been working to restore 20 acres of wetland meadow behind their facility, and it's an extraordinary place. If you haven't been, take this opportunity to walk the easy three-quarter-mile trail, have a look at their community food garden, and meet the people who have made this wonderful facility possible. They reclaim storm water, grow plants that are used to make baskets, and demonstrate traditional Native American land management techniques. It's a privilege to have this space opened to the community for the tour, so do stop by and enjoy it.

Another nice features of this year's tour is that two landscape designers will be on hand to talk about the gardens and answer questions. Even a habitat garden needs a strong design, after all, and matching the right native plants to the site can be tricky. I visited Gael Hodgkins [ garden pictured above, photo by Amy Stewart], who is opening her garden for the tour, and Mary Gearheart, a landscape designer who first designed Hodgkins' half-acre garden 10 years ago.

"Gael was very much interested in the Asian style," Gearheart said as we sat on Hodgkins' patio. "Less is better. People will see the Asian influence here, probably more Chinese than Japanese. There's no bonsai, everything is left more natural. And, of course, she's interested in native plants, and in wildlife. That was true 10 years ago when we started, and it's still true today."

Hodgkins originally contacted Gearheart when she was getting her garden ready for a family reunion. There were some non-natives that she wanted to keep -- an apple tree, for instance -- but the site already had some incredible natural features. The house looks out onto an enormous redwood stump that has a Douglas fir and a huckleberry growing out of it. A twinberry -- one of the largest Gearheart has seen -- arches gracefully over the garden, and the site also features a wax myrtle that has reached an impressive size.

Just last month, the garden underwent a new expansion. Hodgkins hired a crew to cut a path through an overgrown bramble of blackberry and ivy. "I was home while they were working," she said. "I heard quite a bit of noise, but by the time I came out, it was too late to just have a path. They had cut everything down. The berries and the ivy were a wonderful cover for the birds, so I hated to see it go for that reason."

Once the damage was done, she called Gearheart for help. "We had someone rake up the debris and haul it off -- an entire dumptruck full," Hodgkins said. "After the debris was cleared out, we still had to have it rototilled to get all the roots out."

Gearheart knew the bramble would be an ongoing problem in this newly cleared space, but she didn't want to use herbicides or plastic weed mats. "Gael has really good soil here, so our intention was just to discourage the blackberry vines. So we put down a thick layer of cardboard and piled mulch on top. It'll all break down as the plants fill in."

The mixture of native and non-native plants in Hodgkins' garden includes several species of manzanita, vine maple, mock orange, western azalea, columbine, blue-eyed grass, and plenty of hybrid rhododendrons to fill the garden with color and fragrance in the spring. She enjoys keeping an eye out for sparrows, chickadees, cedar waxwings, and the rare visit from a western tanager. But this new space in the garden opens up possibilities not just for the birds, but also for the gardener.

"My spiritual practice is Zen Buddhism," Hodgkins said, "and a very significant part of Zen is walking meditation. I thought this was a perfect place for a walking meditation."

The second annual Wildlife & Native Plant Garden Tour, which features nine gardens from Eureka to McKinleyville, will be held on Saturday, June 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $15; proceeds benefit the Redwood Region Audubon Society and the North Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Tickets are available at Pierson's Garden Center, Strictly for the Birds, Freshwater Farms, Northcoast Environmental Center, Garden Gate, Mad River Gardens, and Miller Farms Nursery.


garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.


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