Buckwheat Brings Butterflies is a forum to discuss gardening with California native plants. I live in Southern California and I install plants that make their home in the California wild. The photos below are images I took of my home landscape.
When I moved to Southern California 35 years ago, I was curious about plants that are native to this area. I saw beautiful pristine oak woodlands and riparian areas that were protected, but I also saw mature Coast Live Oak trees bulldozed on hillsides to make room for development. It broke my heart to see the ancient trees vanish.
After spending time here, I knew that I wanted to recreate the wild beauty I saw growing in the protected areas of Southern California in my home landscape. What began as a large grassy lawn became a native plant sanctuary with the help of landscape architect Alison Terry. Terry laid out swales to capture water, and created raised beds that native plants thrive in. She planted poppies and hundreds of species of California native plants suited to their location. She was instrumental in teaching me how to install a beautiful and thriving California native plant landscape.
Later, I joined the board of the California Native Plant Society Orange County Chapter (OCCNPS), and asked them, “Why plant California natives?”
The answer came from scientist Douglas Tallamy, who published Bringing Nature Home in 2007–a book that describes how birds are dependent upon insects and caterpillars as the primary food source for their offspring. His research showed that baby birds cannot digest berries and bird food. Baby birds must have thousands of caterpillars, spiders, and insects to grow and develop.
I learned that when we install plants that are NOT native to where we live, native insects cannot survive. And birds rely on insects for protein. Without insects, birds cannot support their offspring.
Our thirst for the exotic trees and shrubs is starving our wildlife.
A 2019 Science study showed that the United States and Canada have lost more than 3 billion birds in the past 50 years.
What can we do? How can we fill the air with bird song once again?
Plant native plants in our home landscapes, in pots on our patios, in our cityscapes and parkland.
Start at home. My home landscape hosts about 100 different species of California native plants including Coast Live Oaks, California sycamores, California lilacs, manzanitas, sages, mallows, and buckwheats. These plants support endangered bumblebees, monarch butterflies, Cedar waxwings, hermit thrushes, and more.
I have branched out now beyond my own home landscape. For the past four years, I have been working with volunteers to design and install a 12-acre native plant sanctuary in Trabuco Canyon called Vera’s Gardens. This project transformed an abandoned, weed-infested landscape, into a healing oasis for people, pollinators, and wildlife.
You can help nature too. Start at home. Look at gardening as an opportunity to learn how to grow native plants. Let’s explore the world of California native plant gardening together. If you have native plants in your yard, feel free to share your successes and failures with me. I love hearing from you.
Nature is resilient. When we help nature, we help each other thrive. Let’s welcome plants that are native to where we live into our lives.
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