My Interview with the LA Times

Jeanette Marantos, garden reporter for the LA Times, called me in mid-February as I was returning home from a landscape restoration project I work on in Trabuco Canyon.

(L to R) Brad Jenkins, president of OCCNPS, volunteer Vern Jones, Jeff Wallace and myself, after planting four Coast Live Oak trees and two toyons at a landscaping project in Trabuco Canyon. (E. Wallace)

Marantos asked me to provide a short list of the best native plants Southern Californians can plant in their home landscapes, and also why it is important to plant natives in the home garden.

We spoke on the phone for an hour and I suggested California native plants that are beautiful and easy-to-grow. We researched the plants together on the Calscape database. We also discussed Doug Tallamy’s research that shows when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Marantos’ article appeared in the LA Times on February 28 and is titled “Want to help bees and butterflies? Add these plants to your garden.”

Want to help bees and butterflies? Illustration by Julie Yellow for The Times.

Marantos wrote: “Once upon a time in Southern California, landscaping was primarily about decoration — the greenest lawn, easy-care sculptural shrubs and a few showstopper flowers, almost none native to the region or welcoming to butterflies or bees. In truth, we did everything we could to keep bugs out of our yards, and it worked — far too well.”

She spoke with Ron Vanderhoff, vice president of the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) and general manager of Roger’s Gardens nursery, who said, “Bees, butterflies and other native insects are dwindling because they’re running out of the habitat and food provided by native plants. If we want to save them — and the birds and other animals that need those insects to survive — we need to change how we think about landscaping.”

“There’s been a mind change where gardening is not just decorating, it’s doing something to help the world,” Vanderhoff said. “It’s gardening with a purpose to it.”

Hummingbird visits native manzanita. (Kris Ethington)

Kris Ethington, board member of OCCNPS, and winner of Orange County’s 2018 California Friendly Garden contest for re-landscaping her entire yard with only native plants, discussed her favorite plants for the garden including oaks, lemonadeberry, toyon, and verbena de la mina.

Here is a list of California native plants that Ron, Kris and I consider must-haves in every garden as reported in the LA Times:

Buckwheat growing under fruit trees

Buckwheat blossoms in late summer home garden. (E. Wallace)

If you are going to add just one native plant to your yard, make it a California buckwheat. At OCCNPS, we believe this is such an important plant for the landscape that we gave away 1,500 starter buckwheat plants to Orange County homeowners in our A Buckwheat in Every Garden program.

Hummingbird finding nectar from a Cleveland sage. (Kris Ethington)

Salvias and sages are pollinators’ favorite flowers. White sage is a sacred plant to Native Americans; it has silvery foliage and thrives in hot, dry locations. For shady locations, hummingbird sage spreads abundantly, blossoming with magenta-colored flowers in spring and summer. Vanderhoff also recommends the fragrant Cleveland sage which thrives in most parts of Southern California.

Monarch caterpillar munching on a narrow-leaf milkweed. (Cynthia Grilli)

Narrow-leaf milkweed has white flowers and is the best milkweed for monarch butterflies in Southern California. Many nurseries sell the orange tropical milkweed, but tropical milkweed is not native to Southern California, and researchers have discovered that tropical milkweed hosts a protozoa that makes adult monarchs sickly and weak, according to Vanderhoff. For that reason, Vanderhoff’s nursery, Roger’s Gardens, only sells narrow-leaf milkweed.

Maritime ceanothus. (Kris Ethington)

Ceanothus, commonly known as the California lilac, is a gardener’s favorite. With its honey sweet scent and profuse violet blossoms, this is a must have for every garden. The ceanothus variety ‘Yankee Point’ spills down hillsides in shady inland gardens. ‘Ray Hartman‘ ceanothus is a small-tree-sized California lilac covered with deep violet blossoms in springtime.

Native bumble with pollen on its legs and a lupine. (Kris Ethington)

California poppies and lupine wildflowers are easy-to-grow annuals with spectacular spring and summer flowers. Gardeners can sow the seeds of these flowers just before winter rains and provide abundant support for pollinators. You can purchase these seeds from Tree of Life Nursery and Theodore Payne Foundation.

Black-tailed bumblebee visits manzanita. (Kris Ethington)

Manzanitas are the superstars of California natives. If anything will turn people toward natives, it’s manzanitas. Manzanitas’ bell-shaped blossoms, structural characteristics, and rich red bark make this a garden standout. Two varieties of manzanitas are excellent choices for the first-time native gardener: Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ and ‘Howard McMinn.’

Join me at and other members of OCCNPS at The Dana Point Headlands Earth Day Celebration on April 25, and pick up a free California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant. We care about your garden and the pollinators your garden can support with the right native plants. Join us and bring your questions. We are here to help.

Bring More Hummingbirds, Orioles, and Warblers to Your Home

How can you get more birds visiting your garden?

Hummingbird gathering nectar from Cleveland Sage. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Go to Audubon’s guide for plants that attract birds.

Orange-Crowned Warbler foraging on Showy Penstemon. Photo by Kris Ethington.

When you click on this link, you will be directed to the Audubon Society database that recommends plants that help birds thrive where you live. Enter your 5-digit zip code and explore the best plants for birds in your area, as well as local resources and links to more information.

Hooded Oriole feeding chick. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Click the Audubon link and learn which native plants will bring more birds to your garden this spring.

Hummingbird fledgling perched on a Cleveland Sage with parent in the background. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you live in Southern California, you can find bird-friendly native plants for sale at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. (Elizabeth Wallace)

And on Saturday, March 12 from 3 to 5 p.m., you can pick up a free California buckwheat plant at the Arbor Day celebration at Lang Park in Laguna Beach while supplies last.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is partnering with National Audubon Society to encourage all of us to go outside this weekend and count the birds we see in our backyard or favorite place.

Sandpipers at Laguna Beach, CA. (Elizabeth Wallace)

I spent about 30 minutes this morning with a pair of binoculars and my Birds of California Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. I counted five American Robins, one Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a Cooper’s Hawk, and three White-Crowned Sparrows.

Cooper’s Hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The count continues through the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, February 17. Audubon encourages people from around the world to count wild birds and then submit the data online for scientists to use in their research. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an easy-to-use phone app to help you record and identify the birds you see. It’s called Merlin.

The Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helps you record the birds you saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

You can add this app to your phone for free and quickly identify and record the birds you observed this weekend. It’s easy and fun and will help scientists better understand trends in bird populations worldwide.

Pelicans at sunset in Irvine, California. Photo by Yana Bridle.

After you’ve finished counting birds, join us in April at the Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene. We will be giving away free buckwheat and also offering other California native plants for sale.

California buckwheat plants are flowering machines that attract hundreds of pollinators. These pollinators are an important food source for birds. I look forward to seeing you this Thursday.

Tiny masked bee visits California buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Saying Good Bye to a Billion Birds

Did you know that in 2016, North America had more than a billion fewer breeding birds than 40 years ago?

Blue birds eating insects. Photo by the Louis Gintner Botanical Garden.

What is contributing to the decline in bird populations? Scientist Doug Tallamy has discovered that when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Insects make up 96 percent of terrestrial birds’ food source.

Carolina chickadee prepares to feed young. Photo by Douglas Tallamy.

 

Thousands of lady beetles hibernating in a canyon area in a southern California woodland in the winter of 2020. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

We have 3,300 species of ornamental plants (from other areas of the world) introduced in the United States. These plants are cultivated and promoted by nurseries and home improvement centers because they are unusual, pretty, and easy to grow.

Ornamental Pampas Grass (from Argentina and Brazil) invades a creek in Southern California. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Introduced ornamental plants do not support abundant insect life, and without insects–humans, birds, and animals cannot survive. Other factors contributing to the reduction in bird populations include pesticide use, bird strikes on windows and plexiglass fencing, and feral cats. To learn more, you can read Tallamy’s research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

Ornamental fountain grass (from Africa) planted in a residential landscape in Southern California.

What can you do to help? Start by learning about native plants from your region. If you live in California, you can go to CalScape.org and type in your zip code. You will find a list of plants that are native to your area, and the insects and pollinators the native plant supports.

California Native Plant Society

Returning birdsong to the outdoors is one of the reasons why the Orange County California Native Plant Society is giving away one free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat to Orange County homeowners. Buckwheat supports 15 species of butterflies and moths, not to mention all of the native bees and other insects that thrive with this plant in the landscape. Plant a California buckwheat today and help birds find enough to eat.

Lady Beetle Visits Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Buckwheat in Winter

Pictured here is a large expanse of California buckwheat growing healthy and wild in O’Neill Park in November, just before the rainy season began. Notice how the flowers have turned a rusty reddish brown as this shrub reflects the changing seasons.

Field of buckwheat, oak trees and clouds in November before the seasonal rains began. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The buckwheat flower is turning to seed as winter approaches. California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is distantly related to the Eurasian crop plant common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), which is used for pancakes, bread, and porridges. Unlike its European relative, the seed of the California buckwheat is not commonly used as a grain but instead feeds local birds and wildlife. If you trim the reddish flowers in winter, lay them on the ground for wildlife to enjoy.

California Buckwheat heading into the fall season. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Author Michael Wilken-Robinson reports in his book “Kumeyaay Ethnobotany” that native Baja Californians cook buckwheat flowers and leaves with water to make a tea to calm nerves. Others report using California buckwheat to cure digestive disorders. Medicinal uses for buckwheat are widespread among the Kumeyaay people.

Kumeyaay Ethnobotany by Michael Wilken-Robinson

In the spring and summer, California buckwheat is an important source of nectar for bees and is prized for the fragrant honey produced from the flower. Buckwheat honey has a delicate flavor and aroma.

Honey bee visiting buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

More honey comes from pollinated buckwheat than any other native plant in California. Visit your local farmer’s market to purchase local buckwheat honey and enjoy its sweet, rich flavor throughout the year.

Buckwheat honey. (Elizabeth Wallace)

It’s hard to resist the allure of the iconic California buckwheat and all of the benefits it will provide in your garden landscape.

Restored Habitat at Shipley Supports Wildlife

I took advantage of the break in the rain last weekend to visit Shipley Nature Center for their A Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway in Huntington Beach.

Sycamore tree overhangs natural pathway. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The 18-acre Shipley Nature Center is a California native botanical area and wetland. The centerpiece of the gardens is a fresh water pond surrounded by various California native habitat gardens, restful seating areas, and natural pathways.

Red toyon berries flank an adirondack chair in autumn. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Shipley offers vermiculture (worm composting) demonstration sites, rain harvesting and storage examples, and a native plant nursery on site. Fallen tree branches are stacked along some of the pathways, providing perfect habitat for California native bees.

An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The City of Huntington Beach and the nonprofit Friends of Shipley Nature Center began restoration of the site in 1974. They removed invasive plants such as tamarisk and black mustard, then planted fifty thousand native plants. This site now supports snowy egrets, great blue herons, ducks, turtles, Cooper’s hawks, cedar waxwings, and many other species of birds, and butterflies.

Cooper’s hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Shipley Nature Center is an oasis in the city of Huntington Beach. Take your family to visit over the holidays and walk along 4,000 feet of trails that wander through oak woodlands, Torrey pines, willows, coastal sage scrub, and butterfly gardens. Admission is free, and visitor hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Matilija poppies in full flower at Shipley. Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

Don’t forget to look for the buckwheats planted near the entrance of the site, and remember to look up! You may be rewarded by the site of a snowy egret near its tangled branch nest in the tree tops.

Do you see the ghostly figure of the snowy egret near the nest built in the sycamore tree at Shipley? Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

How the Buckwheat Campaign Began

California buckwheat. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

The idea for A Buckwheat in Every Garden was hatched in July 2019 when board members of the California Native Plant Society, Orange County chapter (OCCNPS) met for their annual strategy meeting. The goal of the campaign: To encourage Orange County homeowners to install California native plants in their home landscapes to support healthy urban environments.

OCCNPS committee members defined the goals of the campaign: Distribute 1,500 California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ plants, one plant per Orange County homeowner, from October 2019 through February 29, 2020, or until all plants are distributed. Plants are given in exchange for the homeowner’s street and city address, so the plants can be mapped on A Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map.

The committee worked with Tree of Life Nursery to support the cultivation of 1,500 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants in decorative four-inch containers. The committee also worked with Roger’s Gardens to help distribute and promote the buckwheat campaign.

California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ variety. Photo by Laura Camp.

OCCNPS committee members created a blog and a web page and began an Instagram and Twitter account. A new iNaturalist mapping program was created specifically for the campaign and added to the OCCNPS web site.

A Buckwheat in Every Garden is funded by OCCNPS’ small treasury and is operated with all volunteer labor. OCCNPS is a 501(c)(3) California non-profit organization. Upcoming buckwheat give-away outreach events are listed below (while supplies last):

OCCNPS gives away California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ at Acorn Day in O’Neill Regional Park. Photo by Ian Morrell.

  1. San Clemente Garden Club,  Wednesday, November 6 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., San Clemente.
  2. Laguna Beach Garden Club, Friday, November 8 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, Laguna Beach.
  3. Sherman Library and Gardens, Friday, November 8 from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., Corona del Mar.
  4. The city of Dana Point, Dana Point Community Center, 34052 Del Obispo, Dana Point, Friday, November 15 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. This event is ambitious: We hope to distribute 200 buckwheats in four hours. Help us make that happen. We will see you there.

Fullerton Arboretum event on November 1st. Photo by Maryanne Mayeda.

If you haven’t had a chance to pick up your free buckwheat yet, join us at one of the four events listed above, and share your address with us so we can plot your new buckwheat on the iNaturalist map. The plants go quickly, so arrive early.

Fairy bee visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

 

Buckwheats Buzz

Most people recognize the common honey bee as a social creature that lives in hives and makes honey. However many people don’t know that honey bees are non-native insects, introduced from Europe.

European honey bee visiting buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

There are 1,600 species of native bees in California, ranging in size from one-inch long to less than one-quarter inch long. California native bees are often solitary, living in wood or underground tunnels, and most do not make honey. They are important to the existence of our wild lands, and serve as food that supports other species.

Fairy Bees visit buckwheat blossoms. Photo by Kris Ethington.

California native bees love buckwheat’s profusion of blossoms. If you look closely at your California buckwheat when it’s in full bloom in the summer, you will see hundreds of tiny bees and butterflies scattered throughout its blossoms.

Fiery Skipper butterfly visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you would like to learn more about California native bees, visit the website for UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

And if you would like to support our native pollinators, join us as we give away California buckwheat plants (while supplies last) at three upcoming events in November:

  1. The Fullerton Arboretum is hosting A Buckwheat in Every Garden give-away on Friday, November 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  2. Roger’s Gardens is giving away four-inch California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Corona del Mar on Friday, November 1.
  3. The San Clemente Garden Club is hosting a buckwheat give-away on Wednesday, November 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. Brad Jenkins, President of the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society, will be presenting that afternoon as well.

    An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

    OCCNPS gave away more than 400 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants in October. Visit our iNaturalist map to see the hundreds of buckwheat plants that have gone to their new Orange County home landscapes.

Buckwheat Builds Soil

California buckwheat is an evergreen plant with small leaves that occasionally drop to the ground, forming a natural mulch. The fallen leaves enrich the soil around the plant and allow the plant to grow and spread in its own loamy mulch.

California buckwheat leaves and stem. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

If you are an Orange County homeowner who hasn’t picked up your free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat yet, stop by Roger’s Gardens at 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd., Corona del Mar on Tuesday, October 22 through Thursday, October 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is the only three-day giveaway we have planned, so take advantage of it if you can.

Rogers Gardens is participating in the A Buckwheat in Every Garden campaign.

 

Birds, Bees and Buckwheat

The California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter created A Buckwheat in Every Garden to encourage homeowners to plant California native plants in their home landscape– which in turn supports and increases bird populations.

Hummingbird and native California fuchsia. Photo by Kris Ethington.

My neighbor recently sent this photo of a swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on the leaves of her kumquat tree. She had previously considered removing the kumquat trees from her garden, but decided against it and was thrilled to see the swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on the leaves.

Swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on the leaves of a kumquat tree. Photo by Amanda Morrell.

California buckwheat has a long, prolific flowering season that attracts tiny native California bees and butterflies. When I looked closely at my California buckwheat plants this summer, I was astonished to see thousands of tiny pollinators on my buckwheat flowers. These pollinators support my vegetable garden and fruit trees, and they support bird life as well.

Butterfly visits a California buckwheat. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

On Thursday, October 17 at 7:30 p.m., Mike Evans, owner of Tree of Life Nursery, gave a presentation at the OCCNPS chapter meeting called Horticultural Valor in the Native Garden–Be Bold! OCCNPS gave away 61 four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants during the chapter meeting.

Paper wasps visits a buckwheat flower. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

On Saturday, October 19, OCCNPS board member Thea Gavin gave a presentation at Orange Home Grown Farmers Market about how beneficial pollinators increase in numbers when native plants are installed near fruit and vegetable gardens. OCCNPS gave away 42 ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat plants at the event.

California buckwheat

Butterfly visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Would you like to help the buckwheat campaign? Join us as a Buckwheat Ambassador and help distribute baby buckwheat plants to your garden club or environmental group. Click here to learn how you can be a part of A Buckwheat in Every Garden.

Buckwheat Brings a Party

One hundred and fifty ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheats found new homes in Orange County. The first outreach event at Acorn Day at O’Neill Regional Park and the second outreach at Smartscape were very popular, attracting many gardeners eager to install a native California buckwheat in their home landscapes.

California buckwheats are in high demand at Acorn Day in O’Neill Park. Photo by Laura Camp.

The Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) has created an interactive iNaturalist map that shows the distribution of the 1,500 buckwheat plants as they are given away and planted throughout the OC. You can follow along as the new buckwheat plants are being installed in Orange County by clicking on the link here.

Four-inch California buckwheats ready for distribution. Photo by Ian Morrell.

If you didn’t have a chance to pick up your free California buckwheat plant last weekend, OCCNPS will be hosting more events throughout October and November.

One of many clusters of blossoms on California Buckwheat. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff

Go to www.OCCNPS.org for more information about upcoming buckwheat distribution events, buckwheat care, planting information, and more. We look forward to seeing you soon.

California buckwheat

California buckwheat in full bloom. (Elizabeth Wallace)

 

 

Buckwheat Brings Buckeyes

Autumn has arrived and the creamy white buckwheat flowers are beginning to take on their rich, russet brown color.

Thea Gavin’s buckwheat hosts a common Buckeye butterfly in Orange, California. Photo by Thea Gavin.

Can you see the common Buckeye butterfly visiting the buckwheat in the image above? Several native plant gardeners have shared photos of the common Buckeye butterfly visiting buckwheat plants in their home landscapes recently.

Common buckeye visits buckwheat flowers in Kris Ethington’s San Clemente garden.

Doug Tallamy, scientist and author of Bringing Nature Home, argues that the single, best method to help bird and butterfly populations recover is for homeowners to plant a portion of their garden with native plants.

Metalmark butterfly and pollinator visit a native milkweed. (Elizabeth Wallace)

California Native Plant Society Orange County chapter (OCCNPS) has begun free distribution of California buckwheat plants to Orange County homeowners while supplies last.

Buckeye butterfly resting on a Dana Point Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

October is the perfect time for planting buckwheat–the upcoming rainfall will help your new buckwheat thrive in your garden. Join us! We would love to meet you and help you get an iconic California native plant started in your garden.