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.

Where Do Western Monarchs Spend the Spring?

Despite the fact that Western Monarch butterflies are universally loved, their numbers have plummeted in recent years.

Two monarch butterflies cruise together under a Coast Live Oak tree. (Elizabeth Wallace)

What can you do to help? Join the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge–a campaign created to increase awareness of locations where Western Monarchs spend the spring in California after leaving their coastal California overwintering sites.

Male and female Western Monarchs together. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

If you see a monarch from February 18 through April 22, take a photo (it can be far away and blurry). Then report the siting to iNaturalist, the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, or email it to MonarchMystery@wsu.edu.

Far away and blurry photo of Western Monarch on baccharis pilularis cultivar and coffee berry. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Your photo will help scientists better understand Western Monarchs’ locations and activities in February, March, and April. When you share your springtime Monarch observations, you help conservation efforts for the butterfly.

In between reporting your spring Western Monarch sitings, plant more native plants in your garden, especially California buckwheat, salvias, manzanitas, narrow-leaf milkweed, and maybe a scrub oak tree!

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.

Growing Buckwheat in the Garden

When cooler winter temperatures arrive in Southern California, residents wear sweaters and scarves to stay cozy. Buckwheat changes in the winter too, as the creamy white flowers turn a reddish brown when the flowers go to seed.

‘Dana Point’ buckwheat graces a garden in winter. (Kris Ethington)

The ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat has a compact nature suitable for the home garden and is fairly easy to grow for first-time native gardeners.

Buckwheat mixes with other natives in the garden. (Kris Ethington)

More than a thousand buckwheats were distributed last fall, and if all went well, the plants that were given away may have doubled in size by now. Thanks to abundant rains over Thanksgiving and Christmas, the new buckwheat plants should be off to a good start.

New ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat planted in late November has doubled in size. (Elizabeth Wallace)

How is your new buckwheat growing? Have you experienced troubles or success? Let me know with a comment on this blog, and share a photo if you have one. I would love to hear from you.

And if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a free buckwheat, you can pick one up at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar on January 14, 15, and 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (while supplies last).

Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar. Photo from Roger’s Gardens.

More Buckwheat, More Butterflies

When you plant California buckwheat in your home landscape, you bring immediate relief to butterflies and other pollinators searching for nectar and shelter.

California native bee, solitary and docile, visits a California Buckwheat. Do you see the bee? Photo by Kris Ethington.

California buckwheats flower for months, enrich the soil with their tiny leaves, are easy to grow, and are evergreen. Buckwheat is a foundation plant for any garden.

Buckwheat graces a suburban garden. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter is partnering with the Shipley Nature Center to give away 200 California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants at the Holiday Crafts Faire on Saturday, December 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free.

Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach.

Visit Shipley Nature Center this Saturday to pick up a free California buckwheat, select from 70 California native plants to purchase, and see 18 acres of restored wetlands, woodlands, and pristine coastal sage scrub habitat. Shipley’s address is 17851 Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach. See you this Saturday!

Bernardino Blue butterfly on California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasiculatum). Photo by Chuck Wright.

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 in Bloom

According to the California Native Plant Society’s Calscape.org, there are 251 varieties of buckwheat (Eriogonum) native to California! You can go to Calscape.org and see for yourself all of the beautiful buckwheat varieties that grow in the state.

Buckwheat “Dana Point.’ Photo by Kris Ethington.

Three different varieties of buckwheat are growing in my home garden currently, and I am looking forward to adding the ‘Dana Point’ selection being offered to homeowners through A Buckwheat in Every Garden this October.

After I pick up my free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat in October, I will install it in my garden near the sidewalk leading to the front door.

Dana Point buckwheat provides seeds for the birds, habitat for lizards, and nectar for many varieties of tiny California native bees and butterflies.

Buckwheats are hardy and easy to establish. Plant them in a sunny place in the garden without amendments or fertilizers and they will thrive. California buckwheats rarely need pruning–once a year in December at most. After the plant is established, rainfall is all of the water a buckwheat will need, but watering the plant once a month will keep it green longer.

Ashyleaf Buckwheat newly installed in landscape.

At right is a photo of Ashyleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum) that I planted in my garden three weeks ago. This wild buckwheat grows on beaches and bluffs in California. Ashyleaf buckwheat is the food plant for the Euphilotes bernardino, the Bernardino dotted blue butterfly.

Acmon Blue butterfly visits a California buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The next post will talk about the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society’s buckwheat giveaway in more detail, providing specific dates and places where you can get your free, four-inch ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat plant in October and November while supplies last.

Butterfly Weekend

This weekend was California Biodiversity Day 2019 sponsored by the California Natural Resources Agency.  Scientists sought observations by fellow scientists, gardeners and ordinary citizens in mapping plants and animals living in California.

Male and female monarchs get together on the leaves of an alder tree to perpetuate the species. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

In honor of Biodiversity Day, I took a break from my chores and spent some time outside in my backyard with my husband to observe the local wildlife. We saw eight different species of butterflies, cactus wrens eating California coffee berries, hummingbirds sipping nectar from California fuchsia, a lizard doing push-ups on our garden wall, and a leaf-cutter bee laying eggs.

A pair of woodland skippers resting on a ceanothus. (Elizabeth Wallace)

After taking these photos, we uploaded them to iNaturalist, a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

Metalmark butterfly at rest. (Elizabeth Wallace)

It’s fun discovering tiny butterflies and native bees that live in the garden.  I spend a lot of time watching the butterflies, wishing they would rest so I can capture their image with my iPhone.

My friend in Costa Mesa noticed Monarch caterpillars had eaten all of the leaves of her two narrow-leaf milkweed bushes this week.  She was alarmed and worried the caterpillars would need more food.  She drove to Armstrong Nursery on Thursday and purchased a large narrow-leaf milkweed and her Monarch caterpillars are happily munching away once again.  They are hungry!

Monarch caterpillar feasting on a narrow-leaf milkweed. Photo by Cynthia Grilli.

Scientists were concerned because the annual Western Monarch butterfly count was historically low this year (fewer than 30,000 butterflies were counted–down 99 percent from the 1980’s).  They fear the Western Monarch may be nearing extinction.

It feels hopeful to see these chubby caterpillars, and the two adults mating in my garden this week.  If you would like to learn more about how you can help Monarchs, go to The Xerces Society.

Local Plants Support Bird Life

Did you know that 96 percent of songbirds rear their young on insects?  That one nest of chickadees requires 4,000 caterpillars and insects to fledge their young?

carolina-chickadee_douglas-tallamy-1

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

Our national parks and nature preserves are not adequate to support bird and butterfly populations according to Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home.  Tallamy estimates that only 3 percent of land in the lower 48 is set aside as parkland and nature preserves. The remaining 97 percent of land is being used for agriculture, residential and commercial development.

Tallamy argues that part of the reason bird and butterfly populations have been declining is because we have been planting ornamental plants in our commercial and residential landscapes instead of native plants.

Fountain Grass

Ornamental and invasive fountain grass planted on a residential hillside. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Tallamy’s simple solution to reverse the decline of bird populations, is to encourage homeowners and business owners to plant locally native vegetation instead of ornamental plants.  Even planting a small corner of your garden with locally native plants will help support bird life and butterflies.

Buckwheat and Purple Three Awn

St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) and Purple Three Awn decorate a patio. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Locally native plants support butterfly life because the butterflies evolved to feed from the native vegetation.  More butterflies mean more birds.

Try planting native.  You will love the results.