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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Celebrating natives
The first annual Native Plant Week & CNPS Native Festival

by Carolyn Singer
April 9, 2011

redbudThis week I was on my hands and knees, in the soft duff of the native landscape behind my house, once again viewing the delicate fan violet through the hand lens. As much a spring ritual as planting lettuce, I have been drawn to this area in spring by the taller bright yellow buttercups (Ranunculus) for more than 30 years. Once immersed, little distracts me as I seek violets and the just emerging star tulip nearby. The sound of the wind in the trees is even in the background.

While I have been aware that this past week is the first annual Native Plant Week, so established by the California legislature, my reverence for natives has long been an essential aspect of "gardening" in the foothills.

Our native redbud, Cercis occidentalis(photo, above right), bursts into bloom just as the snowstorms subside in the foothills. With its vivid magenta flowers, this handsome small tree offers year-round beauty and seasonal interest. Back roads in Nevada County often reveal large specimens, inviting a return visit in fall when the leaves color highly in shades of red.

Take note of where redbud seems to thrive in the foothills, and pick a similar microclimate in your own landscape for planting. Rocky soil may support sizable stands. While full sun is often where we see redbud growing, while this native is in bloom, you might also spot it in an eastern or more shaded exposure.

Growing in sun and rocky soils, the intense blue of the Ceanothus soon follows. Unfortunately, this is one native that does not escape deer browsing, making it difficult to introduce into the unfenced native garden. One possibility is to fence it as a young shrub, removing the protection when the plant is taller. Limited damage to the lower foliage can be tolerated.

/ Mahonia aquifoliumOne of my first choices for native gardens with deer is Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape holly, photo, left). Also identified as barberry, this evergreen grows in full sun or considerable shade. With no pruning, the larger shrub can be an excellent screening plant under native oaks and cedars. The groundcover form, Mahonia repens (photo,below right), is a tough but attractive plant, spreading easily even in rocky soil or crevices.Mahonia repens

A more ephemeral groundcover for shade is the native bleeding heart, Dicentra eximia (photo, below right), lush as it emerges in early spring. But it is gone with the summer heat, dying back to add to the native mulch. There are northern slopes in Nevada County with undisturbed masses of this delicate beauty. If you add it to your own garden, shade and no summer water are the primary cultural requirements.Dicentra eximia

This year the CNPS Redbud native plant sale has become the first annual Native Plant Festival, to be held at Sierra College in Rocklin., 9:30-1:30. Members are allowed to shop during the hour before the plant sale is open to the public. Plan to immerse yourself in the wealth of information this festival offers from seminars to educational displays, to mingling with a crowd of native plant enthusiasts. Look for Chet Blackburn's "Connoisseur's Corner" where he will be offering a selection of unusual plants from as far away as Las Pilates and Tree of Life Nurseries in southern California. He'll be bringing to the sale the best cultivars to grow in our area.

In the foothills, there are wonderful opportunities to learn about natives. Check out the California Native Plant Society website, Redbud Chapter for local hikes, classes, and evening lectures. When we understand more about where we live, and pause to appreciate native plants, soil and water, we become better stewards of our natural landscape.

©2011 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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