Our logo


Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Landscaping is more than filling space with plants

by Carolyn Singer
September 27, 2008

A huge black oak that has grown for more than 300 years on Sonntag Hill is a highlight of the "landscape" near my home. Its canopy graces the length of my house.

black oakWhile it's difficult to imagine this magnificent native oak as a seedling, it was once young. Given sufficient sunlight exposure, good soil, and room to grow with no competition, this oak has grown to be one of many heritage trees in America.

Moving into the native landscape, too many homeowners attempt to introduce a quick landscape to fill the spaces around their homes with "pretty" plants. "I want color" is the plea I most often hear.

I have four primary gardens. Hydrozoning, grouping plants by irrigation requirements, is the first consideration. One garden is the native landscape north of my house, dominated by the venerable oak. Beyond the drip line of the oak, I added native redbud, and watered it for the first three years. There is no irrigation in this area now. For more than 30 years, the oak and the native woodland beyond have needed no additional landscaping, and no summer irrigation.

The second garden is an irrigated "fire safe zone" on the south side of the house. This open play area for children and fawns is a mix of California native yarrow (Achillea millefolium), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), and creeping ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) in the shadier areas. There are a few grasses, which are mowed all summer by the deer grazing.

Within this zone, which is irrigated once every five days in the heat of the summer, I also have many "pretty" perennials and shrubs that are deer-resistant. And I have many plants that I'm testing for deer-resistance that are not so pretty because they have been eaten!

The third garden is my vegetable and fruit garden, irrigated as needed. Just outside this garden is another unirrigated native garden area, dominated by deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

CA poppiesThe fourth garden area is filled with low-irrigation groundcovers and ornamental grasses. It is irrigated once every two weeks, although it has also survived three weeks between waterings in midsummer.

Think about these hydrozones as you plan your own foothill landscape. The Nevada County CA Fire Safe Council has lists of plants appropriate for the areas closest to your home. The local Redbud chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) have plant sales in spring and fall, where you have an opportunity to buy plants and gain expertise to assist you with wise landscape choices.

Foothill landscapes can be beautiful and practical. Take your time in soil preparation and selection of plant material, and definitely take advantage of the wealth of local expertise available to assist you in the process. Developing an effective and thoughtful landscape takes lots of information and time!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

Return to Articles

Return to Home Page

About us Consulting service Garden classes Published books Garden articles Garden gems