Today is Blog Action Day, a single day in which bloggers all over the world post on the same topic. This year the topic is the environment. 

I can’t write unless I am comfortable in my environment. Sure, to an extent that means I need a comfy chair and an ergonomic set-up for typing. But to me it means more than that, it means that I have to be happy in my surroundings. Some of that is inside and some of it is outside. I’m an introvert so I get my energy from my time alone. My home is comfortable, cozy, filled with books in just about every room. It’s a good environment for my writer self. 

I also love the outdoors and get energy from driving along the backroads in Santa Cruz amongst the redwoods and ferns. It is both soothing and energizing at the same time. In the last house we rented we wanted to try to replicate that same “back to nature” feeling in our yard. We didn’t own the place so there were limits to what we could do. We decided to start small and practice for a time when we had a home of our own. There was a sideyard that used to be used for RV storage – translation: It was dead, not even any weeds growing there and packed down hard as cement. It looked like this:

My husband had majored in enviormental issues (as well as politics and economics) and suggested we look into California Native Plants. 

Native plants are, as you might expect, plants that grew in your area long before civilization arrived. They co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships and are the foundation of our native ecosystems, or natural communities. And here’s the thing, a native plant garden is so much easier to take care of than a traditional garden. If you plant the right plants for your area they will improve the soil, send down deep roots that will be able to deal with your natural waterfall (or lack of in my case here in California) and they will encourage the reappearance of native wildlife from bugs to butterflies to birds and more.

There are some plants that are the sole food for native wildlife. In California, our state insect is the Dogface butterfly. Sadly many people will never see one because larvae of the Dogface buttefly feed almost solely on the California Native plant False indigo. This plant is on the endangered species list maintained by the California Native Plant Society.

So with just a little bit of research I was hooked on the idea of taking our barren sideyard and using it as an experimental California Native plant garden. We took a trip to Native Revival in Aptos and spent several weekends digging holes and planting plants. After 3 weeks we ended up with this, already an improvement over the bare, dead dirt.

We didn’t put in a sprinkler system because the idea was to see how the garden would do if we left it to Mother Nature. We followed the nursery’s suggestions to water the holes well when we planted, to water once a week for the first month, and to mulch heavily. Then we mostly left it alone. And one year later, with no extra water, no fertilizer, no supplements at all, we had this:

It’s safe to say that I have been converted to the idea of using Native Plants as much as possible. The yard was always full of wildlife activity even though we lived in the middle of the city, three houses from the freeway. Neighbors with a bird bath told us they had never, in 45 years of living there, seen as many different birds in their yard as they had after we planted our native plants. We left that garden behind earlier this year when we moved but I’d like to think we gave a little back to the environment by improving that patch of bare dirt.

We bought a house this year and a few weeks ago we had everything ripped out of the backyard except for a single tree and the grass. The grass will be going too but not yet. We put up a new fence and are busy working with the Native Plant designer, (Pete at East Bay Wilds) planning our new yard which will be filled as many Native Plants as possible. 

Pete can’t promise me a Dogfaced butterfly but he has promised to help me improve my environment which will, in turn, improve my writing.