2nd Prison Garden Installed!

Working with Insight Gardening Program and SWA Group, we worked with inmates and correctional officers to install a second prison garden! This project was at the Correctional Medical Facility in Vacaville, and had its own unique challenges. As in all prison gardens these days, it is important not to obstruct any views from guard towers. Unique to this facility is the fact that many inmates are disabled, so access to the plants had to be carefully planned so that all inmates could interact with their garden.

Landscape architect Emily Schlickman and designer Shaun Loomis (SWA) came up with the ingenious idea of coming to one of the prison classes with scaled printouts of the space, as well as scaled cutouts of plants, planter beds, benches, and other materials we could incorporate into the garden. We then discussed ideas and goals, broke into groups, and began collaboratively coming up with layout ideas.

This produced a few clear consensuses that we used for the final design: a central gathering space, breakaway areas, and easy access for wheelchairs. Plants with fragrances that would support butterflies and birds were also desired.

We ended up with an ameboid layout, as shown below: 

Ameboid layout for garden at Correctional Medical Facility

Ameboid layout for garden at Correctional Medical Facility

The install went incredibly smooth, thanks to hard work by Amy Boyer, who directs the Insight Gardening Program at Solano Prison as well as the Correctional Medical Facility. Her many trips to Woodland Irrigation Supply paid off, as we had to work both with very low pressure as well as concerns that more conventional irrigation designs could be turned into weapons or used as rope for climbing over walls.

As with the Solano Prison install, the inmates were enthusiastic, patient (especially with the square shovels and dull trowels he had to dig into the hard soil) and eager to learn and help. The prison staff was tremendously helpful as well, setting up the below-ground irrigation piping, valve and filter regulator, grow beds, and even spreading the tons of road base and decomposed granite according to the plan. When we showed up, all we had to do was set up the drip irrigation system, plant the plants, and spread the mulch (still a lot!).

We ended up with a beautiful garden that brings pride and peace to everyone who helped make it a reality. We used almost entirely native plants as well as some edibles in the planter beds. We saw a monarch while we were planting, and upon returning for a quality check observed native bees, birds and a variety of butterflies enjoying the space with us. We are working on a proposal for seeding the area surrounding the ameboid garden with native grasses and wildflowers this fall, which I am thrilled about. This meadow would take habitat to the next level, and offer endless opportunities for learning about plants and insects, observing wildlife, and meditating with the hustle and bustle of nature, which must feel as hectic and stressful to the plants and insects involved as our hustle and bustle feels to us.

Thanks to everyone involved. Insight Gardening Program is a wonderful program that deserves broad support. It helps prisoners connect with themselves and the world in a calming way by looking at life somewhat like a garden that needs cultivation, care and patience. We are looking forward to another install in Stockton, hopefully as soon as this fall. Stay tuned!

Links:

IGP: http://insightgardenprogram.org

Press: http://www.thereporter.com/article/NG/20160520/NEWS/160529987 (beware of one error: this is not the biggest prison garden in the US; it's the biggest one in IGP history)

CSP Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeisFt9_vMs

Vacant Lot --> Community Garden in Colonial Heights

We recently completed a fun and fulfilling project in the Colonial Heights neighborhood in Sacramento. We worked with homeowners Tom and Rosette, who for many years lived next-door to a vacant lot. The lot was overgrown with weeds, and received a lot of traffic from people looking for a hidden spot to go to at night. Tom and Rosette purchased the lot with the aim of transforming it into a safe space for the community to gather, grow food, and host after-school programs. 

The project had a number of conceptual challenges. First was the goal of creating two types of spaces. One would be entirely public and open visually, and include raised veggie beds for community members to use. This space would be locked for safety purposes but participating community members would get a key to use for access. The second part of the space would connect directly to Tom and Rosette's back yard, and be used for hosting large events. The two spaces connect via a large gate that opens up.

Plants are predominately fruit trees and bushes, and there are some natives planted as well. We used natives that provide natural pest control for the edible plants - sticky plants like hummingbird sage that capture small flies to feed predatory insects, and plants like CA woodmint that are natural hosts of predatory insects like plant bugs and stilt bugs. We are waiting for the city to repair the sidewalk before we plant native plants as part of a pollinator corridor. These plants will provide habitat for native pollinators and allow youngsters in the neighborhood a chance to learn about conservation and ecology, which are great ways to connect with biology and science more broadly.

  Pictures coming soon...

 

Pictures coming soon...

 

 

Great story on tarweeds in Bay Nature

So much of the attention given to rare and endangered species goes to what we in the entomological world call 'charismatic megafauna'. If that term sounds a bit snarky, it is. The little guys have stories to tell after all, and a common sentiment among those who study these less-conspicuous forms of life is that they deserve just as much attention, respect and protection. Just because we humans notice and relate to the big critters easily doesn't mean the little ones matter less.

Anyways. This article in Bay Nature about Livermore Tarplant, a rare species only found in three populations in the Livermore Valley in the Bay Area, is a really entertaining read. It is a cinderella story, or in the author, Eric Simon's words: "We learn to love nature by telling stories about it, and I wanted to explore the kind of stories you could tell to convince someone to love a rare, ugly plant".  That desire is deep to my heart as well.

The article delves into the surprising story of a little inconspicuous plant - a tarweed! - and its path to redemption, or something like that. In any case it's one of the best-written pieces on such a topic that I've read in a long time.  Plus, it can be difficult finding expressions of admiration toward the tarweeds outside of this blog, which for the record, is referred to in the article. Check it out: http://baynature.org/biodiversity/livermore-tarweed/. 

In looking for the link to the article, I came across yet another article in Bay Nature on the tarweeds! In case you still want to read more about tarweed, here it is: http://baynature.org/article/the-scent-of-summer/

Gold Medals at San Francisco Flower and Garden Show!

It’s been a big week for us here at Restoration Landscaping building (and taking down) a garden at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show.  It was really fantastic to meet fellow plant and bug enthusiasts, and we won a Gold Medal from the show, the American Horticulture Association’s award for Best Environmental Garden, and the Garden Conservancy’s award for a Garden that Ages Well.  

We also got some good press, including a live TV interview where I walk the reporter through our on-site science experiment and a front page article in the San Mateo Daily Journal.

This project would never have happened without Haven Kiers, one of our designer, and Travis Finfrock, our project manager and lead builder of the garden. Haven designed the layout and choose all the colors, angles, and plant placement, and Travis oversaw the building of the garden  and designed the pond, which in addition to looking beautiful is built to be an ideal habitat for dragonflies and butterflies.

   

 

 

garden 4.jpg

 

New Front Yard Workshop March 10 at UC Merced

The next New Front Yard workshops, organized by the California Native Grasslands Association (CNGA) with support from the Department of Water Resources, will be held March 10th at UC Merced. Like the others in the series, the workshop will provide resources for homeowners and landscapers on how to convert water-thirsty lawns into water-wise, native gardens that provide positive ecological benefits. These workshops are informative and fun too - presentations, hands-on activities, and a great chance to meet other enthusiastic gardeners and professionals.

For more information, check out CNGA's website.

Paper on tarweeds published in journal Ecology

After about 4 years of work, my colleague Ian Pearse and I have published a paper on the evolution of stickiness (and lack thereof) in the tarweeds. The tarweeds comprise a wide range of amazing annuals in CA, including many that are critical resources for birds and pollinators. Beyond those benefits, we have shown previously that the sticky tarweed species support predatory insects by catching them food in their sticky hairs in the form of insect meat: insects stop to rest on a tarweed plant and get stuck, then their carcasses are fed upon by a suite of beneficial, predatory insects. A collaborator of mine showed elegantly that other plants - namely the serpentine columbine, go as far as to lure these insects with attractive smells, an interaction he calls their 'siren song'.

This new paper takes the sticky plant story to another level. One of the thing that makes tarweeds so interesting is how diverse the the different species are, and among the same species, how different populations can have radically different plant traits. For example, among many species of tarweed, there are populations of early-bloomers and late-bloomers. Individuals from both populations germinate at the same time, but the early-bloomers flower in the spring while the late-bloomers wait until fall. Early-bloomers are small, not sticky, and short-lived. Late-bloomers are much larger, sticky and fragrant (both as a result of resin production largely lacking in the early-bloomer populations). This occurs in virtually all the tarweed species, yet until now there had been no explanation as to why.

Our hypothesis was that the early-bloomers sacrifice size and longevity in order to avoid their herbivores in time; each species of tarweed has a specialized herbivore (a moth caterpillar) that can consume entire plants. They are active in the late summer and fall, but rare or absent in the spring. The early-bloomers lack the sticky-mediated defense that the late-bloomers have - catching insects in their sticky hairs to use as bait for predatory insects that kill the caterpillars. In this study we also showed that the early-bloomers lack the ability to regrow tissues eaten by caterpillars, while the late-bloomers are able to recover from damage effectively.

Thus, there are two alternate strategies employed by tarweed for dealing with herbivores: avoid them or confront them. Avoiding them means almost certain reproduction, but at a low rate - these smaller plants only produce a few fruits, but are rarely sterilized by caterpillars. Late-bloomers employ a riskier strategy: grow big and store energy reserves to regrow lost tissues, and employ the help of bodyguards to protect them from caterpillars by offering food to the bodyguards in the form of insect carrion. In a good year with low caterpillar abundance, these late-bloomers could thrive, but in a year of high abundances they could be wiped out.

One last piece of this story is that in all cases the early-bloomers have apparently evolved directly from the late-bloomers at a given location. Meaning: early-bloomers are more closely related to late-bloomers living nearby than to other early-bloomers nearby. Weird, right? For a long time the early-bloomers and late-bloomers were considered different subspecies (vernalis, meaning spring, for early, and densiflora, meaning densely leaved, for the late). In reality they are not subspecies (if they were the early-bloomers would breed with early-bloomers, and late with late), but symptoms of a repeating and rapid evolutionary response to caterpillars, embodied in two distinct strategies.

RLC speaking, competing in garden show at San Fran Flower and Garden Show

We will be participating in the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show this March. The show is one of the world's biggest garden shows, and if you haven't bought tickets yet, they're selling out fast!

The company is building a garden to compete in the Garden Creators Competition. Our garden's theme focuses on the interactive elements of wildlife habitat in gardens. We will have a dragonfly pond, a bioswale, natural pest control by native insects integrated with vegetable plantings, and a multitude of ecological context to align with the physical elements of the garden. The key, unique challenge to this show is that the garden is all indoors. Yes, indoors! And, it's supposed to look like a mature garden in March. Our strategy is growing a variety of annual wildflowers in a greenhouse and forcing them to flower early by manipulating the day length of their growing conditions. Fingers crossed, we should have a colorful meadow for the show...

Additionally, founder Billy Krimmel will be giving a seminar on the importance of cities and suburbs for habitat restoration and conservation. Cities and suburbs are only increasing in size and already comprise more than half of our land use in the lower 48. Turning your yard into habitat for wildlife is addressing the next critical frontier for species conservation. 

http://sfgardenshow.com

Another great New Front Yard Workshop

I've been on the board of directors for the California Native Grasslands Association (CNGA) for the past couple months. One the projects we're working on is providing resources for homeowners, landscapers and businesses so that they can convert lawns into water-wise native landscapes. The workshops - called the New Front Yard - are developed in partnership with the Department of Water Resources - the same group that has been organizing the local turf conversion rebates.

This workshop was in Santa Cruz and the speakers and turnout were fantastic. Attendees learned about irrigation, methods of lawn removal, plant selection and rain/grey water systems. The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum hosted the event, and everyone got to explore their fantastic selection of plant communities during the latter half of the day. If you get the chance to explore the arboretum there, do - it's really special.

The next workshop will be in Merced on March 10. Flyer and information is here. We're still looking for more attendees and sponsors in that area, so please distribute if you know anyone who might be interested!

New prison project at California Medical Facility in Vacaville

Last week I met with prisoners, volunteers and partnering landscape designers at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville as part of another IGP (Insight Gardening Program) project. The facility is for inmates with medical conditions that require hospital-level care.

Similar to the project at Solano Prison, we will be working with prisoners to come up with a design for the space, then actually building it. I'm excited that I will be working with landscape architect Emily Schlickman and others from SWA Group (a design firm in the Bay Area) on the design, and as with the Solano project, I look forward to managing the installation of the garden. 

Emily had the great idea to come to the session last week prepared with scaled printouts of the space as well as people (freestanding and in wheelchairs), planter beds and benches. This allowed everyone to have a role in designing the layout and tacking some initial decisions on the functions and key elements of the garden. One unique challenge to this project is that the entire space must be ADA compliant, so that people in wheelchairs can engage and participate.

As with the Solano Prison project, a challenge with this garden is creating a vibrant space that does not block the views for guards in towers. Thus, no large shrubs or trees. We are exploring the idea - exciting! - of creating an expansive wildflower meadow surrounding a gathering place. This would make the space pop with color and textures without the need for large trees or shrubs.

We are shooting for a spring installation of the garden, and will keep you posted!

 

Native Plants Gardens: now in Solano Prison

For the last year I’ve been volunteering with Insight Garden Program in Solano Prison in Vacaville to educate the inmates about native plans and insects and to work with them to design and plant a native garden in the prison yard.  

This weekend was the install-- you can read about it and see some pictures in The Reporter (front page!) today.

My favorite thing about volunteering in the prison was meeting insect and plant enthusiasts from all walks of life.  When the classes were held inside, the prisoners used a fern as a centerpiece for group discussions.  One inmate, Lin, noticed that the fern had been infested by mealybugs and wondered how we might control them.  Later, when we were outside in the garden, we spotted plant bugs, a mealybug predator. Let's just the fern wasn't infested for long.

 

Native Bees: The Times is On It*

Mark Bittman from the NYTimes visited Full Belly Farms in Guinda, northwest of Davis, to learn about native bees, pollinators, and hedgerows. He made this quick video that's worth a watch. 

Field at Full Belly Farms (from Bittman's video)

Field at Full Belly Farms (from Bittman's video)

This is very exciting, first because Full Belly Farms was the provider of my delicious CSA box for many years and it’s nice to see them get some press. Second, because journalists are finally catching on to the importance of native bees instead of only covering colony collapse in imported European bees.

*My east-coast friends and family treat The New York Times like the word of god, so I was so tickled to discover the hashtag #TheTimesisOnIt, which gently mocks the New York Times for presenting old stories like breaking news.  It’s unrelated to gardening but amusing. 

California mandates turf reduction!

The era of green lawns in CA is one step closer to gone!

This Restoration Landscaping yard combines a functional lawn area with functional native plants, reducing water usage while providing outdoor space.

This Restoration Landscaping yard combines a functional lawn area with functional native plants, reducing water usage while providing outdoor space.

Today, the CA Water Commission passed regulations requiring that new commercial and residential developments limit turf grass to 25% of their landscapes - drought-tolerant plants must be used for the rest. This is a part of the Governor's executive order in April in response to our historic drought. Here's the full article in the SacBee

Exceptions include instances where grass serves a function - event hosting, sports, etc. But companies must demonstrate the need for this use. In the words of Nancy Vogel, the spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Agency, "You can't really turf because it looks pretty. You have to prove that you're using it for weddings or gatherings or whatever".

This means that CA is getting closer to being on the same page that we are with landscaping. Plants aren't just decorations. They should have functions. Gathering space is one. Habitat for the myriad native species that once thrived in this area is another.

Let's not forget this function component when removing our lawns. There are plenty of alternatives to lawns for reducing water use, like gravel or mulch. But what's the function?

The vast majority of drought-tolerant plants used in landscaping are non-native, or even man-made varietals. They are bred to be inhospitable for insects and to remain static in appearance. Is this any different than a plastic plant in terms of function?

If landscapes can have functions, what are they? 54% of the land in the lower 48 has been converted into urban and suburban areas. Landscaping companies and nurseries determine the plant community in this majority of our nation's land. If we can replace these landscapes with native species of plants, and allow them to be nibbled on by insects (which turn into butterflies and bird food), imagine the potential for the land to function. This is the new frontier of conservation. Let's be proactive and think beyond reducing water: let's make the new front yard functional. Replacing lawns offers an incredible opportunity to rethink and reshape California - and the rest of the nation - into a real ecosystem.

You're worrying about the wrong bees!

 

The first question I get when I tell people I'm an ecologist is always the same: "What's happening to the bees?"  The attention given to colony collapse among the European honeybees, which are bred commercially and used in agriculture, is heartening. But the public should be far more concerned about our native bees, which depend on native plants for both food (nectar, pollen from flowers) and nesting habitat (many nest in the hollow stems of old twigs).

Which is why this article I just read rang true: http://www.wired.com/2015/04/youre-worrying-wrong-bees/. It's always great to hear that others are paying attention!

A native bee at home in a yard redesigned by Restoration Landscaping.

A native bee at home in a yard redesigned by Restoration Landscaping.

Honeybees are managed. They will pull through. But as described in the Wired article, native bees are losing habitat quickly. Each time we lose a native bee, we risk losing plants that need them for pollination. Native bees contribute to crop pollination more than managed honeybees globally. For the sake of flowers, for the sake of fruits, for the sake of your backyard vegetable garden, support our native bees.

How? Use a diversity of native plants in landscapes. Use annuals. Use wildflowers. Use plants with resins and oils (used for nest construction by bees). Maximize biomass. Don't be too fastidious about cleaning up twigs (or at least keep them onsite, so the bee larvae inside can have a chance). 

Native bees want our landscapes to look more wild and natural. If we want to help rebuild these native species, we may have to move the line between nature and conventional landscaping a bit more toward the nature side. Come join us. Let's reimagine landscaping.

The wildflowers are popping with color

Summer is here and the wildflowers are going strong in the front yard (formerly a lawn) of a house in Davis, CA!

Lupines, bluebells and poppies have been dazzling us since March, but now it’s time for the real show. As the days become longer and warmer and the sun beats down more directly, all those other little seedlings start to become proper plants and fill in.

And some seeds are just germinating now, which blows my mind. Turkey mullein, a pale-green mound-forming plant that supports beneficial insects like minute pirate bugs and big-eyed bugs, is one of these late-germinators. Most CA native seeds germinate in the fall when the rain starts. This always made intuitive sense to me. But some indeed wait until the warm, dry end of spring to germinate. And yet they make it. Amazing. 

For now many of these late-sprouters lay in wait as small but growing seedlings, biding their time until the lupines die and they can emerge in full colorful glory.

Anyways, back to the show of colors embracing us this time of year.

The California and lacey phacelias are blooming, the fuzzy purple flowers looking like balloons floating around.

Lawn replacement with wildflowers. A honeybee drinks nectar from an elegant clarkia flower, just one of many choices for it.

Lawn replacement with wildflowers. A honeybee drinks nectar from an elegant clarkia flower, just one of many choices for it.

Elegant clarkia’s intricate flowers look like they come from a different planet.

Yellow and purple lupines continue their show along with the poppies and bluebells.

Turf removal can add so many colors and textures to your front yard. These wildflowers don't need any water, provide habitat and food for bees, butterflies and birds, and don't need any fertilizer, mowing or pesticides.

Turf removal can add so many colors and textures to your front yard. These wildflowers don't need any water, provide habitat and food for bees, butterflies and birds, and don't need any fertilizer, mowing or pesticides.

This all used to be a lawn. Short, green grass, the same all year. No bees, no butterflies, no benefits. Now it's full of color, needs very little water, and supports a variety of lovely bees, butterflies and birds.

Let Our Tarweeds Grow!

The tarweeds have a bad reputation.  It all started with the name-- to me the resin smells buttery and lemony. To whoever named the plant, it smells like tar. 

Then there’s the “weed”.  (Don’t get ecologists started on this word).  To many people, weeds are plants that are inherently unwelcome.

So that bring us to today, where the very qualities that make tarweed one of our most impressive native plants-- resilient, fragrant, and a welcoming host to beneficial native insects – render it a pest in unenlightened circles. 

Five reasons to bring back the California tarweed!

1.     Tarweed is the last guest standing at the party.  Tarweeds' deep tap roots allow them to outlive other plants and remain blooming and strong in the hot, dry, California fall. Because they are some of the few plants to last into fall, they serve as a critical resource for wildlife like native bees and butterflies, predatory insects, and birds.

Late summer, early morning. Madia elegans, a species of tarweed, produces beautiful flowers that are conspicuous in the early morning and late evening during the summer, but they close during the day. You can see that besides tarweed, everything in the background is pretty brown. For native birds and insects, this means that tarweed is a critical food source during the hot, dry CA summer.

Late summer, early morning. Madia elegans, a species of tarweed, produces beautiful flowers that are conspicuous in the early morning and late evening during the summer, but they close during the day. You can see that besides tarweed, everything in the background is pretty brown. For native birds and insects, this means that tarweed is a critical food source during the hot, dry CA summer.

2.     Tarweeds look gooooood.  Tarweeds' beautiful yellow flowers – sometimes with red rings – open for sunrise and sunset, closing during the hot day to protect their sensitive components from the sun.

3.   The tarweed feeds our birds. Tarweed heir seeds are highly nutritious and adored by birds.

4.     The tarweeds protects our bees.  The sticky secretions that give them the ‘tar’ part of their name are used by a variety of native bees; the bees use these glue-like compounds to fortify their nests, making them impenetrable to would-be predators and parasites. Plus, bees eat tarweeds' nectar and feed their babies tarweed's pollen. Especially in the barren fall, tarweeds are a bee safety net.

5.     Tarweeds supports beneficial insects. The sticky secretions also catch small insects like flies which in turn feed a variety of predatory insects that provide the plants with protection from pests.  Once in the neighborhood, these predators stick around and guard your other plants from bad bugs as well.

A beneficial insect - the assassin bug Pselliopus spinicollis - feeds on a fly that got stuck to tarweed's sticky hairs. These entrapped insects provide season-long food for beneficial insects, ensuring that they maintain high populations and provide sustainable, natural pest control for your garden.

A beneficial insect - the assassin bug Pselliopus spinicollis - feeds on a fly that got stuck to tarweed's sticky hairs. These entrapped insects provide season-long food for beneficial insects, ensuring that they maintain high populations and provide sustainable, natural pest control for your garden.

Growing tarweed from seed

Annuals are not generally thought of as landscaping plants. The conventional approach to landscaping, even native landscaping, is to use perennials sparsely placed among a mulch matrix. This is convenient for landscaping companies, since the process is relatively simple (cover weeds with plastic, cover plastic with mulch, add occasional plants).

But annuals have a lot to offer, too. They produce immense amounts of biomass, which of course is the foundation of life: this plant biomass turns into insect biomass, which turns into bird biomass, and so on. Plants are the foundation of ecosystems, and biomass is the building block.

Annuals can be established in massive quantities at low costs when planted by seed. This makes sense, since plants ready for transplant cost about $5-10, while seeds are in the small cents or fraction of a cent. Some care is needed to establish the seeds, but if implemented properly you can produce immense amounts of plants for cheap, whether you want DIY transplants or a thick meadow of wildflowers (as a lawn replacement or a beneficial insectary).

Tarweed, despite its lackluster name, can be a great (as well as cost-effective) addition to your native garden. It provides habitat and food for many specially adapted beneficial insects, and can be a valuable part of your pest-control strategy.

Some seeds are very easy to establish. Poppy and lupine are some of the easiest natives, and since they germinate quickly they can outcompete some weeds when sewn at the right time. Others, like tarweed, are a bit trickier. Still, with the right timing and soil preparation, anyone can get them to grow.

One of the largest benefits of establishing native plants from seed is that they actually require no water. None. Not even drip. It can take a few seasons of re-seeding to establish a native seed bank that can outcompete common urban weeds, but once this seed bank establishes, the annuals are there to stay.

How to grow tarweed from seed

Tarweed seeds (Madia elegans).

Tarweed seeds (Madia elegans).

There are two basic ways to do this: seed directly in the soil, or germinate indoors then transplant the seedlings. Both are simple but must be done properly. From here on out I am going to focus on a species of tarweed dear to my heart, Madia elegans, called common madia and showy madia – but I’ll just refer to it as tarweed for the sake of simplicity. Besides, getting seeds from the other tarweed species to establish is virtually the same (for the record, the tarweeds are fascinating as a taxonomic group in their immense adaptability: they are the ancestors of the Hawaiians silverswords, which look nothing like them and exist in the wettest and driest parts of the world).

If you want to establish tarweed directly from seed (this is what I would recommend in general), keep in mind that it’s more of a disturbance colonizer than a great competitor. If there are other plants growing where you sew the seeds, your chances aren’t great. So remove everything else first, and don’t mix in other seeds where you want to establish tarweed. Or sew the seeds in gravel, sides of paths or in cracks in pavers or cement - they will thrive there will out any preparation.

Increase the drainage of the soil too.  I like to mix in 1 part sand to 3 parts soil, plus about 1 part gravel. Tarweed will do incredibly well in cracks in cement, gravel, places you walk a lot, patios, etc, but has a harder time sometimes in dirt that looks more friendly. So prep it first.

Or just let your dog dig in the soil right after sewing the seeds.

Once the seeds germinate, you should get pretty decent survival – the tough part is getting them to go from seed to seedling in the soil. Snails will eat the young plants, but stop once they become sticky.

A great place to put tarweed is on the perimeter of your vegetable garden. The small insects that get stuck in tarweed’s sticky secretions feed a variety of beneficial insects which will build up on these native plants then move into your garden to suppress pests. Establishing a border of native plants like tarweed (that support native predators) will give you permanent, self-sustaining pest control. No more aphid outbreaks.

Tarweed provides protein-rich food (in the form of dead insects stuck to its sticky hairs) for beneficial insects, providing effective and natural pest control.

Tarweed provides protein-rich food (in the form of dead insects stuck to its sticky hairs) for beneficial insects, providing effective and natural pest control.

If you’d rather grow tarweeds one by one, there’s a way to do that, too. Take the seeds and wrap them in a wet paper towel. I usually soak a paper towel, wring it out, then put seeds in it. Put the paper towel in a plastic bag and put it all in the fridge. After a few weeks the seeds will germinate. Then, place them one-by-one by hand into small pots with a mixture of 1 part sand to 3 parts potting soil. It’s best to water from below – if possible, put the pots on a tray where you can soak them in an inch or so of water until it’s absorbed by the soil. Don’t overwater. You want the soil to be moist but not wet. Let the very top layer of soil be dry or moist, but water more if the plants wilt. If the leaf tips become pale, water less (this strategy can be applied to any plant).

Keep the sprouts in the shade until they put on a few true leaves, Once the seedlings put on a dozen or so leaves, and the roots reach all corners of the pots, they’re ready to transplant into the soil like any plant. They will need water at first, and you might lose some leaves (but that’s fine).

Tarweed seedlings with 2-4 true leaves

Tarweed seedlings with 2-4 true leaves

Tarweed has been valued by wildlife for millions of years. It was a staple to the Pomo Indians, who ate its seeds for protein. Tarweeds are immensely drought-tolerant, beautiful, smell lovely, provide natural, chemical-free pest control, feed birds, protect pollinators, and much more. And yet, thanks to an unfortunate name, they get no respect. Restoration Landscaping Co. intends to change that. Get in touch to find out more!

RESTORATION LANDSCAPING: THE FUTURE OF URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

Anyone curious about the natural world would accept that everything in nature is interconnected. And yet, chances are that you have never really thought of your home, garden, or backyard as part of your region's natural system.

Adding native flowers around your garden creates habitat for beneficial insects. These insects naturally control populations of pests like aphids - not just in your yard, but in your entire urban environment.

Adding native flowers around your garden creates habitat for beneficial insects. These insects naturally control populations of pests like aphids - not just in your yard, but in your entire urban environment.

Restoration Landscaping is addressing this disconnect by bringing California’s native plants and beneficial insects to urban areas where they no longer exist. We are transforming properties into functional wildlife sanctuaries. Our work is informed by both design and science. We provide a unique design/build landscaping service that balances our need for beautiful outdoor space with an understanding that our urban environment is a part of the natural environment. Our yards, together, are an important place.

Our team is comprised of experts in ecology and environmental sciences. We see your landscaping project as an opportunity to address ongoing critical challenges: the impact of drought on plants and soils, species extinction, and collapse of pollinator populations. Working at the property scale with consideration of regional processes and conditions, our mission is to provide mindful aesthetic solutions that will reconnect your home to the broader natural system through a growing network of restored/landscaped sites, designed to harbor flora and fauna that were once common in the region.

 

The big picture

Humans are part of nature and so are our homes. Around the world, we have altered natural landscapes, causing major ecological disruptions that can only be reversed by the reformulation of urban environments. Contemporary urbanization is now changing the way in which we influence ecosystem functions. For example, urban and suburban landscapes play a significant role in sustaining native plants, birds, and insects, providing benefits that reverberate across multiple levels of the ecological organization. Indeed, the sustainability of natural systems at broader scales is influenced by small-scale restoration/landscaping projects. In areas dominated by agricultural fields - such as the Sacramento area and Northern California in general - small properties effectively function as refuge/habitat for species that otherwise no longer exist in the region.

Our goal is to advance the environmental impact of urban and suburban environments in the region, by providing a series of improvements and landscaping services at the property level with consideration of regional challenges. Of particularly importance in California, the effects of drought on plants and soils, and the extinction of key species (e.g., native bees and other pollinators), are central in our restoration and landscape design. Our approach addresses these challenges, while enhancing the beauty of your immediate surroundings, and reconnecting your property to the broader natural system. By taking simple steps like replacing invasive ornamental plants with natives, replacing lawns with native wildflowers that are already adapted to the environment, and replacing pesticides with established populations of beneficial insects,  we are taking the impact that your yard already has on the natural environment, and redirecting it toward sustainability.

A lawn replaced with native wildflowers by Restoration Landscaping Co., Davis, CA. This ecosystem requires only a tiny fraction of the water of a turf lawn; at the same time, it provides habitat for beneficial insects, reducing the need for harmful pesticides. 

 Furthermore, we are committed to following each individual project through periodic surveys, maintenance, and data acquisition, which will be part of a long-term restoration network. As an integral part of this network your landscaping project will contribute to a sustainability plan, pioneered by our team of expert ecologists and environmental sciences at the University of California Davis, who see your landscaping project as an opportunity to address regional environmental challenges.

We have the knowledge to start restoring our landscape; your yard is the missing piece of this puzzle.

Scope of work

For restoration and landscaping to facilitate urban sustainability, it is important to understand that cities are highly dynamic and currently exhibit new forms and relations with natural environments. The nature and variety of recent urban changes go well beyond the experience of individual properties. We believe that combining a scientific framework in a planned restoration/landscaping design will stimulate urban changes in a direction that will foster sustainable development and improve the ecological significance of your property. We define urban systems as mosaics that encompass developed centers, but which are also connected with agricultural and unmanaged lands. In this inclusive sense, the term urban system stands for extensive areas of human influence.

There is also a temporal component of urban systems. This component takes into account that the system can be described with respect to their trajectory, from their segmented origin, through continuous resource inputs needed for developing an interconnected sustainable outcome. Every urban system has institutions for managing the flows of resources, the production of goods, finances, and social interactions. They are also associated with well-established architecture and urban layout. However, the life of urban systems clearly does not end with an ideal, persistent, stable state. For example, many former industrial powerhouse cities lost much of their environmental and economic base, along with large portions of their populations. Therefore, temporal trajectories that characterize the long-term sustainability of urban systems require continuous innovation in order to ensure adjustments in the face of new challenges.

 

One clear trend in modern urban areas is that they have become less dense at their cores, spreading into their vicinities and suburbs. Urban areas are increasingly more connected to the larger global context and to neighboring cities. In the United States, large urban systems are no longer fueled primarily by industry. Instead, today's cities have a more regionally diffuse structure, typically governed by a patchwork of chartered cities, villages, and towns, or counties and regional authorities, along with civil society organizations. The global context calling for improvement of the urban change models is paralleled by novelty of urban patterns around the world. Such new models of urban change and processes may be more useful in charting sustainable urban futures than the declining industrial/urbanization model. For this reason, we have adopted the novel concept of “continuum of urbanity”, which describes the context for applying ecological science toward the sustainable city (Pickett and Zhou 2015). This concept, which is the basis of our framework, emphasizes the biological, physical, and infrastructural processes that integrate the lands and systems within and between urban regions. The continuum of urbanity does not attempt to reinforce and redefine the contrast between urban and rural to fit contemporary reality. Rather it summarizes evolving concepts and insights from a variety of scientific disciplines. This conceptual continuum describes our region as porous, multi-dimensional, differentially connected mosaics in which ecological connectivity is the key aspect of sustainable modern life.

A key ingredient in the successful contribution of ecology to urban sustainability is the recognition of the ripeness of our urban areas for transformation. This recognition guides how ideas of sustainability intersect with the concepts of the urban planning and how, in turn, the urbanity continuum advances sustainability. Specifically, the sustainability worldview increasingly applied to urban areas does not mean that a city will be entirely self-sufficient. Rather, it suggests shaping a trajectory that increases sustainability, which can be most effectively achieved by the restoration landscaping of small but interconnected urban areas to foster broad scale beneficial interactions between regional ecosystems and our communities.

 

Moving forward

Utilizing rainwater, this seasonal stream in North Davis is lush, without using any external water. 

Utilizing rainwater, this seasonal stream in North Davis is lush, without using any external water. 

In our view the best way to move urban systems toward sustainability is to employ design strategies and approaches validated by successful frameworks proposed by ecological urbanism. Ecological urbanism takes into account natural organisms, structures, and processes, incorporating knowledge of ecology and environmental sciences into urban restoration design, summarized by the following principles:

  • cities are part of the natural world;

  • cities are habitats;

  • cities are ecosystems;

  • urban ecosystems are dynamic and interconnected;

  • every city has a deep, enduring context; and

  • urban design is a tool of human adaptation.

These principles, which are based on well-established scientific literature (Pickett et al. 2013), suggest that designing urban systems without explicit consideration of the ecological context will leave cities incomplete and vulnerable. In other words, they will remain unsustainable. Our goal is to use scientific knowledge and the principles of ecological urbanism to reconnect your home's design to the sustainability of our region.


A new network for sustainable change

Combined, the notions of continuum and ecological urbanism are expressed through superlative improvements in our livelihood, lifestyle, and connectivity with nature. Thus, the two concepts together provide the framework in which can make measurable improvements to our urban experience. Our framework does not replace, but rather gives a home to other familiar urban developments dealing with watershed processes, land cover mapping, and land use classification, among others.

This is a huge project - but it starts with small steps. Restoring a small portion of an urban area can have a large effect on the wildlife that entire area supports. This is the future of landscape design. Let's get started.


References

Pickett STA, Cadenasso ML, McGrath B (2013) Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design: Linking Theory and Practice for Sustainable Cities. Springer, New York

Pickett STA, Zhou W (2015) Global urbanization as a shifting context for applying ecological science toward the sustainable city. Ecosyst Heal Sustain