Cynthia Brian’s March 31 Column in Lamorinda Weekly


Other than the monolithic hedges on the left, this yard is about 90% natives.

I was just catching up on my Lamorinda Weeklies during morning coffee. This means I also had my weekly dose of Cynthia Brian’s gardening column.

In her March 31 installment, Cynthia covers critters, and methods by which we can attempt to derail their appetite for our plants. This gives me an opportunity to rant about one of my favorite subjects (no, not Brian’s column. . . although there’s a bit of that, too):

Native plants.

The majority of California’s native plants are much less tempting to deer and rabbits; many non-natives / exotics are like dessert to critters. When placed in an unprotected yard, the latter are the tempting sweets of the plant world, so far as animals are concerned.

Nowhere in Cynthia’s column is there direct mention of natives as the best deterrent. Yes, there’s a sidebar plant list in a green box on page 14 (common names are used, not Latin names; both should be referenced in such a list).

Sage (Salvia) is mentioned, however, Cynthia doesn’t distinguish between native Salvias and non-natives (both are unattractive to deer and bunnies). She also recommends Elderberries (Sambucus) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera), both edible. Both are also much more prevalent in non-native cultivars than native species, however. But if you search for the native varieties at local nurseries, you’ll usually find them.

Native species and cultivars are preferred for desirable wildlife such as birds (especially hummingbirds), bees, and other pollinators.

Brian recommends we “drive around [our] neighborhood to see what kinds of plants are thriving.” This approach runs the risk of creating an “echo chamber” of front yards. I encourage my landscaping clients to be different! Plant a front yard of nothing but natives. Create and maintain pollinator habitat. Our suburban streets will benefit from such non-conformity (and it’s probably best not to get me started on How To Kill Your Lawn).

Elsewhere in the piece, Cynthia invokes a preference for larger plants because animals are less likely to denude something so big. There’s a tradeoff, here, however.

Larger plants are more difficult to establish, especially in hot weather (the cliche “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” is apt here, and, obviously, losing a $60 plant hurts more than the death of a $7 plant). If they’re kept in containers, they need more water, often daily in hotter weather. In pots, they’re also more vulnerable to blowing over in the wind.

As I have harped upon before, gardening and gardens benefit from a grasp (embrace, even) of nuance. Generalized plant info can be helpful, but, more often, a more detailed overview is best. I will always shoehorn natives into such overviews.

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