An Open Letter to Lamorinda Weekly

Lamorinda Weekly is one of my neighborhood’s local papers. Its print run is 26,000, and it appears in the driveway of nearly everyone in Lamorinda each week.

Cynthia Brian has a gardening column in every issue. It’s generally harmless, chatty, and packed with Cynthia’s descriptions of her garden, and prominent promotion of her books and various other pursuits.

At least once a month, she prints inaccurate information, and/or plain bad gardening advice. Usually I laugh it off, or post a brief rant on these pages, but sometimes the issues need to be addressed in a more public manner. Customers used to come in to Moraga Garden Center and ask me about something they read in her column. I would do my best to be constructive, and related the correct info, and/or lead them towards a more appropriate plant than one she recommended.

However, in Brian’s December 7 column, she included a line that was wrong on a couple levels. Since at least one of those levels involved wildlife habitat — something very important to me — I decided, finally, to write a letter to Lamorinda Weekly regarding the column.

Lamorinda Weekly declined to publish the letter, and, instead, forwarded it to Cynthia Brian.

She emailed me with a response that was equal parts gracious and inadequate.

I’ll spare you her reply, but my original letter to the Weekly follows.

I always read Cynthia Brian’s “Goddess Gardener” column with interest, if only to spot the inaccuracies  — and sometimes just plain bad advice — that regularly pops up. Imagine my surprise when Bryan made the following declaration in her December 7th column:

“The merry berry bushes of nandina, cotoneaster, and pyracantha were chock full of fiery red fruit favored by wildlife.”

It is widely known, and confirmed by gardening and wildlife experts, that Nandina (common name: Chinese bamboo) berries contain cyanide, and are toxic to many birds, including local species such as robins, western bluebirds, and cedar waxwings. I dissuade my clients from buying Nandina, and, if it exists in their gardens, I insist on cutting off all berries as soon as they appear.

Further, most Cotoneaster and, especially, all Pyracantha are extraordinarily invasive. Few local nurseries sell them, and if they do, they should be asked to stop. These nuisances spread uncontrollably and can outcompete native plants — and there are so many beautiful and easy-care natives that are better for wildlife: Salvia, Rhamnus californica (coffeeberry), Ribes species (currants), Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon)… the list goes on and on.

Please do your readers a service, and help inform and educate. Getting the information right goes a long way to achieve this.

Paul Ashby/Dobie Meadows Gardening
Orinda, CA

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