Letter from Suzanne Sparacio to the Lamorinda Weekly

“Dear Lamorinda Weekly,

As a Contra Costa College Biology Professor, I wanted to provide a clarification to the article “The Garden Melting Pot” published on March 13, 2024. Cynthia Brian stated “Many revered non-natives have acclimated to our soil, weather, and stressors providing food and refuge for our insects, wildlife, and birds while living in harmony with native species.” While it is true that many non-natives thrive in our ecosystem, it is not necessarily true that they live in harmony with native species. Ecosystems consist of delicate food webs with producers and consumers that have evolved together for thousands of years and non-natives can disrupt this delicate web. Some consumers only survive on a very small selection of native species. I would encourage everyone to plant as many native species as possible.”

Suzanne Sparacio MATSci, PhD


Al Kyte Q&A during Zoom presentation for this year’s Bringing Back the Natives virtual tour

Over the past three years, I’ve been my privilege and pleasure to work weekly with Al Kyte in his amazing native garden in Moraga. Al has retired from the annual tour, but this video (recorded for the 2022 virtual tour) will be aired again this Sunday, April 16, at 2:30 Pacific time, and Al will be available for Q&A via Zoom following the broadcast. You can sign up for the Zoom session at the link under the video. Hope to see you there.


Al Kyte’s Moraga Yard – A Series of Videos for the 2022 Bringing Back the Natives Tour

Each Friday for the past 18 or so months, I’ve met with Al Kyte and we’ve worked together on his native garden in Moraga. I look forward to every Friday afternoon. Al and Barbara’s garden is a joy to experience, and I learn things each time I visit.

Al’s yard has been featured on the annual Bringing Back the Natives tour for the past 14 years. This year’s in-person tour will feature Al’s garden on April 30/May 1. The virtual tour will take place the weekend before.

I’m hosting Al’s videos for this year’s event on my YouTube page. Here’s a full preview.

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.