A young Central Sunset Native Garden

Rowena Forest and Peter Pyle’s 2020 native coastal dune, prairie, scrub garden

When we were house hunting in western SF two years ago, we were looking for a property with a west-facing yard with marine influence in order to establish a native coastal dune/prairie/scrub garden. We were very happy to find our sunny row home in the Central Sunset, with a level 1800 square foot backyard. The yard was trashed and overgrown with holly, acacia, Bromus diandrus, and yes, Oxalis. Starting in the summer of 2019 we undertook major debris removal and landscaping in the yard, and our plants went in the ground in November, of 2019.

Notable Features: We were able to dig down through a couple of feet of garden soil and debris to the native sand beneath our property, and incorporated as much as we could muster for our garden installation. There is a stark temperature and humidity contrast between the southern and northern sides of the garden, so we have planted accordingly. The northern fence line of the yard (southern exposure) also happens to be a rock wall built long ago by previous owners, so that stretch of the yard really heats up. We exclusively planted dune plants and dudleya along that stretch of the yard.

Our favorite plants in the garden are all of them, but our Bee Plants in particular have grown incredibly vigorously, have been the first to bloom, and are attracting the most insects and pollinators to our garden so far. We were excited to plant several species of coastal bunch grass in the center of the yard. And our Soap Plants, which have moved with us between three houses, have really taken off in this yard, and are sending up stocks for their delicate star-like flowers to blossom later this spring.   

Wildlife seen: several species of bees, butterflies, other insects, Slender Salamander, and a growing yard list of resident and migrant birds.

Biggest Challenge: Weeding and Oxalis – particularly from December-April. During the worst months we weed for about six to ten hours a week, but it has steadily decreased, and we are getting a workout while doing it.

Advice for those who are starting: Go for it!! There is nothing more important than planting natives to support and increase urban wildlife and biodiversity. Also, if you have weeds like Oxalis to contend with, first remove as much of the contaminated topsoil as possible, put down a very thick layer of cardboard sheet mulch with wood chips or other uncontaminated natural mulch on top of that, and vigorously and regularly spot-weed throughout the year to keep on top of the weeds. It does make a big difference in keeping the weeds down over time, and you can avoid using herbicides. Butterflies, insects, and a multitude of birds began visiting and inhabiting our yard within two months of installing our native SF garden.

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Rowena Forest