Native Plant Gardening in San Francisco’s Back Yards

The CNPS Yerba Buena Chapter is proud to announce a new gardening-for-wildlife project called Back Yard Natives. San Francisco is unusual in its back yard organization in two respects. First, in our dense urban setting a significant portion of lots is typically devoted to back yards. Second, large areas of the city are organized so that residential lots have contiguous back yards. These connect not just to each other but to parks and other nearby open spaces. Thus, our back yards have the potential to become part of a significant system of connected wildlife corridors.

Protecting wildlife in the city has popular appeal since most people delight to experience the natural world. Urban dwellers get satisfaction when they feel they are making even a small step toward making up for the destruction of the habitat of the natural world. Gardening for wildlife using native plants in back yards is in the sustainable landscape/planting practices approved by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission and adopted in the city’s Sustainability Plan, available on the website of the City of SF Planning Department

Back Yard Natives proposes to bring back yards – out of their landscaped traditions of exotic (more recently labeled drought-tolerant) plantings, and into the natural landscape around them. Its goal is to engage people to create and sustain healthy, dynamic outdoor spaces – from our communities into our homes. The vision is of a sustainable society in which individuals live in harmony with and contribute meaningfully to their local environment.

To add to the environmental significance of back yards, Back Yard Natives promotes plants native to San Francisco. The intent, however, is not to deny residents a favorite tree or rose, but to add to the mix. In order to make an impact, Back Yard Natives will encourage neighbors to plant collectively. One oak or a few coyote brush with a lizard tail mixed in may not make a difference to the ecology of a back yard. However, if five or six immediate neighbors each plant an oak or a few coyote brush, the difference promises to be significant, especially when the area is planted in a way that interconnects with nearby natural areas. From my own experience, six months after adding asters and nootka reed grass to an area approximately 12 feet by 12 feet, along with a few bird baths, my back yard was rather suddenly graced by blue damsel flies flitting about magically in the sunshine.

From its start seven years ago, our chapter plant sale has been dedicated to providing locally-collected native plants exclusively. We currently have one sale a year. One significant role our chapter will play in Back Yard Natives is to make arrangements to have these plants available year-round.