An unapologetic Fauna-centric Garden

After reading a small New York Times piece about the plight of native bees, Mary Beth Thibodeaux “decided to create one of the recommended “islands” providing nectar and pollen for those bees.”

From Mary Beth:

My garden at the time consisted of antique roses, violets, and native plants. I began to learn as much as I could about bee plants and plants that would have been native to my suburban yard on the flats of San Mateo. I volunteered at San Bruno Mountain Watch doing restoration and growing plants for the mountain which gave me access to plants that are not normally found in nurseries but grow in situations like my yard.

Noticing the number and variety of birds that were arriving in my garden I realized that I wanted to create an ecology, rather than focusing on bees.

Text with photos: An Unapologetic Fauna Centric Garden

Garden started:  Approx 1990

Where: San Mateo county (note: Yerba Buena chapter’s CNPS “footprint” includes all of SF county and norther San Mateo County)

Notable features: There are two self filling bird baths that overflow regularly to create two small riparian areas. The rest of the garden is dry.

 There are several plants that are rarely found in nurseries. These were collected from San Bruno Mountain and grown for restoration;  Flat topped goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis; the annual Stinging phacelia, Phacelia malvifolia, Small bract sedge, Carex subbracteata, and the now rare Coast iris, Iris longepetalia, Madrones were once found on the alluvial fans created by creeks flowing into the bay. I added a tiny Madrone in 2010 that is now over 12 feet tall and produces berries that are popular with the birds.

Favorite plants in your garden: I am particularly fond of my Yerba Santa, not usually considered a garden plant because of its associated black fungus. It has one of the largest groups of associated bugs of any of the local plants. For my generalist pollinators I let the Phacelia malvifolia reseed; it comes up very early in the spring with the rains. The number of visitors is so great that the back garden has a low hum.  Finally I am particularly fond of the many grasses, Melicas, Bromes, Hordiums and Nassellas .

Wildlife seen: Despite being a suburban garden, the visitors are too numerous to list. Many native pollinators, of course; Yellow faced and Black tailed bumble bees, Long horned bees, all sizes of carpenter bees, butterflies and moths.

Many birds: my favorites are the resident Chickadees and Oak titmice that bring their offspring (to show off?) each year before they are sent packing; the travelers from the north: White and Golden crowned sparrows, Oregon juncos, Yellow-rumped warblers; the pugnacious hummingbirds that guard “their” fountain and the stealthy Cooper’s Hawks that cause a normally noisy garden to go still; these are only a few of the birds that take advantage of the flowing water.

Favorite thing about the garden: The sense that I am providing bed and board for so many creatures. The garden brings new surprises every year, yet is always a source of peace for me.

Biggest challenge: Mediating between the enthusiastic spreaders and re-seeders and the shyer plants who don’t like to be crowded or whose seed banks are there but need to be protected from the flora bullies. I realized this year that I must be the fire and the browsers that have been taken out of the ecologic equation.

Any advice for those who want to get started: Visit a plant sale at a local CNPS nursery or restoration nursery. Start small with something that catches your eye at a native plant nursery. Don’t be afraid to make “mistakes.”

  • The front yard with male Coyote brush and Coast Live Oak courtesy of the Jays.