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Introduction To Advantages Of Our Approach To Native Garden Design

Our discussion of the benefits of native gardens will focus on advantages they have in comparison to more traditional, or exotic gardens. It may be helpful if we turn first to defining the differences between these terms.

A California Native Garden can be defined as a garden which is populated by plant species that were native to California before the arrival of Europeans. Although there are different approaches to gardening with native plants, this definition serves to clearly distinguish them from what we will term exotic or traditional garden plants. These latter two terms are meant to include all plants that have been brought to California from other places, from the time of the first European settlers up to now. Thus, all traditional gardens that currently surround us are exotic gardens since just about all the lawns, flowers, traditional and tropical shrubs that populate them are exotic plants that come from outside of the state.


However, from the point of view of our approach, the above definition of native gardens is too broad. The main reason for this is that California is a very big state. Within San Diego County alone there is an incredibly wide variety of habitats. These include the Coastal Strand and Marshes, extending through Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral communities, to Riparian, Oak Woodland, and Mountain habitats, and extending further through the transition zones from High Desert to Low Desert, just to name a few. Each of these habitats consists of different plant communities, some specific to our county. Thus, by extension, the term California native garden can refer to a large variety of possible garden types with an extremely wide variety of plants

Our approach favors placing two limitations on the design of native gardens. The first is that we base designs on plants that are local to the area where the garden is situated, that is, plants that evolved in the soil and climatic conditions of that area. This can be called a local-habitat based approach to native gardens and it would  exclude the use of plants from other states as well as other counties in Ca, and even those plants that originate in incompatible habitats in San Diego County.

The second limitation is to adapt the concept of xeriscape gardening to native gardens. Xeriscape,(from the Greek xeros /dry) is an approach to gardening which focuses on water-conserving garden techniques and the use of plants whose natural water requirements are appropriate to the local climate. This approach would exclude from our gardens any plants, native or exotic, that require more water than the local climate can usually provide.

Although these two "limitations" overlap in many ways, there is an important distinction between them. Not all xeriscape gardens are native gardens. An example of this would be a garden in La Jolla full of drought tolerant plants from Australia. Conversely, not all native gardens are xeriscape gardens; for example, a garden in El Cajon with plants from Northern California that are used to 30 inches of rain a year would not be a xeriscape.

Given this distinction, we will focus on how the concepts of xeriscape and local habitat dovetail and complement each other in a number of ways. In fact, it is the combination of these two which underlies our approach to native garden design. It is from this perspective that we discuss the advantages of native gardens over traditional gardens in the following sections.

Before turning to these advantages, please note that the discussions linked to each topic include possible objections to the approach advocated here. I have included these because it is my intent that people enter into the process of hosting a native garden with as complete a view as possible of what is involved. However, as someone who has worked and lived with native gardens for years, I believe that the majority of these objections are only disadvantages from the perspective of traditional horticultural practices. When seen from the broader ecological, economic, aesthetic, political, and sociological perspectives discussed below, the limitations of our approach emerge as preferable to the traditional practice of gardening with exotics and the waste of resources which that entails.

Questions? Comments? Please feel free to contact us
by e-mail at northparknativeplants@yahoo.com
or by phone at 619-846-0585.
We look forward to hearing from you.

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