March Showers Bring April Flowers

After cold deluges in March, spring arrived overnight at the Garden for the Environment. A visitor passing through asked me, ”What are those bright blue bushes up on the hillside? They are so amazing!” I stopped what I was doing to walk over with him. “Those are Ceanothus 'Dark Star'. Listen!” As we stood quietly, you could hear the buzzing from the shrubs, heavy with flowers, their leaves almost invisible under the bright burden. “Look,” I told him, “the Ceanothus is full of honey bees, but if you look closely you will also see our fat bumbling native bees, and many tiny wasps, with flies of all kinds. It’s a pollinator party, and a loud one!”

  Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ at GFE.

Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ at GFE.

Ceanothus is a California native plant, and part of our botanical heritage right here in the Bay Area. As you drive on local highways, you can see them blooming on dry hillsides in our wild lands. They come in all sizes and shapes, from flat growing groundcovers to big tree-sized shrubs. They bloom now, white through light blue and lavender to the vivid dark blue of ‘Dark Star.’ Like all native plants, they are a perfect fit, not only for our soil and weather patterns, but also for the local wildlife, including all the players at the pollinator party.

From now through July the beautiful and vigorous native plants in our native garden will bloom in turn. This is their active season, with water in the soil from winter rains, and warm days ahead. By July, the soils are dry and the fogs roll in. Our native garden quiets down, because the dry late summer months are the dormant time for California native plants. Once the first rains return in the fall, they perk up again and start to grow through the mild wet winter, reaching their bloom time again as the first warm days of spring arrive.

 California poppy and yarrow.

California poppy and yarrow.

This year at GFE there is more to see than ever. For many years, we’ve had a small demonstration garden which is landscaped entirely with native plants. Right next to it is the Victory Garden, where we demonstrate “all out food production.” Above these small fenced gardens, a steep sandy hillside rises to the street. This hillside is full of native plants, but difficult to access and difficult to maintain. The shrubs were getting raggedy, and blackberries were starting to arch up through the spent flowering stalks of last year’s Bee Plant. Just as we were scratching our heads about how to access and care for these native plants, unexpected and very welcome help arrived.

Patrick Haesloop and Spencer Honeyman, local landscape magicians and native plant lovers came to our rescue and donated labor and many plants to renew the native hillside. They created a path through the hillside, so that visitors to the garden can now walk among the blooming natives, and enjoy the beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin headlands from the top of GFE. To find the new native walk from 7th and Lawton, head up Lawton to the top of the garden, and turn left. Walk past the small fenced area, and enter the garden through an opening in the fence under the Monterey Cypress (the biggest tree on the block). Although some parts of the hillside are still being planted, there are many new and old California native plants here for you to enjoy. Many, many thanks from us to Patrick and Spencer of REvive Landscapes for their hard work on behalf of the native hillside.

The garden is open every day of the year for everyone to enjoy, and staffed on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Come by to enjoy the best blooming and green oasis in town, have a picnic, admire our views, or pitch in and help us weed for half an hour. We’ll always be glad to see you!

  Ribes sanguineum.

Ribes sanguineum.