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Gardening with Natives Symposium: Creating Native Landscapes

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The typical suburban backyard has an area of groomed lawn, flower beds which follow the fence line and a tree or three to provide shade. In contrast, native habitats have free-flowing lines and often random, organic distributions of plants located in the exact spot which best favors their growth. Native habitats are home to pollinators such as native bees and support a wide variety of wildlife. They can bloom profusely and can also provide dramatic contrasts in textures and form. They can be self-sustaining through periods of summer drought and are refreshed during our cool, wet California winters.

The Sierra Foothills Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) will present its annual Gardening with Natives Symposium on Saturday, September 9, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sierra Building of the Mother Lode Fairgrounds on Stockton Street in Sonora, CA.

The symposium is titled “Gardening with Natives: Native Gardening in the Mother Lode – the New Normal.” “The new normal” refers to the wide shifts in yearly weather conditions that, in recent years, resulted in gardening with a restricted ability to water, persistent drought conditions, and the large-scale loss of trees. While the winter of 2016/2017 had much above normal levels of precipitation, it takes little reflection to remember that we’ve seen this pattern before – drought years followed by a winter of above normal precipitation, followed by below normal, followed by drought years. This pattern has been repeating itself, growing in intensity with each new dry cycle, since the mid-1970s, creating challenges for gardeners to maintain healthy landscapes.

The keynote speaker this year is Bart O’Brien, Director of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley Hills. O’Brien will draw upon his many years of experience with native plant gardening at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden and at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, to demonstrate that native plant gardening is as beautiful as it is resilient.

Local landscaper George Kirk, of Solomon’s Garden will discuss new design strategies to use in home gardens.

Susie Kocher, Forester with the UC Cooperative Extension, will provide information to choose the right native trees to replace those which were lost to drought or bark beetles, taking into consideration the shifting weather patterns.

Toby O’Geen, Ph.D., a Soils Scientist with UC Davis and the UC Cooperative Extension, will interpret local foothill soil characteristics, sharing observations used to diagnose soil health, and recommend some gardening practices to improve home landscape soils conditions.

Bonnie Bladen of Intermountain Nursery with a forestry degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Bonnie and her husband, Raymond, have attempted to grow every native plant they could find by seed or cuttings just to see if they could. Their Intermountain Nursery has 11 demonstration gardens where they test out California native plants to see how they grow and to showcase the various native species at their full size. Besides a full line of low water use plants, they currently specialize in four species of local native milkweed, Carpenteria californica, which is endemic to Fresno County, and pine trees for homeowners wishing to replant. They also grow site-specific plants for Yosemite National Park, PG&E, the Forest Service, and land conservation organizations. They practice forestry on 240 acres of conservation land they own in the Sierra.

Bonnie will reveal the multitude of native shrubs and perennials appropriate for local foothill gardens. She’ll have photos and a plant list showcasing California native plants appropriate for landscape use over a wide range of locations. Her talk will include plant requirements, planting tips, plant combinations and communities.

John Whittlesey, a landscape design professional and owner of Canyon Creek Nursery and Design in Oroville will share his current passion of pollinators by showing the native plants that support them, illustrated by his fabulous photography.

Meteorologist Rob Carlmark has been forecasting weather in California for the majority of his decade-long career. You can watch Rob Monday through Friday on ABC10 early in the morning. He will break down what is driving these wide shifts in weather patterns and give a glimpse of what the future might hold.

Correction: registration is $40 before September 1st; $50 at the door and includes lunch, and refreshments. Participants will also receive a list of native plants that will be available at the upcoming October native plant sale, thus allowing you to plan additions to your garden recommended by symposium speakers.

More information and a down-loadable registration form are available here:

The Sierra Foothills Chapter of the California Native Plant Society sponsors the Gardening with Natives Symposium, with support and assistance from University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County Master Gardeners and the UCCE Central Sierra Natural Resources program. The author of this article is Francie McGowan who is a California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.