Town Mouse likes interesting plants. Most gardens are boring, she said. In fact, the first thing she did when she bought her house in the Sylvan Park neighborhood of Mountain View was to let the lawn go dry.
Soon after, the plants at a friend’s garden caught her eye, and she learned the garden was totally native. Inspired to plant natives in her own yard, Town Mouse did some reading. She loved the book “Bringing Nature Home” (Timber Press, 2009) by entomology professor Douglas Tallamy, based on his research showing that native insects prefer native plants. An abundance of native insects will, in turn, attract birds, so to do anything with the native ecosystem, you must start with the plants, Town Mouse said.
The garden has gone native in stages. In the back, landscape designer Chris Todd created a mound of Mediterranean plants eight years ago. It boasts hummingbird sage, cleveland sage, douglas irises, California poppies and California fescue, as well as a non-native sage and a dramatic non-native grass. The natives bloom earlier in the season, and then, to extend the blooming season, the non-native sage blooms from midsummer to fall.
Town Mouse has observed a huge difference in the number of birds and insects since she planted natives. When she goes for a walk in her neighborhood toward evening, she said, she can tell when she’s getting close to her garden by the sound of the crickets.
The first thing I noticed in her garden were bumblebees, honeybees and carpenter bees busily collecting pollen.
Water features, placed where they can be viewed from inside the house – better than television – appeal to different birds. They include a birdbath, a saucer with bird grit, a bubbling fountain and a hanging birdbath.
In another area in the backyard, the hummingbirds are fun to watch in the large patch of fall-blooming hummingbird fuchsia, she said. As a bonus, it’s an easy plant to grow.
Three years ago, the front yard went native. Though the existing plants were interesting, they needed too much water and pruning. So Town Mouse replaced them with natives and now does some quick hand-watering two or three times a month. Many natives need water only until they are established, but lots of natives will look better if they are watered a little in the dry season, she said, which amounts to far less water than a lawn or other landscaping requires.
Town Mouse drew my attention to a pink-flowering California honeysuckle blooming for the first time. You have to be more patient with many natives, she said, but then they are more rewarding when they start to flourish.
The plants have enough room to stand out. A couple of white sages line one side of the path to the front door. Brushing against them yields their pungent fragrance, or subtly perfumes the air on a warm day. The slope of a dry creek gives the woolly blue curls the excellent drainage they require.
Since late 2008, Town Mouse has been blogging about native gardening with her friend Country Mouse at tmousecmouse.blogspot.com, where you can see more photos of both gardens.