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Creating a serene habitat


Photo By: Top Photo by Jim Liskovec/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Top Photo By Jim Liskovec/Special To The Town CrierSulfur buckwheat, Margarita BOP penstemon and lilac verbena were in bloom a year after the garden was planted. The garden features a pervious path, lined with reused flagstones.

It takes work to make a low-maintenance garden. Just ask the owners of the Serene Habitat garden in Los Altos, one of the gardens featured on the recent Going Native Garden Tour.

The owners hired EarthCare Landscaping a couple of years ago to get ideas for replacing their backyard lawn with something that would be more sustainable, look good for a long time and require minimal maintenance. And because they are physically active and have been hands-on ever since they planted their front garden with natives 31 years ago, they decided to contribute some physical labor and save money to boot.

The new backyard garden, designed by Deva Luna, involved taking apart a washed-flagstone patio and reusing the stones – some as heavy as 350 pounds – for informal paths and the border of the new patio. It was “a labor of love” for the owners to dig out the stones from overgrown weeds and ground cover, clean them off and lay the paths, Luna said. They worked every day for several weeks.

EarthCare placed the remaining stones around the border of the patio, then poured a new patio using pervious concrete. Rainwater flows through the sustainable material and into the ground, keeping it onsite instead of burdening storm drains.

The owners moved 18 cubic yards of mulch, delivered free from tree trimmers, from the front driveway to the backyard. Sheet mulching is a relatively quick and effective way to transform a lawn into a more sustainable garden. Adding a healthy layer of mulch, at least 3-4 inches, preserves the soil biology, moderates soil temperatures and discourages weeds.

For irrigation and planting, the owners hired EarthCare. In planting pockets in the mulch, they planted natives and a few herbs with compost. Natives were a natural choice, echoing the front garden. The owners have enjoyed welcoming wildlife to the garden and appreciate the low-maintenance needs of established natives.

No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. Located near a creek and on a flyway, the garden hosts many birds, butterflies and other insects. Flowering natives invite them – as well as human visitors – to linger. Many songbirds have nested in the garden to the delight of the owners, who are avid birders. Lizards, snakes and small mammals occasionally visit.

One of the challenges over the years was increasing shade in the backyard from “one of the most gorgeous oak trees” Luna said she had ever seen. The owners steward the health of their pair of coast live oaks by keeping the fallen oak leaves in place and restricting plantings to at least 10-15 feet from the trunk.

At the edge of the oak canopy, the most successful shade plants are yerba buena, a well-behaved minty ground cover; evergreen currant with glossy leaves and fragrant stems if you touch them in passing; Yankee Point ceanothus, a dependable cultivar with pale-blue flowers and dark-green crinkly leaves; and a non-native sedge.

If you missed the free Going Native Garden Tour this year, be sure to sign up next year, starting in February, by visiting gngt.org.

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