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Boosting your learning curve

Photo Steve Rosenthal/Special To The Town Crier Volunteers help control weeds by spreading wood-chip mulch at Lake Cunningham Park's native garden.


Occasionally, readers ask where they can learn about native plants.

Growing and observing plants in your garden are the best ways to learn about them, assuming you know the basics. The nursery can tell you the fundamentals, such as how big each plant gets and whether it prefers sunny or shady, dry or moist conditions. Visiting public gardens, demonstration gardens at nurseries and private gardens (on annual native-garden tours) allows you to see how plants behave over time and in relation to other plants.

Although most garden tours take place in the spring, you may be invited to some native gardens throughout the year if you sign up for the spring tour’s two-hour volunteer shift.

Learning from people who have had years of experience growing, propagating and designing with natives is good, too. The frequent meetings of the local Gardening with Natives group (40 this year) are the ideal place to start. A few meetings are held at or near the Los Altos main library. Others are scheduled at libraries from San Carlos to San Jose and Milpitas. Google “Gardening with Natives” to access a list of events, join the helpful GWN e-mail group or browse the book list (under “Gardeners’ Resources”).

You can buy most of the in-print books at the bimonthly California Native Plant Society meetings, held alternately at the Los Altos and Saratoga libraries. The next one is scheduled in late January, featuring members’ best slides of 2010.

In addition (drumroll, please), the group has scheduled its first daylong symposium, “California Gardens: Beauty and Sustainability with Native Plants,” Feb. 19 at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Don’t miss it. The seven participating speakers have written most of the newer books on growing and landscaping with natives and have more than 200 years of experience with natives among them.

“We want to give home gardeners and professionals alike a chance to learn from the masters, the very best in the field,” said Arvind Kumar, one of the symposium’s organizers.

Register early to ensure yourplace, and secure a reduced rate before Jan. 15. The fee is approximately the same as a trip to a nursery, assuming you’d buy 6-12 1-gallon plants. See the GWN Web site for details on fees and topics.

The only thing missing is a chance to get your hands dirty. For that, you can participate in the Native Hill workdays held every 2-3 weekends or so at Foothill College. Experienced native gardeners who attend are eager to share their knowledge as everyone pitches in to mulch, prune, clean up and plant. For more information on the workday schedule, subscribe to the CNPS-SCV News.

Those interested can fill their calendars with native-plant-related volunteer gigs: helping out at CNPS (Wednesday afternoons) or Acterra (Monday and Thursday afternoons), pulling weeds at the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve or, closer to home, pulling weeds and planting natives at the Redwood Grove Nature Preserve off University Avenue in Los Altos. Visit the Acterra and CNPS-SCV Web sites for dates. Most Acterra events require advance registration. Other habitat restoration projects include Edgewood County Park in Redwood City (Friday mornings) and Foothills Park in Palo Alto (Sunday mornings; nonresident volunteers receive free admission). Google “Friends of Foothills Park” for details.

Tanya Kucak gardens organically. For more information, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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