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Native Ecology

Designing with Plant Communities
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Coastal Sage Scrub

One of our philosophies is to design by plant community. This takes advantage of the natural companionship that occurs when the right plants are placed together. This first image is a hillside in Poway (north of San Diego), and the California native plant community is Coastal Sage Scrub. A few of the plants, namely the Coyote brush and the buckwheat, are native to the site. The rest were planted by us. If you look carefully, you’ll see there are citrus mixed in as well! They are actually the only plants in the group receiving any water, and it turns out, they get along fine with the rest of the community. You might also find it interesting that we had to use jackhammers to get into the decomposed granite slope. That’s right, jackhammers. And forget any soil amendments. We love to landscape a clean, scraped site. There's no contamination from organic matter, fertilizer, pathogens, or weeds.

Zoning by plant communityZoning becomes second nature when designing by plant community. Grouping plants ecologically ensures that their water needs are shared by surrounding companions. In this backyard, the lawn, vegetable garden, and roses are centrally located, and share a high demand for moisture. The lawn is kept fairly minimal in size and close to the back patio. Next to the lawn is a small riparian area with dogwoods and yerba buena. Outward from these areas, the chaparral and coastal sage plants are self-supporting and require much less water.

The garden was only four months old when this photo was taken. It was not long before the ceanothus ground cover on the upper slopes was 4-6 feet wide and within in a year had almost filled the slope completely.

Only 18 months laterHere is the same garden about 18 months later. You can really see the zoning of the different plantings:  A Mediterranean garden in front, vegetable garden across the lawn, a rose garden on the far right, and natives completely surrounding the site. Colorful, functional, with the feel of an English country garden.
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