Brooke Wagner’s Redwood City Garden

CNPS Garden Ambassador:  Brooke Wagner

CNPS Santa Cruz Chapter
Garden Location: Front and back yard
Garden Size: Lot size 8,500 sqft.
Year Planted: 2014

 

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I  started to shift my narrative from just having a wildflower meadow to having a goal of creating habitat and drawing life into my yard.

When Brooke was a girl, her aunt threw a bunch of “wildflower mix” seeds in an area near her driveway and it blossomed into a wild, crazy tangle of beauty.  It had a huge influence on her and sparked a dream of having a wildflower meadow for a yard someday.

When she moved into her current house, it was remodeled and finished with a tidy green lawn and traditional Home Depot plants. She decided to convert the lawn to her fantasy meadow, which at first did not mean native plants. Brooke holds a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and now works as a freelance landscape designer. Without direct botany training, she has had a fun learning process. As she read more about wildflower and gardening, she came across native plants and realized their potential. Increasing habitat value in our urban areas especially interests Brooke.

With a conservation mind, she appreciates that natives have evolved with California climates and often need less water.  She recognizes that natives are beautiful and also brings life into a space. She designed her garden to be functional in terms of attracting life into her yard and neighborhood. The transformation she sees in her garden brings endless joy.

Brooke’s favorite California native plants

  • Red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) looks formal and beautiful in all its stages but brings in great pollinators
  • California sagebrush (Artemesia californica) provide the most beautiful fragrance on earth!
  • All the plants in my meadow. I have too many favorites. I love a LOT of them and have something like 70 or so in my yard. I am a sucker for any of the annual wildflowers: poppies, tarweed, tidy tips, shooting stars, ranunculus, blue eyed grass, baby blue eyes, five spots, yarrow… I love them all!

About the Garden

Garden Location: Front and back yard

Garden Size:  Lot is size 8,500 sqft.

Year Planted:  2014

Lawn Removal (method): Sheet mulching. Paper and fresh nursery blend soil on top of our existing lawn.

Design and Installation: I did both myself. 

Style Inspiration: Wild landscape inspired my garden. My native garden started with our meadow, then marked out a “hiking path” across the yard and scattered my base planting: red fescue, purple needle grass, buttercups, yarrow and blue eyed grass evenly over the yard.  I planted swaths of more brilliant wildflowers too – tidy tips, elegant tarweed, CA poppies and baby blue eyes.  It was an experiment and I wasn’t working from a script. My meadow inspired me to add more.  I have progressively replaced all the old plantings in our yard with new plantings that are either natives or other plants that are specifically selected for their habitat value.  I specifically try to mix an element of crazy wild feel (the meadow) with more of a restrained and disciplined look of a more formal planting to show how well native and ecologically responsible plants can perform in a variety of landscapes.

Go-to Native Plant Nurseries:  Larners seeds, S&S seeds, Wegmans Nursery (Redwood City).

Irrigation:  I have several different landscapes within our yard. Some are watered with drip daily, some were watered for the first few years with several deep waterings, now much of it does not get any water or only a few times a year during peak summer dry. To establish our meadows, I had a rotary 12” spray heads.

Maintenance:  Seasonally

Wildlife Spotted: The life that the garden brought was wonderful.  I had tried to entice Goldfinches to our yard with a feeder to no avail, but they readily showed up to binge on tidy tip seeds when the yellow heads turned to fluffy balls.  Butterflies were more common and the grasshoppers that leap up from hiking paths showed up, making our garden feel truly wild. We have added water features to increase the habitat value (dragonflies, insects and birds) as well as for the sound of running water.

Overall we have over 50 species of native birds, 3 species of salamander, two species of lizards, lots of cool insects including butterflies, native bees, grasshoppers, dragonflies, gophers (ARGH!!!!), squirrels, deer, possums, raccoons, woodrats, and I would be lying if I didn’t include mice and roof rats (ARGH!), and have spotted cottontails.

Favorite Element: As the meadow grew in and established, I became enthralled with how dynamic the yard was.  It was simply show stopping spectacular when it was in bloom, but then took on the same golden beauty of my favorite parks as it transitioned into summer.  Of course, by the end of summer, it was ratty and looking worn just as fall gardening brought me out to pull out the thatch and cut down the grasses.  Then the rains would come and bring the cycle anew.

In addition, deep toned wind chimes play gently to the sound of water and birds in our yard.  It feels, to me, like paradise.

Biggest Challenge: WEEDS!  I have Oxalis on our back hill that has proven to be nearly impossible to get on top of.  I would do anything to destroy them… but alas, it would just chuckle.  Having a native meadow means invasive grasses are constant.  I have an invasive brome that I cannot do much about but have kept Avena out.  I have had to let go of perfection and accept my garden for it being a managed wildscape and allow it to be a little wilder than a weed free environment.

Advice: Water to establish.  I like to be water stingy and have suffered at times for it.  Plant in the fall so that you can take advantage of natural rainfalls and then supplement more than you plan to the first year.  Even super drought tolerant plants do need to get established.  Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good if doing a wilder planting.  Part of the beauty is the dynamic nature and fact that it is its own beast. I have embraced many of my weeds and imperfect.

California Native Plants in Ambassador’s Garden

Favorites in planting beds

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