Carl Mautner’s Riverside Garden

CNPS Garden Ambassador:  Carl Mautner

CNPS Riverside / San Bernardino Chapter
Garden Location: Front yard
Garden Size: ~2,800 square feet
Year Planted: Fall 2015



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Carl believes that it will be easier to protect and promote native plants if people understand that those brown shrubs are very much alive, just like bare trees in winter.

After years away, Carl and his wife moved back to California in January 2015, settling in Riverside. The region has the driest climate Carl has lived in, and arriving in the midst of a major drought was quite a shock, he says. Nonetheless, native plants were still growing in the local parks. Amazed and inspired by this, Carl asked his landlords for permission to replace the lawn with a native garden. Thankfully, they agreed!

A home for pollinators

Watching the plants grow and bloom the following season, Carl grew interested in the variety of pollinators drawn to the native plants. He learned that California has 1,600 species of bees, the majority of which are native (the honey bee being a notable exception). These bees come in many shapes, sizes, and colors (including iridescent green and blue) and coevolved with native plants. In fact, many will collect pollen only from particular types of plants. Carl decided to create a year-round food supply for these bees and other pollinators like butterflies, moths, and bats.

Today, Carl enjoys watching birds come to the birdbath and feed on the seeds and insects in the garden. He loves the smell of the garden and how it changes with the seasons. After winter and spring rains, the yard has the moist, refreshing scent of sages and sagebrush. The heat of late summer brings out the aroma of sunflower (Helianthus sp.), tarplant (Deinanadra paniculata), brickell bush (Brickellis californica), and thickleaf yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium).

Carl is excited to help his neighbors and community see and recognize the seasonal beauty and rhythms of our native flora. In schools, students learn about the seasons of northern Europe or the Northeast. Yet in Riverside, many of the shrubs go dormant over summer, and people perceive the brown hills to be dead. Carl believes that it will be easier to protect and promote native plants if people understand that those brown shrubs are very much alive, just like bare trees in winter.

Through his native garden, Carl hopes that he has inspired others in the neighborhood to include some native plants in their yards. He finds it especially rewarding when a stranger walking or driving by stops to ask about the plants and say how much they enjoy passing by his garden.

Carl’s favorite California native plants

About the garden

Garden Location: Front yard

Garden Size: Approximately 2,800 square feet

Year Planted: Fall 2015

Lawn Removal (method): By hand. I’ve been slowly making my way across the yard, trying to get rid of a bit more grass each year.

Design and Installation: Carl

Style Inspiration: I drew inspiration from walks in our local open spaces, and from other native gardens, particularly the Land Use Learning Center garden run by the Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District. I designed the garden to be based mostly on coastal sage scrub with a few hints of chaparral and desert, and sowed patches of annual seeds in the bare soil between the shrubs.

I have also tried to make use of existing features of the property. For example, the roof of the house does not have gutters, so the drip line of the house gets much more rainwater than the rest of the yard. I have found that I can plant things there like California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica) and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) that would need additional water if I planted them elsewhere.

Go-to Native Plant Nurseries:  Theodore Payne Foundation, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and the local CNPS chapter plant sale.

Irrigation:  I hand-water to get plants started, then supplement the rain in the winter and spring if we have unusually dry spells. With a few exceptions, like hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) and the non-native shade trees, I don’t water the established plants between June and October.

Maintenance: During the winter I weed as often as I have time for, at least weekly. In the spring after the most of the annuals have gone to seed, I clear them out and collect some of the seeds to share with friends.

Wildlife Spotted: Lots! Western bluebirds, goldfinches, yellow-rumped warblers, cedar waxwings, bushtits, scrub jays, California towhees, and dark-eyed juncos are just a few of the birds that visit.

Favorite Element: It is impossible to choose one, but I’ll say buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus). I am amazed at its heat resilience.

Biggest Challenge: Weeds, Argentine ants, and spending too much time in the yard!

Advice: Many of the plants popular at plant sales have spectacular blooms in the spring. However, there are also late-blooming native plants (particularly asters) that are super important for pollinators. Consider planting ones that are native to your area to keep your garden blooming into the fall.

California native plants in Carl’s garden

CNPS Horticulture Team


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