Veronica Bower’s Sebastopol Garden
CNPS Garden Ambassador: Veronica Bowers
CNPS Milo Baker Chapter
Garden Location: Front and back yard
Garden Size: 2 acres
Year Planted: 2002
I have experienced firsthand how creating habitat using native plants in my own backyard has increased biodiversity on our property. – Veronica Bowers
With the needs of native songbirds in mind, Veronica created the Songbird Sanctuary habitat garden 15 years ago. The garden and the wildlife rehabilitation hospital, Native Songbird Care & Conservation, are located on her home property in Sebastopol. Up to 33 species of native songbirds have been recorded nesting on her 2-acre property during spring and summer.
Veronica cares about the natural world, and has experienced firsthand how creating habitat using native plants in her own backyard has increased the biodiversity on her two acres. Her California native plant garden supports native songbirds in many aspects of their life history. It provides what they need – food, water, shelter and safe places to nest and raise their young. Through this process, Veronica has become an accidental gardener, and has fallen in love with native plants.
The Garden also provides vital habitat for migratory birds passing through, as well as overwintering songbirds. In addition to the diversity and abundance of songbirds, her garden hosts a variety of other wildlife, from bobcats and brush rabbits, to Western Fence Lizards and Great Horned Owls. A large variety of native bees, butterflies and other insects also call the garden home.
“It is a work in progress and a constant source of learning for me. We hope you enjoy our garden and are inspired to create habitat for songbirds in your own backyard!”
Veronica’s favorite California native plants
- California coffeeberry (Frangula californica) —it produces berries for the birds and supports an abundance of insects! It is also evergreen, drought-hardy, and beautiful.
- Coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis)—it’s evergreen, which provides cover for songbirds year-round, and spent flowers are used as nesting material. It also supports an abundance of insects and is drought-hardy.
- Buckwheat (Eriogonum ssp.)—there is a large variety of this species, they are beneficial to pollinators and other insects, mostly easy to grow, and drought-hardy. Wintering sparrows enjoy the seeds.
About the garden
Garden Location: Front and back yard.
Garden Size: The majority of our rustic habitat garden occupies approximately an acre of the land and is mostly California native plants. There are a few ornamentals here and there that were planted before we bought the property 18 years ago. Slowly but surely, the ornamentals will be replaced with California native plants.
Year Planted: 2002
Design and Installation: The pond was professionally designed, as well as a small amount of the plant material around the pond. The rest of the property I landscaped myself!
Style Inspiration: A rustic, habitat garden.
Go-to Native Plant Nurseries: CalFlora, CNPS Native Plant Sales, and Watershed Nursery.
Irrigation: None! The garden is drought tolerant and does not require irrigation. A series of swales and basins installed help slow and sink rainwater on our land. A small amount of supplemental water may be provided during the peak of summer from water collected in rain barrels during the winter. I also have a small demonstration garden of California native pots that are watered with a drip system.
Maintenance: I do, seasonally. I also have a gardening assistant that comes once a month in April-September to help with big projects.
Wildlife Spotted: Yes! Over 30 species of nesting songbirds, over 70 species of songbirds recorded year-round, bobcat, fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum, lizards and snakes, frogs, many species of butterflies, bees and dragonflies, native brush rabbits, hawks and owls, long-tailed weasel, squirrels, and gophers and moles (unfortunately!).
Favorite Element: Groupings of native shrubs that provide seasonal food and cover for the songbirds in the garden. For example, a grouping coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), coffeeberry (Frangula californica), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea), and chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) are a year-round pantry for songbirds and provide good cover throughout the year. At least one of these shrubs is in fruit at some point during the year and several are providing vital sources of insects throughout the year. Some, such as the coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis), provide seeds.
Biggest Challenge: Keeping non-native invasive plants at bay. Himalayan Blackberry, Italian arum and non-native oxalis (not sure of the proper name, but it’s the one with long stems and yellow flowers).
Advice: Familiarize yourself with the plants and plant communities that are native to your area. I didn’t know much about plant communities when I first embarked on my native gardening journey nearly 18 years ago. Over time, I learned more and enjoyed greater success when honoring the relationships of plants when planted in their respective communities.
California native plants in Veronica’s garden
Most of the plants in the garden were selected with the needs of native songbirds in mind, and provide a variety of food sources including berries, seeds, nectar, and insects.
CNPS Horticulture Team