Patricia Carpenter’s Davis Garden
CNPS Garden Ambassador: Patricia Carpenter
Garden Size: 1 acre
Year Planted: 2005 to 2009, but still adding! Another big addition 2017-2020.
Photos courtesy of Patricia
Really, nature is in charge – so we must be flexible!
Patricia Carpenter hiked and traveled all over California, and fell in love with the native countryside. When she was given the opportunity to start her own native plant garden, she jumped. She wanted to learn more about native plants, and this was a chance to do just that.
Patricia started her native plant garden in the spring of 2005 along the slough bordering her property. The intention was to include only CA native plants on this 1-acre, wild escape, which now features over 400 species and cultivars. From the beginning her garden has benefited from the efforts of many students, neighbors, knowledgeable visitors, and dedicated interns.
This garden provides an opportunity to see how these resilient plants deal with stress, and which plants thrive with very little care. Bit by bit Patricia and her helpers are learning how to grow and propagate native plants by letting nature take over or helping the process along. Now, a plethora of plants are so well adapted that the plant divisions and volunteer seedlings are used to re-vegetate new areas, both in this native garden as well as other gardens. The waterway and diversity of habitats also attracts a variety of wildlife.
Patricia loves to be in her garden in the very early morning and at sunset on the bridge. She is excited to share this wild escape and all the lessons learned with others. Be sure to check the CNPS Events Calendar for upcoming opportunities to visit Patricia’s garden, including CNPS Garden Ambassador Seasonal Garden Visits.
Patricia’s favorite California native plants
- Wildflowers–Annuals are fun but tricky, and the landscape changes each year.
- Valley oak (Quercus lobata)–This tree is in a perfect setting on the slough.
- Grasses–We have many species planted, and they seem to make the garden more wild and unpredictable. Back-lit grasses are magical!
About the Garden
Change in nomenclature– 2023: Patricia realized that valley grassland should have been called California prairie, see https://cnps.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/FremontiaV39.2_39.3.pdf
Garden Location: Beyond the back yard bordering the slough.
Garden Size: 1 acre and still growing.
Year Planted: 2005 to 2009, but still adding. Nature is doing her part to change the landscape as well!
Lawn Removal (method): We actually had a forest of tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) trees in one area, and weeds elsewhere. We used mostly mulch and herbicides for a year or two before planting a new area.
Design and Installation: I designed the garden, and had some help from interns planting it. The plantings are roughly grouped into natural communities that include a redwood grove (inherited), coastal, valley grassland, foothill, slough edge and desert areas. For the past 12 years, friend and naturalist Pat Dressendorfer and I have been collaborating, adding more plants and learning how to more easily maintain what we have. She also kept the garden alive and happy during my 5-year absence.
Style Inspiration: We have tried to keep the garden on the wild side with lots of diversity. But it is a controlled wild to avoid total chaos.
Go-to Native Plant Nurseries: UC Davis Arboretum, CNPS sales, Lemuria Nursery, Davis Ace, Redwood Barn Nursery, and numerous mail order seed and plant companies.
Irrigation: The area is watered with overhead sprinklers, although some parts were once on drip and micro sprays. In the summer, the redwoods are watered every 1-2 weeks and the more drought tolerant areas watered about monthly. The very drought tolerant hedgerow and new verge planting on Russell Blvd. bike path usually needs no extra water. New plants are now mostly hand watered until they are established.
Maintenance: I do the majority of it with some help from Pat and interns. It is a big garden, so many areas get priority sometime during the year. There is at least weekly attention somewhere in the garden. Nothing is taken out of the garden – all weeds, clippings, sticks, branches, etc. are put back on the ground. For more information, see More info about Patricia’s native garden-January 2022
Wildlife Spotted: Many beneficial insects and pollinators, including bees, butterflies, beetles, and hummingbirds. Also turtles, king snakes, amazing dragonflies, raccoons, red foxes, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, gophers, voles, skunk, frogs, crayfish, opossum, and otters. Lots of birds, such as great horned owls, quail, Swainson’s and red-tailed hawks, egrets, herons, kites, Canada geese (visit yearly), wood ducks, mallards, turkeys (unfortunately), and numerous other birds visit!
Favorite Element: Watching the seasonal changes.
Biggest Challenge: When researching information for a given shrub I have often found listings of plant descriptions for size and horticultural needs to vary greatly! For example, will a spice bush be 3-9 ft. tall, 6-12 ft tall x 6 ft. wide or 5-8 ft. tall at maturity? This matters in a garden setting, so we continue to experiment and learn.
Advice: Start with one area and grow slowly. Our native area grew to about an acre over 5-6 years. Now, as areas mature, we continue to make changes. Really, nature is in charge so we must be flexible! Records and seasonal observations are so useful.
Photos courtesy of Patricia, unless noted otherwise.
CNPS Horticulture Team