Tish Berge’s San Diego Garden

CNPS Garden Ambassador: Tish Berge

CNPS San Diego Chapter
Garden Location:  Front and back yard
Garden Size:  10,000 square feet
Year Planted: 2010

Photos courtesy of Tish


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I found it very helpful to research plant communities.  This has helped my plants to establish quicker and with better success.

Tish’s garden is a peaceful retreat that provides her with a place to rest and enjoy nature.  The front yard includes a dry stream bed that captures runoff from the driveway and provides visual interest to passersby.  There are four coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) on the property that provide acorns for food and much needed cover for nesting.  However, Tish’s property wasn’t always filled with native plants and wildlife.

Located in a neighborhood between two canyons in San Diego, Marion Bear Canyon and Rose Canyon Tish would often visit a native plant garden in Rose Canyon on her walks.  The garden was alive with birds and was much more beautiful than she expected.   Coming home from her walks, however, Tish would look at her hillside only to see a mat of 30-year-old ice plant.  In some areas the tangle of dead branches was more than a foot deep!  The only wildlife it seemed to support was rats.  “Frankly, it was a depressing site providing no visual interest and no privacy,” recalls Tish.

So, she went to a CNPS seminar that helped her understand how to transition the hillside from ice plant to natives – and that is exactly what she did. Tish originally selected native plants as an alternative to bird feeders.  She found the mess and upkeep associated with the feeders bothersome, and thought there was enough space in her landscape to provide plants that produced seed or had flowers for nectar.  Two of the plants in the garden that now fulfill this habitat need are toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) and lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia).  Most years she is fortunate enough to have flocks of cedar waxwing birds visit and feast on the toyon berries.  All of the lemonade berries in her yard are naturalized, meaning that Tish didn’t plant them.  Either the seeds came in the breeze or were carried by some of the many visiting birds.

Along with bird watching, Tish especially likes the sense of place that her garden provides as a habitat to the many insects, lizards, birds, and other creatures that depend on it for shelter and food.  She also loves watching her neighbors enjoy the front yard.  Two neighbors in particular who walk together have started breaking off sage (Salvia ssp.) flowers (with her permission of course!).  Tish sometimes sees them on the other side of the neighborhood smelling and enjoying their native flowers from her yard.  “It warms my heart!”

Tish and her family also enjoy a smaller water bill and a reduction in weekly chores that dominated their lives when they had the lawn.  “We still have maintenance tasks, but they are easier to perform on our time schedule.  We can skip a month of gardening and it doesn’t have a negative impact on how our garden looks.  One could say that I stay with native plants because I’m cheap and lazy … but it all started with wanting to attract birds.”

Tish’s favorite California native plants

About the Garden

Garden Location: Front and back yard

Garden Size:  10,000 square feet

Year Planted:  2010

Lawn Removal:  We stopped watering for about 6 months, then used a sod cutter to remove the remaining grass.

Design and Installation:  Landscape designer and contractor

Style Inspiration:  Our local canyons provide inspiration for the slopes on our property.  Linear, clean lines appear closer to the home to complement our midcentury era house, and are provided through the use of grasses (deergrass and canyon prince).

Go-to Native Plant Nurseries:  CNPS chapter plant sales

Irrigation:  The yard is watered monthly, following advice I got from Tree of Life Nursery.  I use a combination of drip and overhead irrigation.

Maintenance:  Some tasks are weekly, like weed management.  Most are seasonal though, such as cutting back the coast sunflower, sage, and deergrass.  I handle most of the maintenance, but do get help once a year or so for mulch spreading and bigger tasks that come up.

Wildlife Spotted: Lizards, birds, bees, and critters I hear but don’t see that travel the hillside.

Favorite Element: Our dry creek beds that takes runoff from our driveway and patio.  The front is filled with rocks, grasses, dudleya, manzanita, and yarrow.  The back is filled with rocks, yarrow, and grasses.  They provide a way to capture water while also providing visual interest.

Biggest Challenge:  Our grasses look best when cut to the ground every year or two.  We’ve suffered many blisters learning how to do this task in an efficient way.  We ultimately found that using a wood saw was best, but we still run out of room in our green yard waste bin before we run out of grass to trim.

Advice:  I found it very helpful to research plant communities.  This has helped my plants to establish quicker and with better success.  I also make sure to repeat my plants throughout the landscape to provide a unifying feel.  My best resources were native plant books and the annual CNPS plant tour.

California native plants in Tish’s garden


CNPS Horticulture Team

One Comment

  1. I enjoyed the recent article about Toyon in the CNPSSD Newsletter. Does anyone know what is killing so many Toyons in our local canyons and open spaces? I am seeing more and more dead ones, of all sizes. Lemonade Berry too, even more–we just lost two large older ones (at least 30 years) on our property in Mission Hills, and two Toyons. These were all naturally occurring, not planted by humans.

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