Field Collective

Last week Alex and Nicki spent Thursday – Saturday in San Jose, sharing a wonderful experience with fellow native plant researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts. 

The focus of this year’s California Native Plant Society (CNPS) conference was ‘Rooting Together – Restoring Connections to Plants, Place & People’. An apt name for a conference as diverse in speakers as this one. We heard from oak researchers, botanists, indigenous peoples on co-management, educators, fellow designers, grazing specialists, artists, entomologists, horticulturalists among others. 
We were honored to be invited as a speaker for the ‘Landscape Design with Native Plants’ session within the Horticulture track. The talk was well attended by approximately 200 people, and we had lots of positive feedback afterward. It was really special to be part of this celebration of knowledge! Looking forward to the next CNPS conference.

Here is the abstract from our talk: 

Biodiversity and aesthetics: The learnings from a San Franciscan native plant test garden

The increased use of native plants within landscape projects is essential to improving our local biodiversity, yet California’s native plants are seen by many in the industry as untidy and too ephemeral. Landscape professionals need examples of aesthetically-successful native plant mixes to draw from to increase their success in specifying native plants in their projects and obtaining client buy-in. At the community-led Eco-Patch test garden (900SF) in San Francisco, we are experimenting with eight different plant combinations or mixes to gain insights into how aesthetic and biodiversity considerations can overlap to create beautiful and ecologically resilient habitats.

One key innovation we are testing is the use of layers. We are experimenting with groundcovers to achieve 100% plant cover so no soil is exposed. Thus far we have found groundcovers, including California ponysfoot (Dichondra donelliana), to be successful weed suppressors and to have substantial aesthetic value. Another layer we are testing is the structural layer, consisting of evergreen shrubs and bunch grasses. The ‘structural’ and ‘groundcover’ layers provide the overall evergreen structure, whilst ‘seasonal’ and ‘filler’ layers allow for California’s beautiful ephemeral plants to play their essential yet more fleeting role. One ‘seasonal’ plant we have found to be particularly successful is the rare Franciscan Wallflower (Erysimum franciscanum). Other aspects we are experimenting with include bloom timing, color palettes, repetition and the use of local plant communities as design inspiration. Our presentation will cover the theories behind our planting strategy, and diagrams and photos that document our process and results.

Our overall aim for the test gardens is to gain and share insights so we can mainstream the use of California’s native plants within the profession of landscape architecture and allied industries.