Lessons from our Front Yard – Daily Acts Demonstration Garden

Daily Acts Demonstration Garden

By Michael Sturgis

If you’ve visited or passed by Sebastopol City Hall and Library in the past two years you’ve probably noticed the flourishing gardens filled with flowers, shrubs and fruit trees surrounding the buildings. These gardens are known as “Our Front Yard” since they surround the communal living room that is the City Hall and Library. However, they are more than just ornamental gardens; they are divided into four distinct sections, with each section telling part of the history of the city and the region.

So far three sections have been completed, the contemporary Sebastopol section, the Luther Burbank section and the Pioneers section. On April 2nd, a community-powered planting day will install the fourth section of the garden which will feature culturally significant native plants. The public is invited to help complete this final phase of the planting.

The garden design and plant selection is currently underway, with staff from local nonprofit Daily Acts and from landscape design/build firm Permaculture Artisans leading the efforts. A few of the species of native plants that will appear on this special plant palette are described below. These plants were important to the native Pomo Indians and other tribes in the region and they are important habitat providers to hundreds of birds, animals and insects as well. Perhaps this list will inspire you to add native plants to your garden.

Sonoma County Native PoppyCalifornia Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
This iconic wildflower is not only a glowing golden beauty on the hillsides and roadsides but it’s a powerful medicinal plant as      well. A tea or tincture made from the plant has a mildly sedative effect, promoting restful sleep and calming the nerves. The  unopened buds are the most potent but the whole aboveground plant can be used. Poppies are drought tolerant, easy to grow  (they re-seed readily), and attract pollinators as well. Their golden yellow blooms make a great addition to any garden.

 

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp cerulea)Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp cerulea)The blue elderberry, along with its close cousin the black elderberry is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 15 to 30 feet tall. The flowers can be made into elderflower wine and the ripe berries are a powerful immune system booster, often made into a syrup. The unripe berries are mildly toxic and the ripe berries are best when cooked. Elderberries are easy to propagate from cuttings taken in the late fall and winter, before new growth appears. Elders prefer full sun and moist soil and are often found along creek banks. They can grow tall and rangy so consider planting them along a fence line or some out-of-the-way place.

 

Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
This evergreen shrub flowers from March through May and offers beautiful, delicious fruit in the late summer and fall. The fruit is tart and sweet and can be used like blueberries; eaten fresh, dried, cooked or preserved. Huckleberries prefer to grow at the edge of the forest in a mostly sunny to partially shady area, and they grow larger in the shade. The leaves are a dark, waxy green with the new growth showing flashes of red in the spring. An excellent and vibrant hedge for a somewhat shady section of your garden.

Redbud (Cercis orbiculata)Redbud (Cercis orbiculata)This showy perennial shrub or tree puts out beautiful flowers in the spring, but it is more than just a pretty face. The young shoots were highly prized for basketry and bows were made from the sturdy branches. Redbuds are drought tolerant, sun-loving plants that prefer well-drained soil. They can reach up to 20 feet tall and can be pruned back to within inches of the ground, known as “coppicing”, a practice done to encourage new shoots for basket making. Pruning should be done in the fall, after leaf-drop.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow is widespread and can be found throughout much of the world, basking in sunny spots or along partially shady edges and understory. The frilly leaves and umbel flowers of this distinctive herb are a beautiful addition to the garden. You might remember the Greek Myth of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. Yarrow is the plant that was used for his protection and to heal the wounds of his troops. For wounds you can pound the stalk and leaves to make a poultice. A powerful immune system tonic can be made from the leaves and flowers, which can be added to salads as well. While the flowers come in all shades: white, yellow, orange, pink and red, the native form with white flowers is best for medicinal use.

Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglassii)Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglassii)
This perennial herb is a member of the mint family and it grows well in low elevations with plenty of moisture. Though a groundcover, it can reach about 18” in height and will spread out in the garden, although not aggressively like most mints. The native Pomo Indians would make a decoction of the leaves which they used to treat colds and fevers. The tea was also used as an aphrodisiac. The common name is Spanish for “good herb” and there are many locations throughout the Bay Area that were named after it.

JOIN US for Planting Day: If you’d like to get hands on experience planting these and other native plants, join the community planting day at Sebastopol Library on April 2nd. This is a free event which will fill you with new knowledge, experience and inspiration! To find out more and to sign-up for the planting day, visit the Daily Acts’ website at dailyacts.org.

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