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These are a few excerpts from a Humboldt Gardens discussion group.


The comments below were in response to one member's question about planting agave in our (mostly) native garden.


Your question about planting agave caused me to want to talk about some of the underlying concepts that I would like us to work with.  I would prefer to not use the agave but I have an equally strong desire to maintain your energy and flow of ideas and to not slow you down.  So let me explain my thinking about this and see what you think.  Since everyone will be involved with the landscape and hopefully working in a coordinated way I will post these notes on our collaborative website and invite comment from anyone else who is interested.


I would like our landscape to have and grow out of a basic concept or direction that unifies it and holds the whole place together.  In particular that holds it together as a plant and animal community (while we make the human community).  One aspect is to see that landscape as a wild landscape, not mowed, pruned or trimmed.  Another is to see it as a natural eco-system that is either native to or naturalized to our local setting.  That means that it has evolved out of and is adapted to the natural conditions of our specific place in the flatlands of Oakland: the weather, microclimate rain, sun, fog, the soils and animals that were here or might come back.  (Berkeley is looking at an interesting program to do its landscapes to create bee habitat.  The Audobon Society has a program for developing bird habitat in urban gardens.)  From that point of view I tend to look at and perhaps mimic local eco-systems.  There was once a stream that ran by us.  Unfortunately it is now jailed in a culvert, but the trees that lined it are still evident (many are naturalized rather than native).   Some parts of our site have many of the qualities of a redwood forest


 such as you might see locally in Tilden or Muir Woods (there is a nice example at the Tilden Botanic Garden).  The sunnier parts present a different environment. 





The agave is more natural to the drier parts of southern California and Mexico.  In that way it doesn’t fit too well with the style of our landscape.  If possible I would like us to start with the plant lists that I posted (but there are lots of plants that can be added).  The list from Michael Thilgen (excel spreadsheet) has a strong emphasis on natives.  The list from Jim Dixon (contained in the Word file PlantsHumboldt.doc) he selected more for color, flowers and sturdiness.  It has lots of non-natives though most could contribute to a “naturalized” looking garden.  The PlantsHumboldt.doc file also has plants that Yazheng and I selected from trips to the California Native sections of the UC Botanical Garden and the Tilden Botanical Garden. 




I posted a couple of pictures that are more related to the areas of the site with large trees.  However, I wanted to point out that at the front of the property we will plant lots of trees and shrubs along the sidewalk strip and on both sides of the fence.  These will be staggered and interlaced to give a more casual and natural feel to this area.  The fence will also be covered with vines (flowering rose, ivy, ???) along with the shrubs and trees.  It will not be such a stark area as it is now.


There’s lots more to say but enough for now.  Please add your thoughts.




In response to a question about where to plant vegetables and non-natives.  In containers?  In the ground?


Thanks for you very interesting and informative comments.  Here are I hope a few answers to the questions your raised.


  1. Vegetable and herb gardens I am presuming will not be natives.  We want an edible landscape and most people want to do vegetable or herb gardens.  So you can plant that stuff in the ground.  The concept was to do these vegetable and herb gardens in a style that makes them seem to be part of a wild landscape.  Especially with herbs I’ve had great luck in just sticking them in amongst other plants.  They look good and are easy to harvest (which is usually kind of a pruning or thinning operation the way I have done it).  This also means that you can certainly plant the rosemary as well as the wooly thyme.  Also, our existing plant list is not 100% natives.  We have included some plants that do very well in this area with little attention and that are also quite attractive.  Rosemary is one.  Lavender is another.
  2. You can have your own space for planting herbs vegetables and such.  Just talk with me so that we can coordinate that space into the overall plan.  We have been talking about irregular shaped areas for planting.  These areas would be in front of the taller shrubs and trees that would be up against the buildings almost everywhere.  Some of these patches could line the pathways.
  3. Your plant list looks great.  I don’t know all the plants but saw a lot of them at the “bringing back the natives” open house gardens this past weekend.  The Yerba Buena was a particularly nice plant for its smell.  I think we can add your list to the one we have put together so far.  If you want to consider plants that are not on the current list let’s talk about them.  Plants that are on the list you should feel free to acquire and we will put them in to the overall scheme.  If they are small it is easy to fit them in.  If they are trees or larger shrubs we need to figure out first how they fit into the overall scheme.
  4. At the “bringing back the natives tour we saw the native blackberries (rubus ursinus) at the El Sobrante library.  We saw it growing with other plants and it seemed not too aggressive.  Also an attractive plant.  A lady who works on the garden there indicated that it doesn’t grow over and overwhelm the other plants.  Unfortunately, it is not so prolific in berries as the himalayan.  On the one hand I like the Himalayan blackberries because they are full of berries and grow fast and grow anywhere without attention.  On the other hand I can’t tolerate them because they overwhelm everything else.  So the native blackberry looks like a good plant that we could use in the garden.  Your suggestions of other berries also sound good.