Gardens give back |

Gardens give back

Margaret Moran
Special to the Tribune
As seen, native flowers can attract bees to your garden.
Courtesy Ellen Zagory / UC Davis |

A garden can boost curb appeal to a mountain home. If native vegetation is incorporated, it can also be an asset to the local environment and wildlife.

Native plants are those that occur naturally in a particular region or habitat without any human intervention. As a result, they have co-evolved with animals, fungi and bacteria to form a complex network of relationships.

“Many native insect species cannot transfer to nonnative plants; they have to have the native plants,” said Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture for UC Davis Arboretum. “The more we put in nonnative [vegetation] in our yards instead of natives … you are actually shrinking habitat.”

The loss of these plants, which provide nectar, pollen and seeds that serve as food for native animals, can have ramifications to an ecological system.

“As you remove [natural] landscapes habitat disappears, and loss of habitat can result in extinction,” Zagory said. “Sometimes certain insects will only go to certain plants, then, if there’s a shift in the environment that’s dramatic, the loss of that one species can cause a cascade basically of extinction.”

For instance, the loss of that plant impacts the livelihood of the insect dependent on it, which in turn impacts other animals that depend on the insect as a food source and/or their environmental contributions such as pollination services.


With the human population continuing to grow and spread out, in turn shrinking and altering natural landscapes, wildlife is becoming increasingly dependent on conservation areas and urban and suburban gardens, Zagory said.

“Even in a place like this surrounded by forests, I realized that after being here a number of times, there’s a lot of houses up in those forests with yards that have been landscaped,” she said. “Taking out the natural vegetation and putting in different vegetation, it does have an affect.”

To help offset this impact, Zagory suggests incorporating native vegetation — including trees, perennials and shrubs — in one’s landscape.

Since these plants are native to the area, once they are established, they are lower maintenance. They require less water and little to no fertilizer and pesticides, according to the California Native Plant Society.

“They will survive up here because they are already adaptable to the area; it’s all about adaptation,” said Dan Yori, owner of High Sierra Gardens in Incline Village. “ … They are easily adaptable to our climate because they’re high-altitude plant material.”

The decorative element

Both Yori and Zagory, however, are not adverse to adding nonnative plants into landscapes. In fact, they are in favor of the practice, as it can add diversity and visual interest.

“The landscapes in the areas around our homes, we treat them like the external version of interior decorating, except it’s our external decorating,” Zagory said.

As for what nonnative plants to select, Yori said, “It’s all about texture and taste and design of what people want.”

However, Zagory recommends making native plants the first choice when trying to add artistic touches and color to an arrangement.

“When we put plants in the ground and design landscapes, putting in rocks and streams and beautiful things, it’s the plants that are really connecting that landscape to all of the wildlife in the world around us,” she said. “It creates links with insects, birds, mammals, fungi and bacteria.”

For those who are new to the area or gardening, Yori recommends visiting a local nursery before planting.

“There’s a lot of different things that you need to incorporate into your [design] plan,” he said. “You’re not just going to come here and grab something because it looks pretty; you’ve got to know where to put it, how to put it. There’s sun location, there’s snow loads you’ve got to take into consideration.”

Zagory added, “It’s the right thing to do, to do a good job. Then everybody else goes, ‘Oh, I’m going to do that, too,’ and that’s how change happens.”

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