Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: The Magic of Going Native (with Plants) By RON SULLIVAN

Friday March 03, 2006

Some of us like plants from all over the world in out gardens. Some of us like native Californians. (Some of us, like me, mix them.) Some of us take that native thing to apparent extremes, and people like that have the perfect place in Berkeley: Native Here Nursery.  

There’s good reason to take the “extreme” road. Many of our native plants are unique, having very small ranges and surviving under peculiar conditions like drought and serpentine soils. They nurture the rest of the native flora and the fauna, and you won’t find anything quite like those systems anywhere else on earth. As much as we might love our ecological surroundings, we don’t know everything about them, and sometimes the gaps in our knowledge turn out to be bigger than we thought.  

Genetic studies keep turning up surprises, like two species we used to think were one because they—to us—look “alike.” A few years ago, studies on two extremely similar waterbirds, Western grebe and Clark’s grebe, showed enough genetic differences to make them basically reproductively isolated from each other, even though they share territories. Evidently they can tell each other apart. Plants can be even more subtle. 

One good mechanism for speciation is geography. Ernst Mayr wrote whole libraries about this, and we can trace fascinating tales of, say, Hawai’ian silverswords and their Californian tarweed ancestors. But it doesn’t take half the Pacific to set up a place for a plant to evolve into something new; California has more microhabitats than most places, and more species.  

So, nature’s doing something here, and we don’t know exactly what. But we do know that when we restore places as best we can, interesting things happen. Animals return, plants buoy each other up; we can stand back and watch in wonder. Locals are adapted to their sites, and they do well and nurture the local butterflies, birds, and other wildlife we’ve elbowed out of the way.  

If you live near wildlands, it’s something between duty and magic to plant natives from your place. So people like Charli Danielsen, Native Here’s founder, take care to know where their plants came from. In the nursery, you don’t just find California natives; you find Wildcat Regional Park, El Cerrito, Albany Hill and such specific natives. Charli and her volunteers go forth and gather seed, track it as they grow it out, and supply plants for home gardens and habitat restoration. 

Native Here also does custom growing, for which you need to plan well ahead: two or three years’ notice is best. Plants set seed at specific times, once a year or even less often, and must be mapped, gathered, and grown out to prosper. Is it worth it? You bet. Plants native to your site will do best with the least fuss, and usually spread and fill in well on their own – or with the help of the wildlife they grew up with, like scrub jays who’ve been planting oaks and ceanothus for millenia. As we replace the lost pieces of our world, magic happens. 


Native Here Nursery 

101 Golf Course Road  

across from the entrance to the Tilden Golf Course. 

(South Park Drive is still closed for the newts’ migration; approach from the Shasta Gate.) 


Fridays: 9 a.m.–noon, Saturdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m.