A multi-functional California Native Plant Garden

By Dr. Carla Bossard – Professor of Biology

When School of Science students returned this fall they saw that a dramatic change had taken place around the west side of Brousseau Hall. The formerly, uninspired landscaping was now replaced by a California Native Plant Garden (CNPG).   The CNPG was designed last year, the physical components installed over the summer and living components planted the first week of the fall semester.

The CNPG required the efforts of many to bring it into existence.  Landscape architect, Chris Ford, took the ideas of Biology professors, Dr. Carla Bossard, Dr. Michael Marchetti, and Environmental and Earth Science Professor, Dr. Alice Baldridge and drafted a plan that organized the desired plant species and rock specimens in an aesthetically pleasing design that incorporated the microclimate needs of the plant species required.  Dan Mercado Landscaping put in the needed infrastructure, removing old soil, adding irrigation and installing new, more appropriate soil and the large rock and tree elements.  Dr. Bossard collected plants, plant bulbs and plant cuttings from many native plant nurseries in California last spring and early summer.  These were tended over the summer until they were big enough to put in the ground – thanks to Winnie Shamash, our SOS Laboratory Technician, who cared for them at her Berkeley home. Environmental and Earth Science students and Dr. Bossard, planted 157 plants of 97 species September 7, 2013. Students also helped Dr. Baldridge find and transport some of the rock types included in the garden.  When plantings are finished the garden will contain 147 different species of California native plants. SMC administrators and physical plant staff combined to fund this project.

EES students in the Sierras with rock haul for the CNP garden.Mallory Zaunius, Christina Bay, Ciera Alvarez, Luke Sauser and Danny HayesThe CNPG brings a variety of benefits to the SMC campus.   Once established, it will require very little water, far less than the typical lawn and plants previously growing there needed.  It does not require the use of herbicides or pesticides to maintain these native plants, resulting in less toxic runoff from the campus.  Diminishing water and pesticide use is in keeping with SMC’s efforts to become an environmentally sustainable campus.  Several Biology, Environmental and Earth Science, and Education Department courses and some students doing senior research projects will use the CNPG itself for laboratory exercises and experiments.   One senior student is already studying the efficacy of different benign methods of discouraging deer from eating the native plants and another is looking at which plants are least favored by deer during the fall season, when deer are most likely to use gardens, native or residential, as feeding stations, since at the end of the summer drought feed in the wild areas of campus is dry and scarce.  Many plant species were chosen because they support California native pollinators, such as California bees, butterflies and hummingbirds giving them a food source they co-evolved with and can use most efficiently.  Finally, students and faculty find the CNPG a pleasant and restful place to sit and chat, read and even eat lunch while sitting on the rocks.

It will take a full year or two for the perennial plants to become full grown and established, annuals to build up their seed bank to reseed themselves, trees to mature to provide shaded microhabitats and the bulb plants to fill out their beds.  Even by next spring’s graduation however, the CNPG should be looking very attractive. The hope of all involved is this CNPG will be such a success in providing benefits to the campus that it will be the first of many native-plant-based landscaping installations at SMC in the next few years, both surrounding new facilities being built on campus, and retrofitting the landscaping around old buildings.  If you have not seen the CNPG yet, come over and sit for a time and smell the flowers!  Take a walk through the garden . . . http://www.stmarys-ca.edu/saint-mary%E2%80%99s-new-california-native-plant-garden-a-multi-purpose-eden