Santa Rosa mobile home a model for gardening in small spaces

Saturday plant sale helps others create habitats of their own

Anyone who thinks their patio, balcony or yard is too small to garden needs to talk to Betty Young.

The determined Santa Rosa native plant enthusiast refused to say “no can do” when she moved into a mobile home with a tiny front yard filled with nothing but red-and-white rock and a single rhododendron.

Young is a bit of an outlier in her park. She declined to follow the crowd and instead put in a garden that, even in October, is still blooming with native plants and buzzing with insects.

Her garden, still sporting color with California fuchsia, goldenrod and white California asters, is proof that even the smallest of spaces can become preserves for native plants and way stations for beneficial wildlife.

Intrigued? Young is just one of the experts who will be on hand helping out and answering questions at Saturday’s annual plant sale from the California Native Plant Society’s Milo Baker Chapter. Young heads up the society’s native plant nursery at the Laguna Foundation in Santa Rosa, where the sale will be held.

Young, who has a bachelor’s degree in plant science, brings years of professional experience to the volunteer job, including 17 years managing six nurseries in Golden Gate National Park devoted to propagating and growing native plants for restoration projects. In retirement, she’s still committed to the cause of native plant gardening, through the Native Plant Society.

But she knows other gardeners looking to switch to natives may struggle with tough questions. What should I plant? Where should I plant it? How should I maintain it? How much irrigation will it need?

So in collaboration with fellow chapter member April Owens, Young has written a primer on what to do (place plants together that have similar water requirements) and what not to do (don’t plant too close together and don’t over-water plants). “Sonoma County Native Plant Gardener: How to Get Started,” will be available to buy for $20 at the sale and through the society.

“The approach to native gardening is really different,” said Young, who got her start right out of UC Davis by working in traditional, formal gardens at Filoli, the historic estate in Woodside.

“Some people are nervous,” she said. “They don’t know if they should water something or not water. I do (water) when I plant (and) never water after that.”

That’s the beauty of native plants. Because they are adapted to the climate they developed in, they can get by with the precipitation, soil and other growing conditions that are normal for that climate.

Young’s new guide is even more specific. It hones in not just on California natives, but native plant gardening in Sonoma County. The plants and varieties featured in the book are all Sonoma County natives. And by planting them, gardeners here can provide food, nectar and shelter for local native wildlife, including many of the 1,600 native bee species in the Golden State.

Some of Young’s favorites are the California fuchsia, the Douglas iris and the Ithuriel spear, all garden showstoppers that don’t require much, if any, additional irrigation.

For her own garden, she initially went for a blue-and-yellow palette with baby blue eyes and Douglas iris, among others. But when the blooms faded in the summer, she shifted to orange with California fuchsia. She also made room for pipevine, or Dutchman’s pipe, which is the host plant for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

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