The Landscaping Ideas of Jays – Book Review

Meet Mother Nature’s gardening experts.

If you do not usually seek gardening advice from the native flora and fauna in your community, you will after reading The Landscaping Ideas of Jays.

Yes, you read that correctly. I do mean the plants, insects, trees, birds, bees, animals, and grasses that are native to where you live. “How so?” you ask.  Read the book and you will understand.

There were two reasons that I felt certain I would enjoy reading Judith Larner Lowry’s book The Landscaping Ideas of Jays: a Natural History of the Backyard Restoration Garden.

The first is that I too am a backyard restorationist, although unlike Lowry, I am an amateur.

The second reason is that I had previously read and loved her book Gardening with a Wild Heart. As she waxed poetic about coyote bush (the first native plant I learned to identify) and talked about coveting her neighbor’s wood chip pile, I felt we were kindred spirits.

The copy of The Landscaping Ideas of Jays I just read was loaned to me by a native plant enthusiast named Linda whom I met through the San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

I must have mentioned to Linda that Gardening with a Wild Heart is one of my favorite books during a stint working with her behind the book table at a chapter meeting because she told me she owned another book by Judith Larner Lowry and offered to loan it to me.

I accepted and she brought the book to the next meeting.

Book Review

Before you begin reading The Landscaping Ideas of Jays, I suggest that you lather on the sunscreen, fill up your reusable water bottle, and grab some seed collecting envelopes because you will be wandering about with Judith Larner Lowry in her garden and the wild. You might want to bring along some snacks, too, as there will be many side trips and times to dawdle and reflect.

The chapters in the book are loosely grouped into seasons beginning with fall and ending with what Lowry calls the fifth season.

The Landscaping Ideas of Jays Book Cover

The setting for the book is California and the characters are mostly native California plants and animals with cameo appearances by California indigenous people both past and present. However, the book’s ideas and messages are universal.

Fall

Perhaps you are familiar with the term keynote speaker, meaning the speaker who sets the tone or theme for an event. In this part of the book, you will learn about designing a garden around keynote birds and plants and how California quail and coyote bush fill the keynote roles in Lowry’s restoration garden. The following excerpt is about quail.

“In exchange for room in our gardens, they give the graceful gift of thriving among us. As they skim fences, ignoring property rights and heading for what they need regardless of who owns it, they stitch neighborhoods together, providing a local totem and a topic of much conversation.”

Wherever you live, there is sure to be a keynote bird and/or plant that would love to visit or find a home in your yard or garden.

Winter

This segment begins with a chapter intriguingly called “Eating the Rain” and quickly moves to wintertime storytelling as Lowery acquaints you with the histories of three botanical women and their contributions to California native plant knowledge.

“In the winter I read long hours, dipping into the California native plant literary canon. It seems that the three women whose lives and contributions I describe in this part, Lester Rowntree, Edith Van Allen Murphey, and Gerda Isenberg, have been with me for a long time, inspiring and supporting my endeavors, and those of many of my fellow native plant lovers, though of the three I knew only Gerda.”

Reading the winter section you will also receive lessons from the forest and learn how salmon nourish the woods.

Spring

You will be introduced to spring through flowers and the expansive fields of California wildflowers that draw people from all over the world, most holding a camera or smartphone.

“Visitors from other galaxies might understandably conclude that placing small rectangular objects between our eyes and the world is the way we humans worship natural phenomenon.”

Other tales include the “you’ll be sorry” plant, weed-free neighbor zones, and what a rock knows.

Summer and the Fifth Season

The summer and fifth season sections contain advice about designing and caring for restoration gardens. This includes discourse about plants, trees, ponds, pollinators, paths, animals, and praise for bare dirt (in moderation).

The fifth season will remain a mystery until you read the book however; many Californians may be able to guess what it is.

Near the end of the book, Lowry will caution you about embarking on gardening endeavors that exceed your financial, physical, or time-related limitations and suggests taking on significantly less than you think you can handle.

The above advice is followed by Lowry’s First Law of Gardening.

“The law is this: The land requires our attention. Either you pay attention, or you hire somebody to pay attention, but attention, one way or another, must be paid.”

The Bottom Line

Judith Larner Lowry is the longtime owner of Larner Seeds in Bolinas, CA, which carries over 200 species of California native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. In addition to caring for her own garden, she designs gardens using California native plants, conducts workshops, gives talks, writes articles, and is the author of several books.

Often when I am reading a book, I think how interesting it would be to meet and talk with its author. Lowry strikes me as not only a person I would enjoy meeting and discussing native plants with but also someone who would be a wonderful neighbor.

Although not a step-by-step guide for designing a restoration garden or growing native plants, The Landscaping Ideas of Jays contains a lot of useful information and practical advice. It is a beautifully written book filled with inspiration, stories, humor, ideas, and Lowry’s musings about how our yards or gardens can connect us to the places where we live.

I recommend The Landscaping Ideas of Jays to anyone who wants to pay attention to their yard or garden and to make it place where native plants, flowers, trees, grasses, bees, birds, and animals can thrive.

Featured Image at Top: This is a California scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica) grasping an acorn in its beak – photo credit iStock/pchoui.

Related Posts

Resources

Native Plants Add Beauty and Habitat to Your Yard

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” —Janet Kilburn Phillips

This spring give the birds, bees, and butterflies places to live, dine, and hang out by adding native plants to your garden and making it a pesticide-free zone.

About two weeks ago, a newsletter from the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) arrived in my email inbox informing me that April 13-21 is Native Plant Week here in California.

I decided to use Native Plant Week as an opportunity to encourage other native plant novices, like me, to embrace native plants. When you give native plants a place in your yard or garden, you will attract native wildlife and signal to those who are just passing through that this is a good place to pause and take a break.

Ever since my spouse and I moved from Southern California to the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast about twelve years ago, we have been on a mission to restore our tiny piece of land. After years of invasive plant removal and spreading literally tons of wood chips to revive the parched soil, I realized I needed to learn about native plants.

I joined the CNPS chapter in San Luis Obispo. At my first meeting in October 2017, I met Marti and became interested in trying to grow native plants from seeds. You can meet the first plant I ever grew from a seed in the post, entitled Growing Native Plants from Seeds is Fun and if you are interested in the environmental benefits of native plants, I covered that topic in Native Plants are Good for the Environment.

6 Pots with Seedlings Grown from Native Plant Seeds - Apr 2019
Seedlings sprouted from seeds I obtained at the CNPS San Luis Obispo seed in exchange in October 2018 shown in April 2019 (left to right) – thrift seapink, coast bush lupine, coyote mint, purple needlegrass, purple sage, arroyo lupine.

The joy of growing native plants mostly occurs during the journey from seed to mature plant, but even the mishaps can be fun. My yard is mostly wild and your yard will be different from mine anyway, but perhaps you have had some similar experiences.

Native Plant Novice

To keep things simple I opted to experiment with growing native plant seeds using the tools and resources a non-expert might have on hand like a garden trowel, plastic pots from nursery plants, potting soil, a watering can, and something to use for plant markers. I planted my second batch of seeds in November 2018 without any special preparation.

This year I have been keeping a handwritten journal of what I observe happening with the seeds and a few small plants, we planted in our yard.

Becky the Buckwheat has a Birthday

I am one of those people who anthropomorphize animals and trees. It helps me connect with my non-human neighbors, but if you do not like it, I understand.

The very first plant I ever grew from seed was California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciulatum). Out of a handful of seeds, it was the only one that germinated. After about nine months in a pot on the deck outside of our dining room, I decided that Becky was ready for the yard. Mindful of the deer that frequent our yard, I planted Becky in a small fenced in section.

I do not know Becky’s exact age, but I planted the seeds in January 2018 and the tiny seedling popped its head above the soil in March or April of that year. Becky went to live in the yard during October 2018 and now in April 2019, Becky is at least a year old and thriving.

Someone Stole My Daisies

For years, I have been admiring the lavender flowered seaside daisies (Erigeron glaucus) that grow on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near my house. Last November, when I spotted a variety of seaside daisies at the CNPS San Luis Obispo plant sale, I bought six small plants.

Because the daisies looked like potential deer food to me, they became Becky’s neighbors. The plants seemed happy and I could see them from a window in our stairwell. One day I looked out and sensed something was wrong so I went outside to investigate.

Four of the six plants were completely gone (not eaten) disappeared. It was the voles. I could tell by the little holes backfilled with loose dirt. The voles would not come out to discuss the situation so I can only surmise that seaside daisies are much sought after as bedding material or food for voles.

That afternoon I dashed over to the local nursery to purchase some flexible mesh gopher cages. My spouse helped me dig up the two remaining plants and replant their roots inside the cages. That ended the carnage. The plants made it through the winter but I would say they look more as if they are just surviving versus thriving.

Plant Hide-and-Seek

In November 2018, feeling extra ambitious I expanded the number of varieties of seeds I would attempt to grow and decided to carefully plant a few in my yard along with a couple of plants that I had purchased at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden plant sale in October.

I carefully weeded a five-foot circle, planted a small Hearst ceanothus (Ceanothus hearstiorum) and three groupings of seeds marked with plant markers I made from an old sign.

The deer or someone was probably laughing as I did this. Within days, the ceanothus had been eaten down to a nub, so we fenced in the area. Months later, the wild grasses took over and any tiny seedlings trying to make a go of it have either been outcompeted, eaten as soon as they popped up their heads, or are in there somewhere that I just cannot see.

Group Insurance

In the past, I have often purchased one plant to try out in a particular area. Last fall, I thought maybe it would be helpful to plant two or three of the same type of plant in the same area.

At the November CNPS plant sale, along with the ill-fated seaside daisies, I purchased six tiny California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) seedlings grown by Clearwater Color Wholesale Nursery in Los Osos. The plants were about 3” tall when I planted them in pots and set them outside our dining room window.

They seemed happy and grew steadily. After the seedlings reached about 6” tall, I decided they might enjoy going to live in the yard.

Unsure about whether deer have a taste for California fuchsia or not, I decided to plant one plant and see what happened. The deer completely ignored it for a couple of weeks so I decided it was safe to plant the others.

Outside our office window, we have a grouping of three and a grouping of two. I planted the remaining plant near the seaside daisies as an insurance measure in case the deer suddenly develop a taste for California fuchsia.

Getting a Grip

The native plant enthusiasts I meet in our county seem enamored with dudleyas so I purchased three chalk dudleya (Dudleya pulverulenta) at the October Botanical Garden Sale.

I read up about them on Calscape, an online California native plant resource guide, and learned that dudleyas like to be planted at an angle so moisture does not pool around them and they enjoy living with rocks.

We have a small rocky section next to our driveway so I planted the three dudleyas in a triangle and hoped for the best. Periodically, I hand weed around them and they seem to be well established now.

My action for California Native Plant Week was to write this post. I hope you enjoyed the above plant stories and laughed at least once. Now, it is your turn to take action.

California Native Plant Week Actions

  • Share your own native plant stories and/or expertise.
  • Learn about native plants by going on a native plant garden tour or visiting a botanical garden.
  • Sign up for a native plant walk in your area.
  • Locate a nursery that sells native plants, pick one to try, and plant three of them in your yard or garden.
  • Join your local native plant society. The American Horticulture Society lists every state on their website.

“Native plants are the foundation of ecosystems, supporting pollinators, birds, and the natural resources we all need for survival.”

Liv O’Keeffe, California Native Plant Society

Featured Image at Top: I think these are elegant clarkias (Clarkia unguiculata) plants that sprouted from seeds I scattered in the yard.

Related Posts

Resources