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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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