Channel Island Native Plant Symposium

Monday February 21, 2011

image of speaker in barn

An unseasonably warm February 12th welcomed a large group of native plant enthusiasts at the historic Camarillo Ranch Barn for the second annual day-long symposium hosted by the Channel Islands Chapter of the Native Plant Society (CNPS).

Informed and, at times, entertained by the likes of Bob Perry (Professor Emeritus & Author), Pamela Berstler (G3, The Green Gardens Group & Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens Program), David Magney (Botanist, David Magney Environmental Consulting), John Greenlee (The “Grassman”), and Lili Singer (Special Projects Coordinator of the Theodore Payne Foundation), the attendees ranged from tentative gardeners to active CNPS members.  The common theme of this event was the important role native plants play in sustainable landscapes.

Bob Perry Quote:  “Good garden design comes from the soul”

Bob Perry kicked off the morning with a thoughtful and bob perry lecturewell-researched presentation on the science of sustainability, emphasizing how native plants fit into the equation.  Perry introduced the notion of treating landscapes as an “energy crop” and presented his definition of a sustainable landscape.  In short, by measuring the biomass of a landscape one may determine the quantities of carbon sequestration and oxygen production.  So, according to Perry, sustainability in the landscape is achieved “as long as there is more energy accrued in the biomass of plants than is consumed in the process of designing, installing, and maintaining the landscape.”

And of great interest to the symposium, Perry gave wonderful photo tours of two of his completed projects.  The first was a residence that clearly exhibited how native plants, when chosen and placed properly, will create stunning and sustainable landscapes.  Afterwards, he illustrated how the irrigation schedule of Washington Park was based on the science of percolation and available moisture.  In this case study, Perry demonstrated through a series of graphs and charts how quickly rain/irrigation percolates through the three common soil types:

  • - Sandy Soil:  1” rain/irrigation on Sandy Soil percolates 12” deep @ 45 minutes/inch
  • - Sandy Loam: 1” rain/irrigation on Sandy Loam percolates 7.5” deep @ 1.25 hours/inch
  • - Clay Soil:  1” rain/irrigation on Clay percolates 5.8” deep @ 5-10 hours+/inch

Taking the above information into account, Perry made a case for deep and infrequent waterings based more on our rainfall patterns.  So, rather than simply irrigating in single soaks, he recommended a “cycle soaking” approach whereas the irrigation is left on until saturation, turned off, allowed to percolate a bit, then turned on again until saturation is reached, and so on until you have achieved a very deep irrigation with little to no run-off.

Pamela Berstler Quote:  “We treat our soil like dirt”.

pamela berstlerFollowing Perry, Pam Berstler gave a spirited talk with a focus on the “CPR to the landscape” mantra which stands for Conservation (C), Permeability (P), and Retention (R).  The CPR, when implemented, is intended to revive our watersheds and oceans as part of the Ocean Friendly Gardens Program which was initiated by the Surfrider Foundation.

To gain her audience early, Berstler began by giving some frightening facts about water-related waste in California:

  • - Urban pollution is #1 source of ocean pollution
  • - 300 million gallons of water runoff our urban landscape every day in LA County
  • - 20% of all electricity in the state goes to moving or cleaning water

After clearly leveling her sights on eliminating waste and pollution in the urban landscape, Berstler gave the audience a quick but helpful lesson on ways to evaluate whether a home landscape is beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.  To do so, she showed a couple of slides of typical landscapes and demonstrated where improvements could be made.  She showed how simple fixes, from turning downspouts onto lawn areas to installing mulch, are integral to landscape CPR.

Berstler also shared information on her involvement with G3, a non-profit organization that provides education design consulting on sustainable landscapes, and the Ocean Friendly Gardens Program that is designed to “help the general public take some steps at their own homes to clean and prevent pollution reaching the ocean and to begin restoring the urban watershed.”

David Magney Quote:  “When you want to use a native plant and want to know how it performs, look to its native habitat.”

Magney jumped right into a very detailed account of twelve david magney lecturenative tree species that would be more beneficial to use in the landscape instead of more standard ornamental trees.  For each selection, Magney discussed the attributes, values, benefits, and location where they can best fit into our cultivated landscape.  

According to Magney, the benefits of choosing native trees in Southern California include:

  • - An enormous variety to choose from,
  • - Plants properly selected and located don’t need supplemental irrigation,
  • - They need minimal care as they are adapted to the local environment
  • - Wildlife prefers natives to ornamentals

As a resource for everyone, Magney has posted a list of these trees, as well as all of the documented native trees in Southern California, online at the Channel Islands Native Plant Chapter's page (see more).

John Greenlee Quote:  “Why would you want a lawn...when you could have a meadow?”

john greenlee lectureFollowing lunch, John Greenlee took the podium and cleverly took us on a tour of native grasses and grasslands found throughout the state and areas beyond.  For each grass, Greenlee was awash with passion as he shared what is likely just a taste of his vast knowledge and experience gained while working with and growing native grasses.

Highlighting some of his favorites to work with in meadow design such as Leymus triticoides, Greenlee offered suggestions and combinations of grasses that one might consider when designing their own meadow.  The succinct information, coupled with the stunning imagery, was enough to excite even the old-guard lawn lovers.

Acknowledging his inspired audience, Greenlee offered his animated step-by-step approach for removing lawn in preparation for a meadow.  Specifically, he referenced a project in Santa Ynez as his example.  Greenlee says:

  • 1)  Remove the lawn:  If newly installed, simply cut the sod and take away.   

  • 2)  If it is older than 5 years, it has Bermuda, Kikuyu, St. Augustine, or some other noxious weeds.  These noxious weeds are the biggest obstacle to overcome when creating grassland ecologies.  If you want to go native, you’ve got to kill the lawn first.    So when I show up as a consultant, the first thing I have to do is say “OK, you will water and fertilize this lawn like we are going to have the best friggin’ lawn on the whole block!” 

  • 3)  And then when it is actively growing, I put herbicide on it and I can kill it.  Continue the “grow and kill” cycle until all growth has ceased.

  • 4)  Soil Prep:  Zero, Nothing.  We didn’t rape a peat bog in Canada, rototill it into the top 6” of soil expecting to change the soil.  So everything we learned about soil preparation is BS.  You want to plant plants that will say “Thank you for planting me in this heavy clay.  I could not be any happier”.  That’s how you do successful gardening.  Partner with nature, gardening becomes a whole lot easier.


To conclude the symposium, Lili Singer, who is in her lili singer lectureown-right a serious horticulturalist,  presented an extensive list of resources including books, websites, blogs, organizations, publications, gardens, and other educational resources for anyone who is seriously interested in horticulture.  She discussed a few of her favorite books and resources in a bit more detail and wove in her own vast experience with native plants. 

(To date, Landscape Resource was not on her list of recommended websites but we are certain in will be once she learns of what is offered here!)

maday crowd booth

Founder Rob Maday demonstrating the website to attendees.

maday and magney winner

David Magney, Channel Islands Native Plant Society President, with Rob Maday.

Photos courtesy of Art Vargas and the Channel Islands Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.