We have some exciting news here at Home Sweet Habitat. We have our first client! The Good News Rescue Mission, Redding’s local homeless shelter, is hoping to take an empty lot they own and transform it into a garden. Although no plants (other than vegetables) have been planted yet, we want to share the game plan with you.
But first, some “before” pictures! The garden is pretty bare at the moment, and it will take some work to prepare it for planting.
The garden beds in the center are primarily for vegetables. It’s the land surrounding the garden that Rebekah and I get to play with the most.
There's not much to look at yet, but that will change!
The aerial views aren’t much better. But...
I used GIS to create a rough map that shows this area’s potential for greatness. We are focusing on four plant types to generate habitat complexity and attract a wide array of native wildlife to the area:
Perennial Bunchgrasses: Here in Redding, we are at the very northern tip of the Sacramento Valley, so we used the historic ecological situation of this area as our roadmap. California’s Central Valley was historically dominated by native bunchgrasses. While lawn grass grows in a series of small blades, bunchgrasses grow upwards in a tight clump, with the middle shoots standing vertically while gravity bends the outer blades down to various degrees:
We are leaning towards using native Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) for the garden. Deer Grass doesn’t tend to spread from its clumps, which should simplify maintenance. Deer Grass will provide crucial ground cover for wildlife such as small mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates.
Trees: In addition to grasses, oak trees (Quercus species) were prominent on the foothills of the Central Valley. Since the Mission isn’t on the Sacramento River, we decided to focus on foothill vegetation rather than riparian trees such as cottonwoods.
Here is where the first human constraint comes into play. There will likely be more fruit trees than native oaks to complement vegetables harvested from the area. Still, the trees will add structural complexity to the garden, giving it a vertical dimension and providing various food sources for wildlife.
Flowers: Wildflowers were also a striking, if ephemeral, aspect of California’s landscape. These could be annual wildflowers, or forbs—sturdy like a grass, but with more showy flowers. Flowering plants can appear after rains, around vernal pools, or in response to a disturbance of the established shrub community such as fire. All this is to say, flowers are coming to the garden! Given the fact they will need the most water, we plan on planting these in the garden beds, amongst the crops themselves. This will likely mean they will need to be replaced every year, so we’ll focus on native annual flowers.
Pipevine: This one is pretty special. California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica) is a native flowering vine that provides crucial habitat elements for the native Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. The butterfly gets its name from the Pipevine because it relies on the plant for its entire lifecycle. Butterflies lay eggs on its leaves, caterpillars eat these leaves, they form their chrysalis on the plant, and adult female butterflies return once more to Pipevine to repeat the Circle of Life. Pipevines require shade, so we plan in the shade provided by existing trees.
The wildflowers and pipevines will share the role of attracting pollinators. We should start to see some bees, birds, and butterflies around the garden with the introduction of these plants.
So there you have it: grasses for ground cover; trees for food and vertical habitat; flowering plants for pollinators; and native flora where possible. Through this project we aim to restore the habitat of the Redding area, but Rebekah and I won’t be doing it alone. Mission guests will provide many of the helping hands required to create and maintain the garden. Through this, we hope to uncover latent passions and job skills inside these volunteers.
Resurrecting habitat. Resurrecting lives. We’re calling it the Resurrection Garden.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Good News Rescue Mission, visit www.gnrm.org
Barbour, Michael; Pavlik, Brucel Drysdale, Frank; and Lindstrom, Susan. 1993. California’s Changing Landscapes: Diversity and Conservation of California Vegetation. A publication of the California Native Plant Society.