Grow a natural backyard

Invite wildlife into your garden with Western plants chosen for their blooms and berries


Steven Gunther

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Plant natives, and birds will follow.

That's what Mary and Joe Bochiechio found when they installed their garden in San Marcos. The couple, once "canyoneers" (volunteer naturalists for the San Diego Natural History Museum), spent many memorable hours leading interpretive nature walks in the backcountry.

But when illness made Mary quit volunteering, she decided to bring the wilderness into her own backyard.

After removing the lawn, designer and contractor Greg Rubin ― who specializes in California natives ― installed a meandering path bordered by fragrant 'Bee's Bliss' salvia, wild lilacs, and an existing non-native purple tree mallow ― all pretty, low-water plants.

For contrast, he added flannel bush, which covers itself in spring with bright yellow flowers, and airy apricot mallows, which produce long-lasting sprays of satiny orange, cup-shaped flowers.

In a side yard, Rubin used 30 tons of weathered granite boulders to create a dry streambed that segues into a preexisting recirculating stream. Along its borders, he planted sages and a sprinkling of deer grass; around the stream, he planted yellow and scarlet monkey flowers, pink penstemon, and blue lobelia.

To soften an arbor that shades and shelters the stream, he chose native California grape ( Vitis californica 'Roger's Red'). The vine provides small, edible, seedy grapes that have a nice flavor. But, Rubin says, "the birds usually beat you to them."

Next: attracting birds


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