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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping

Alrie Middlebrook, An Ecological Garden Designer's Pathway to Enlightenment

Alrie Middlebrook, founder of Middlebrook Gardens in Palo Alto, CA is an ecological landscape advocate.

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Urban nooks and crannies can provide native California plants with the lush grandeur of exotics. Alrie Middlebrook designed this native garden for FP International commercial garden riparian grassland communities.

"I started my horticultural career in traditional design," says Alrie Middlebrook, a professional landscape designer who now designs ecological gardens and landscapes that work with nature's system, not against the flow. "My career started with indoor tropical landscaping. I finally got smart and asked myself, 'What have I been doing?'"

Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook have release a new book for a more native, more ecological California:

Designing California Native Gardens:
The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens

...the awesome diversity and beauty of California's native plants and demonstrating how they can be brought into ecologically sound, attractive, workable, and artful gardens.
Alrie's eyes were opened on field trips with a botanist who introduced groups of explorers to California's native plants and ecosystems. That botanist became a friend and the co-author of their latest book, "Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens". To be released in June 2007. Structured around major California plant communities--bluffs, redwoods, the Channel Islands, coastal scrub, grasslands, deserts, oak woodlands, mixed evergreen woodlands, riparian, chaparral, mountain meadows, and wetlands--the book's twelve chapters each include sample plans for a native garden design accompanied by original drawings, color photographs, a plant list, tips on successful gardening with individual species, and more.

Businesses and residents are catching onto the aesthetics of natural ecological landscaping -- and the economics of working with natural systems. California is blessed with an abundant natural heritage. "We have 6,000 species of plants in Califronia. Almost 3,000 grow here and nowhere else in the world. As an artist I was so excited to learn about these new plants. The challenge! It wasn't a botanical interest at first. It wasn't ecological. But the artistic challenge intrigued me. The ecology and ethic came later. The sheer variety made my blood pulse!"

"Now I've matured enough to appreciate the ecological treasure in our natural world," she continues. "Between 1,500 and 2,000 California natives are suitable for landscaping. We currently have about 250 available in nurseries. We have an amazing palette of creative, ecologically-sound landscaping awaiting us!"

'What have I been doing?'

The California Native Gardening Foundation is one of Alrie's passions. "This foundation is charged with bringing those 1500-2000 native plants into the landscape market. As more variety becomes available, more native landscaping will flourish...and we'll be able to match plants to their local habitats more easily." It takes an "artistic mentality" to accept change readily. Having an expansive palette of color and texture and beauty is very motivational!

"I have six grandchildren and I really want to see a change in how Californians garden. The model we're using now is broken. The solution is to go native. Plant an ecological garden. It's about living lightly on the earth and taking action on your own property."

The model we're using now is broken. The solution is to go native.

Sustainable gardening talks are part of Alrie's California book tour in the coming year. One stop will be a ecological gardening program for the LA Men's Garden Club in November. And she's available to speak with groups and companies across the state about how plants and practical maintenance planning contributes to living and working lightly on the land.

Alrie's dream is to work with developers and design a whole neighborhood that is a natural habitat garden that incorporated beauty and has all the ecological, aesthetic, economic and ethical characteristics that she has accululated over almost 20 years of practicing "ecological gardening."

Thirteen Ways To Stop Global Warming, Save Water and Have a Beautiful Natural Garden

Alrie's presentation shares sustainable techniques to build a garden and minimize or reverse impact on the environment. A few starter tips:

CONCRETE: the #2 contributor to global warming is the manufacture of concrete. All that reflection of sun into the atmosphere isn't helpful, either! Reuse old concrete in gardens -- Try to use ZERO new concrete. If you do use concrete, use at least 50% flyash to reduce amount of cement used. Flyash is a byproduct of burning coal – thus, reusing a product of our electrical addiction.

MULCH (Prochip -- available through BFI in Northern California) is made from curbside recycling, when residents recycle fences, wood, etc. This urban waste can be used in non-edible gardens to recycle yard waste.

SOLAR pumps vs. electric. Gates, fountains and lighting are all solar now. Buy a good pump (Min. $90 on a solar pump to get good quality.)

NATIVE PLANTS are species from the natural plant community where you live. Native species support native wildlife, and are acclimated to local weather and soil patterns. Truly a win, win, win way of living.

Alrie Middlebrook, President
Middlebrook Gardens
76 Race Street
San Jose, CA 95126
(408) 292-9993

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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