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Los Angeles Basin's Ecological Landscaping Options are Diverse

The Los Angeles Basin is rich with micro habitats...

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The Los Angeles Basin is rich with micro habitats:
  • Coastal Bluffs -- where the mountains meet the coast
  • South Coastal Scrub and Chapparal -- inland, drier and inland mountains
  • Valley Floors -- Oak woodlands and grassland
  • Rivers -- Riparian corridors along streams, creeks and rivers
  • Desert -- inland, dry and high temperature swings

The Oak Woodland landscape in the Old Town of Los Gatos incorporates a natural oak woodland garden. Planting beds between the sidewalk and parking lot requires zero summer water. These easy-care natives provide habitat for local bird species and replicate the natural community of the area. The understory planting complements the existing heritage oaks.

These urban California microhabitats provide regional landscape designers with a rich palette of color, texture and ecologically sound plants and techniques. "Between 1500 and 2000 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!"

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!

Landscapers have a design fudge factor, especially in transitional areas. But the cost of fudging is more labor, more water, higher stress on plants due to climate struggles and disease. The result is also a shorter lifespan for the plants.

In Los Angeles County's San Fernando Valley, you don't have to water a mature landscape of Oak, Grassland or Chapparal landscapes except during droughts. However, additional summer water is required in this microclimate for Riparian or Coastal layouts.

Over-design is common in landscaping. Many landscapers over-plant and over-design landscaping for commercial reasons. They will "stage" a landscape to provide that lush, tropical look that attracts uninformed customers. "That's not being a responsible global citizen," says Alrie Middlebrook, an experienced native plant garden designer. "It's responsible to think about the environment and about the labor required to maintain the landscapes."

The Difference Between Drought-Tolerant and "Ecology-based Landscaping"

Alrie Middlebrook has traveled to all five of the world's "Mediterranean Ecosystems" and she knows that many of those plants will grow in California. But she has also learned that what "works" isn't necessarily what's best for us.

"Every locality has an intertwined population of wildlife, plants and weather systems...among other things. When you introduce foreign plants -- even when they are drought-tolerant -- into a local ecologically balanced system you decrease the food and shelter available to native wildlife -- and subsequently the entire food chain as you crowd out the native plants. You also run the risk of introducing "invasive" plants that grow rampantly without their natural enemies to keep them in-check. Ecological planning reflects the natural ecology of the specific, micro-site.

"All life on earth is based on plant communities! That's what ecology organized ecological SYSTEM. The basis for all life on earth is the plants. Plants are the source of food, shelter, soil quality, water absorption, air filtration, water filtration and storage...all the natural system functions. We want to have healthy habitat! Everything is based on the evolution of the plant community -- it provides food for all the creatures in it -- including humans."

Sources for information about ecological gardening are available at 50 native plant nurseries across California, as well as a network of native plant research and education centers such as

  • The California Native Plant Society (CNPS.ORG),
  • The California Native Garden Foundation (CNGF.ORG)
  • Theodore Payne Foundation (,
  • And local water districts such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California(

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

Edited by Carolyn Allen


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