Thursday, July 18, 2013

Creating a Beautiful Demonstration Garden

By Sandi Funke, Education Director

Volunteers take a break to pose during a Volunteer Workday
In the spring of 2013 a dedicated group of staff and volunteers finished installing stage one of Pepperwood’s Demonstration Garden. Groups such as our TeenNat internship program are already out wandering the golden pathways, exploring the plants, and observing the newly arrived visiting pollinators. The attractive undulating sitting area situated under an embracing oak is luring groups in for receptions, small meetings, or classes just grabbing a snack after a long expedition. The entire area is so well suited to the site it is becoming very hard to remember the Dwight Center without it.

Michael (left) and volunteers during construction of raised beds
However, designing and installing the garden was no small feat. This multi-year effort would not have happened without the hard work of Michael Golas. Michael is a Pepperwood steward and owner of Michael Golas Landscape Design. Besides lending his considerable talents through the design and installation of the project, he donated the in-kind services of his hard working crew on several occasions. We recently had a chance to interview Michael to hear directly from him how the project unfolded.

PW-How did you get started helping with Pepperwood’s Demonstration Garden? What was your role?

View of the garden from benches in the shade of an oak tree

“It was an idea that came to me while attending our final Bio 85 class in the late spring of 2010. Sitting on picnic tables under two magnificent Coast Live Oaks on that warm afternoon made me think of others who would enjoy having the same opportunity in a more developed setting. The picnic tables were replaced with curved benches stepped into the natural slope under the arching branches. The demonstration garden idea was shared and further developed with staff input, and a plan was conceived with the help of landscape architect Michael Cook. Construction began in fall of 2011 with the anticipated grant funding. I was asked and agreed to lead the volunteers and fellow staff through construction.”

PW-Why do you feel native plants are important to include in gardens?

Photograph of some of the plants in mid-July 2013
“Nature's diversity can be best experienced at one's own pace when a permanent location is set up for that learning. Native plants are often overlooked except those of exception that boast relative size, brilliance, and numbers that make them more distinct. We're flooded with plant introductions from around the world given the climate we in Sonoma County and California enjoy. Native plants have taken a backstage given the choices offered and, by examples presented in our garden here, we hope to highlight the important role each have to play in any permanent garden or the plant community in which they abide.”

PW-What led you to choose the plants that you did?

“Choosing nearly all native plants with most from selections collected locally, we again want to highlight the diversity and beauty that comes with our local flora for all to experience.”

PW-Now that the garden has been installed and has had a while to grow, is there anything that is surprising to you?

Volunteers creating handicap-friendly walkways through the garden
“The biggest surprise would be how well the garden has been received by visitors, volunteers and by staff. Most offered encouragement and many came to help but their reaction to seeing it has been pure joy. Second to that, the speed at which some of the selections have taken to their new home has us evaluating what can and should be included in the next round of planting.”

PW-What resources would you recommend if someone is thinking about including native plants in their home garden?

California Flora in Fulton is our local source for material and boundless plant lore. The website offers detailed cultural information on each species with footnotes on related reading.”

Pepperwood’s Demonstration Garden is open and used in Pepperwood classes and programs, visiting classes, rental groups, during open houses, and during membership events. For more information about Pepperwood or to become a member visit our website.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Learning More About Our Wild Neighbors

By Tom Greco

A young deer photographed by
a Pepperwood wildlife camera
Every year, thousands of animals are killed on roadways in Northern California, a problem that impacts both wildlife populations and our safety on the road. In 2010 alone, California Highway Patrol reported over 1,800 wildlife-vehicle collisions state-wide. As residential and agricultural development continues to expand, so too will the habitat conversion pressures facing our region’s wild inhabitants. Some impacts from human activity are obvious – we have all seen dead deer or raccoon on the side of the road – but the stealthy nature of animals like black bears and mountain lions keeps most of their habitats a mystery. Through new advances in technology and a team of dedicated volunteers, Pepperwood is now gaining insight into the life cycles and movement patterns of our wild neighbors.
A bobcat photographed by a Pepperwood wildlife camera
Last summer Pepperwood installed 20 motion-activated cameras around our preserve, becoming the first location in Northern California to utilize the internationally recognized Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) system. This Wildlife Conservation Society method for analyzing wildlife will allow us to begin accurately recording what kinds of animals are present on the preserve, how and when they are using the land as habitat, and other valuable data. Unless we establish such a baseline for the health of our wildlife, we won’t know how populations are changing over time – and whether it is due to our management practices, impacts on habitat corridors, changing climate, or a range of other factors.

A pair of foxes photographed by a Pepperwood wildlife camera
Pepperwood works with wildlife biologist Dr. Sue Townsend to establish protocols and trainings we are applying here at the preserve to provide a model for other open spaces to begin implementing similar monitoring programs region-wide. This summer, Pepperwood worked with our partners at Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Mayacamas Mountain Sanctuary and Modini Ranch to install a second camera grid in our local wildlife corridor. These 21 new cameras are located about 20 miles north of our preserve. Given their close proximity, this expansion of our WPI project will be particularly useful for detecting potential differences in populations between sites as well as observing species migration patterns. In the future, Pepperwood aims to deploy a smaller set of cameras between the two larger sites so we can begin to see which specific routes animals choose to get from one location to the other.

"Critical Linkages" map developed by
the Conservation Lands Network
The Conservations Lands Network, a five-year science-based study with input from 125 organizations, produced a “Critical Linkages” map indicating the pieces of land most likely to be used by wildlife as they move between larger open spaces like state parks and other preserves. With the addition of more camera sites in surrounding areas, the data Pepperwood collects will help evaluate these predictions and help land trusts and other conservation organizations prioritize the acquisition of lands most beneficial to wildlife. By creating “wildlife corridors” of protected lands, we can reduce the impacts of human activity on our wild residents and give them the space they need to thrive.

Stay tuned for more updates about our Wildlife Picture Index project - Like us on Facebook to see the latest photos!