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Native garden flourishes

Dora Ito, Alan Lindsey and Bob Hogan install a compost hub. Photo courtesy of GWC

By Jamie Corpuz
Western Sun executive editor

According to the Residents For Responsible Desalination, Huntington Beach uses approximately 140 gallons of water for outdoor/lawn use per household and, the Orange County Water District states that number can be as high as 180 gallons per household in Orange County. Fifty percent of the average daily HB water demand goes towards lawn use.

“Using native plants can make a big impact,” says Dan Songster, Lead Grounds keeper of Golden West College and Director of the Native Garden.

GWC’s Native Garden utilizes a natural landscape to conserve natural California fauna. “Native gardening takes less maintenance, less, water, and less pruning. These plants are accustomed to the natural environment and climate of California… [However] one challenge of native gardening in California is much of the ground is clay and water can tend to run off rather than sink in,” said Songster.

Understanding this challenge Dan Songster and a team of volunteers incorporate water retention areas into the landscape, a process of utilizing the water run off from higher terrain that allows it to gather in lower regions to hydrate the foliage there.

Outside of California’s regular rainfall, most of the plants in GWC’s Native Garden only require watering every three to four weeks. Even during a dry season the grounds usually only require soaking twice a month.  The European style turf lawns and ornamental gardens that became popular after colonization require water three to four times a week.

“We’d like people to come in and be captured by the fragrances and colors and then by the time they leave they’ll be interested in how they can grow these plants at home and conserve and understand their benefits.” Songster continued, “People underestimate the color and fragrance of the plants native to this region… people can stop to smell the poppies.”

The Native Garden was originally designed in 1975 at the request of the Science department.  It is used as an outdoor teaching facility by not only ecology classes, but also by astronomy, humanities, and English classes. The stone amphitheater is also used to host poetry nights by Friend of the Garden.

The GWC Native Garden receives no money from the school’s budget and survives solely on donations. Many faculty and staff have $5-$10 automatically taken from their paychecks and deposited into the GWC Foundation for the Native Garden.
Volunteers donate their time every Tuesday and Thursday mornings to prune, plant, work on compost hubs, and any other chores the garden needs.

Alan Lindsey, Dori Ito, Bob Hogan, Sarah Jayne, and Jan Klein all are regular volunteers that help out on Tuesdays and Thursday. “The help of your volunteers is indispensable,” says Songster.

Bob Hogan loves to watch the birds that migrate in and out of the garden at any given time there are 10-16 various types of birds that pass through the GWC Native Garden. Currently, there are also at least five species of butterfly.

The GWC Native Garden is just under one and a half acres, but the grounds keeping team tries to incorporate native plants around campus as well.

The Native Garden hopes in the near future to have an information kiosk available for visitor, which would include scaled maps and books about the 200+ varieties of plants hosted in the gardens.

“We grow state and federally listed endangered plants… if a population in the wild is lost they can just come here and recover some genetic material.” Songster also hopes to have handouts that guide visitors through various paths, such as a habitat trail that showcases the plants that attract wildlife, or a trail that takes you through all the plants that were commonly used by indigenous people.

“The willow was a popular remedy for headaches. In fact a doctor studying [Native American] medicine discovered if you crush up the bark it makes an excellent pain reliever. That doctor was named Bayer. Of course they synthesis the natural component now.”

For anyone interested in native gardening Dan recommends, “Reimagining the California Lawn,” a collaboration by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien.

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