May Garden Updates with Ellyn Shea

Bay-Friendly Gardening is 21st Century Gardening


April Photo 1


Back in the 17th century, noble families had plenty of cheap labor and few concerns about resource conservation. This attitude showed in their garden designs.

Notice the narrow and intricate lawn shapes – lots of water being used to keep that green…and excess water wasted on the adjoining pathway and pavement. The sheared hedge and rounded trees have to be frequently pruned – plants just don’t grow that shape naturally. Plants in containers require more frequent watering, and must be replaced more often as their roots outgrow the container space. And all this open space discourages most birds.


April photo 2


Here in the 21st century, garden design and maintenance must take a more ecological approach. The Bay-Friendly Landscaping and Gardening Coalition works with public agencies, landscape professionals and home gardeners to reduce waste and pollution, conserve natural resources such as water and reduce pesticide usage, without sacrificing the beauty of the garden. They have a great certification program for green professionals so we can all design and maintain gardens using their 7 basic principles, which are reflected in the 20th Street garden:


1. Landscape locally. Plants on 20th Street were chosen to thrive in the native soil and climate. Plants adapted to their location have fewer pest problems, minimizing the need for pesticides.


2. Landscape for less to the landfill. Most of the plants can reach their natural height and spread without running out of room. No need for excessive pruning, and what green waste is generated gets separated from trash for the green bin.


April photo 3


3. Nurture the Soil. Most fallen leaves, flower petals and seeds are swept back into the garden bed to form a natural mulch. Insects and soil microbes break down the mulch and add organic matter to the soil. (Bug poop is good for plants!) Synthetic fertilizers kill soil microbes, and most of these plants don’t really need fertilizing anyway. The lemon tree gets an organic, slow-release fertilizer.


4. Conserve water. Plants were chosen to be drought-tolerant once established. Additional watering is the least amount necessary to keep the garden healthy and attractive.


5. Conserve energy. No lawns and sheared hedges = no power tools. No big trucks of green waste going to the dump.


April photo 4


6. Protect water & air quality. As detailed in a previous post, the garden and interlocking pavers capture rainwater, directing it into the earth rather than along pavement, where it would pick up pollutants. Shade trees cool paved surfaces and parked cars, reducing hydrocarbon emissions and ozone formation. (Yes, a car can pollute even when parked!)


7. Create and protect wildlife habitat. Plant diversity encourages a variety of insects and birds. On 20th Street, there are over 30 species coming from about 20 plant families. Because birds need some cover when foraging, they feel safest when there are varying plant sizes – some ground covers, small shrubs, larger shrubs and trees. Dead flowers turn into seeds, feeding insects and birds, so we leave seedheads on where possible.


April photo 5


Whether you have a few pots on the fire escape or a big backyard, I hope you are also a bay-friendly gardener!



Ellyn Shea is a Bay-Friendly qualified gardener and garden educator in San Francisco.

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