A Garden for Grandchildren and Other Wildlife


Forestville | Russian River Front and Back Gardens

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Homeowner Betsy introduces her garden.

When I moved from the city to my Forestville home 20 years ago, I knew nothing about gardening, but I had begun to learn about and love native plants and habitat. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to create a native, wildlife-friendly garden. My hillside garden represents 20 years of fits and starts, and ongoing learning.

I had a few clear goals in mind. I wanted my garden to integrate with its natural surroundings: Russian River down the hill, woods behind the back yard. I wanted to welcome the deer, birds, insects and other wildlife that might find their way into and through my garden. I wanted biological connectivity with what used to be here and what natural remnants still are here. I wanted to welcome my grandchildren, and give them a place to run and play and hide without my fussing at them about any precious garden plants.

The yard had once been extensively gardened but in later years benignly neglected. I was given a physical structure that included a small, flat front yard with thin soil over bedrock – that was fairly easy. I filled it up with native shrubs, the shady part under the big Douglas Fir and the sunny part that I call “the Chaparral.”

And a more challenging back yard – larger, and shaped like a slanting bowl thanks to the seasonal creek that runs through it to the River in winter. In this year’s heavy rains I had an opportunity to slow down the flow of water and keep more of it, with pools and impediments of rocks and branches. Upslope of the flood plain, a lovely old Black Oak now shelters an expanse of tough, tufty Idaho Fescue which is great for the kids to run and play on.

Shrubs, perennials, and California Fescue fill the banks and perimeter. Downstream, where the creek approaches its plunge downhill, the drought took as its victims an old Cottonwood and several well-established riparian shrubs. Gone now, they’ve left an open sunny plain which is currently the nursery for new young Redbud, Manzanita and Flannelbush with companions of Sage, California Fuschia and seeded annual wildflowers.

Hugging the house and making the transition between front and back is a large, sheltering California Live Oak.

Old brick pathways define the front yard beds. In the back garden, simple dirt paths lead around and through and up to the far bank. As you proceed away from the house, you’ll pass through zones: close to the house and uphill, besides the small vegetable garden are plants such as Mock Orange, Western Azalea, and Bleeding Heart that will receive a bit of regular water in summer via soaker hoses on a timer. Further out, the grasses and shrubs are watered two or three times during the summer by nighttime sprinkler; and on the far bank it’s wilder and the plants are more or less on their own.

There are steps in front, and between the front and back, making the garden unfortunately not handicap-accessible.

Events at A Garden for Grandchildren and Other Wildlife

  • Poster: Invasive Weeds of Sonoma County


Plants to Look out For

Betsy’s Top 10 Plants!

  1. Cedars Cream Bush (Holodiscus discolor ssp. cedrorum)
  2. Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus var. puniceus (red) and hybrid ‘Eleanor’ (orange and white))
  3. Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii)
  4. Pipevine (Aristolochia californica)
  5. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)
  6. Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
  7. Spicebush (Calycantha occidentalis) – shade
  8. Soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)
  9. Western Leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis)
  10. Snowdrop Bush (Styrax officinalis)

A complete printable plant list for Forestville Wildlife Haven can be downloaded using the blue button below.