The word "natural" is one that has received a lot of bad press lately. We know that corporations are able to advertise something as natural, but aren't held to any regulatory or clearly defined standards about what is considered natural. However, this does not change what the word actually means, which is simply "existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by mankind." This denotes something that transcends beyond human innovation. Plants are natural, the sun is natural, water is natural, air is natural, etc. These are all elements of reality that we depend on to live our lives, but have had no involvement in creating. Now, what is a garden? "A plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables, fruits or herbs are cultivated." So, in a garden, humans cultivate and care for plants. In nature, it is more of a wilderness survival mode.
So if nature is that place where humans are not involved and a garden is that place where humans cultivate plants, a natural garden is somewhere in-between. To us, it makes sense that a natural garden would require taking the plants of an untouched, localized natural environment and bringing them into the garden outside of your door. This provides a space where you can feel in nature, but in a much closer, more tidy, personalized location. The difference is, most people just have yards, landscapes, or a garden, but don't have a NATURAL GARDEN. Okay, so whats the big idea? Gardens are great things to have, why do you need a NATURAL GARDEN? Is this just one of those fads or things people do to scoff at others who don't have what they have? Well, yes that happens.. But no it isn't just that, so let me explain why natural gardens are all around, better.
Before we can explain why to install a natural garden, we must first explain why garden in the first place. Gardening is now considered a novelty of sorts. It might seem odd to think about, but there once was a time when humans didn't stock their refrigerators with produce from the big box grocery store. People actually had to grow their food directly from the earth. In most parts of the world, this is still the case, and even if we don't realize it, that is still where our food comes from before it hits the grocery store. It comes from the earth. So, first reason to garden would be, it provides the necessary resources we need to sustain our lives. It provides us food! Not only that, but this food is fresher, healthier and depending on your garden, much tastier! That point alone is enough to start a garden, but there are many more. Gardening provides us exercise, exposure to fresh air & sunshine, it helps clears the mind to de-stress, it gives an opportunity to contemplate problems and think of solutions, it provides a space to watch and learn about how life works and it gives a sense of fulfillment to watch things grow. So as you can see, there are many reasons to garden, and we feel installing or retrofitting a conventional yard, ornamental or normal garden, into a natural garden only expands on the benefits of gardening.
As explained earlier, a natural garden is one that emulates the natural environment of the homeowner. Since we live in San Diego, California, we have installed a natural garden comprised of plants that grow in our area. This provides many benefits to the overall garden in ways no other plants can.
BIRDS AND POLLINATORS
When you emulate nature in your garden, you start to invite the birds and pollinators that have been living in our area for thousands of years. These precious life forms have been surviving in these environments using the plants as shelter, protection, rest and food. They need their plants to feel at home. It would be like taking a bird out of the rainforest and putting it in a desert. The bird wasn't designed and hasn't adapted to survive in that environment. That is essentially what we have done with our modern day cities. We have removed much of what was always here and replaced it with unnatural things like asphalt and concrete. The plants we did put back here are plants from other parts of the world that in most cases don't provide much for our local ecology. When you invite birds and pollinators to your yard, they start to help you garden without you knowing it. Birds love to eat insects off of plants. They essentially help you control pest. Pollinators such as butterflies, bees and even flies, help your plants produce fruit by carrying pollen from one plant to another. 1/3 of all food in the grocery store is dependent upon pollinators doing what they do. What this means is, your natural garden is providing a beneficial world for those around you. A natural garden is a living system functioning everyday, even when you are unaware. It is a win/win for everyone when life is supported.
One thing about gardening is that, you need water for plants to grow. With so much space many times people will leave their ground bare around their garden so they save water, or many gardeners will feel guilty or poor, using so much water to keep their tropical island paradise afloat. The beauty of natural gardening is that no matter where you live, the native plants that grow in your area are already accustomed to the particular climate, soil composition, and terrain of where you live. Slopes are a great example of taking a bare, problematic eye sore and turning it into a drought-tolerant, easy to maintain place for birds to perch, nest and eat from, all while creating beauty and preventing erosion. This can only be done effectively with native plants because again, they are designed and adapted to be here. In nature, they are able to stabilize a slope in the dead of heat with minimal rainfall.
FEELS LIKE HOME
Living in Southern California is such a blessing. The beauty of this place is beyond words and it can only really truly be admired when going out into nature. The smells, the way the light hits the plants and cast a shadow, the sounds of birds chirping from bush to bush. All of this, most Californians never experience because we are so far removed from what California actually looks like. There once was a time when the land was unadulterated. It was pure and true. Installing a natural garden brings back the true essence of our home, rather than trying to alter it into what we think it should be. Many people think it looks too bare or weedy. This is simply a lack of exposure to true SoCal nature. Driving along the freeway and seeing bare weedy slopes is not a good representation of how California looks. In nature there are usually no bare spots aside from outcropping of rocks. Also, much what we see near developed areas are foreign, non-native grasses. Yes, weeds. These appear after a native habitat is destroyed. The first thing to appear are the weedy grasses. On top of this, when all you see everyday is the same flat greenish-yellow lawns and neatly shaped oval/square bushes, then it isn't hard to imagine why someone would think a natural garden looks too wild. The beauty of a natural garden though, is that with proper design (plant selection and placement) as well as maintenance, you can have a landscape that exceeds the conventional style in both aesthetic and function.