Planting a bouquet for the senses

Volunteers needed for an interpretive native garden
By Samuel James Adams

First impressions matter, so why not make four first impressions at once?

That’s some of the thinking behind the Interpretive Garden at Patwino Worrtla Kodoi Dihi Open Space Park—and volunteers will be key to creating a garden to delight the senses.

The first planting for the Interpretive Native Garden is Friday, November 17th from 9:30 to 1:00, and all levels of experience are invited to dig, plant, and learn about this region’s iconic flora.

Located near the future site of the Welcome Plaza, the garden will showcase plants that are beautiful, fragrant, interestingly textured, and sure to draw the buzz of helpful pollinators. While hiking paths encourage visitors to stay on trails to respect the park’s wildlife and livestock, the garden will be designed for human contact: a place to smell, touch, and observe endemic plants found within the park and beyond its borders.

Seep monkeyflower grows in the seasonal wetlands of the park.
Its relative, the sticky monkeyflower, will grow in the garden.
- Steve Chun

“One goal is to bring the native plants found throughout the park close enough for all visitors to experience them,” says Project Manager Jasmine Westbrook-Barsukov.

It will take only a few seconds for someone in the parking lot to acquaint themselves with coyote mint and mugwort, silvery plants with terrific scents that are soft to the touch. The intimate scale of the garden serves the Pre-K enrichment goals of The First 5 Solano Children and Families Commission. Woolly sunflowers, which can stand two feet tall, will meet toddlers eye-to-eye, and the umbels of the elderberry will loom within reach. While these plants are not for picking, you will be allowed to learn what gives the sticky monkeyflower at least part of its fascinating name.

The plants will also match those documented by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation as parts of the “Fields of Abundance,” the staples the Patwin people used in a sophisticated and sustainable manner (a sign going up in the park gives the Patwin names for plants, and their importance in Patwin culture).

Gardens like these will help visitors understand the seasonal changes under which California’s hardy plants have prospered.

Elderberry umbels.
- Samuel Adams

Buckeye hulls on a fence.
- Dave Reider

A monarch caterpillar climbs up heartleaf
growing wild in the park.
- Jasmine Westbrook-Barsukov.

Butterfly on a buckeye flower spike.
- Doug Wirtz

From March to May, the showy clusters of flowers on the Western redbud’s branches will preview the brilliant hues found among the park’s springtime wildflowers. California fuchsia will add blooms of bright scarlet through summer and fall. And for narrating the changes of the year, few plants best the California buckeyes: the trees shed their leaves in early summer to retain maximal moisture, lock to the ground with a long taproot that resists drought conditions, and shield their seeds in tough hulls, before blooming into vibrant flower spikes that wave in the wind.

Jasmine and Field Technician Olivia Freitas plan to repeat plantings monthly until the garden is finished. Work will move upslope from the garden to curate a selection of chaparral plants like chemise and toyon that stand in the distant hills. Later, heartleaf milkweed gathered within the park and grown in nurseries by the Putah Creek Council will be replanted for migrating monarchs.

It will be a garden fitting for such a large and varied park. But for those keeping their visit to the All People’s Trail and the welcome area, the garden will help them appreciate dozens of the species that make California special—and make conservation a gift for all to share.