In 1967, a dedicated group of gardeners planted the seed to develop an open space, which is now the Gardens at Heather Farm, home to 21 demonstration gardens. The once open hillside has gone through many changes in 45 years, however there are still glimpses of what was once a natural habitat, in particular the lone oak at the top of the hill behind the garden and the pond that still provides a winter place for migrating birds.
Beginning gardeners quickly learn what zone they live in in order to grow successful plants, and while gardening brings you closer to the land, there is a difference between living on the land and understanding where you live because your tiny space is entwined within a larger space.
It could be referred to as your ecological address, and understanding what bioregion you are part of includes participating in the care of the watershed, soils, climate, plants, animals and history.
The Bay Area is known for its Mediterranean climate of dry summers and cool, wet winters, but there are many different microclimates within the area. The Bay Area/Delta Bioregion stretches from San Francisco to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which supplies two-thirds of California’s drinking water, irrigates the farmland that sustains us and is a source of life for fish and other wildlife. California is home to more than 135 species of birds that are either completely dependent on streamside woodlands or in need of them at one stage in their life cycle.
Twelve counties, including Marin, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Alameda, Solano and San Mateo, are part of the Bay Area/Delta Bioregion, and each one has its own bioregion. The coast is known for its cold, often foggy summers, warm autumns and chilly, rainy winters. Inland areas are hot and dry during the summer and fall, and are known for foggy, cool winters. The bioregion where the gardens is located is mostly hilly with low coastal mountains and a few peaks that are above 3,000 feet, including Mount Diablo.
Watersheds are the arteries of our bioregion. A watershed is the area where all the water that is on or under the land drains to the same place. In other words, it is where the water from the higher elevations settles in lower elevations. Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state and national boundaries. No matter where you are, you’re in a watershed.
High-quality water is described as cool, clear, clean, colorless, odorless, tasteless, oxygenated, free of floated and suspended materials, and carrying only a limited amount of dissolved materials. One of the biggest problems affecting the health of our watersheds and bioregion is non-point source pollution. This pollution is hard to detect and is caused by urban runoff of fertilizers, sediments, animal waste and toxic materials that seep into our waterways and are a direct result of land use.
It doesn’t matter whether you garden by the coast or inland or whether you are an urban dweller or someone living in the country.
Creating a map of your unique bioregion will help develop an intimacy for the place you call home. To start, try answering these questions and completing these tasks taken from the Bioregional Quiz “Where You At?” to develop a better understanding of you area.
- Trace water you drink from precipitation to tap.
- What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?
- Where does your garbage go?
- From what direction do storms generally come?
- Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.
- From where you’re reading this, point north.
The city of Walnut Creek and the Gardens at Heather Farm are co-sponsoring a free workshop called “Discover Your Sense of Place” on March 17, at the gardens, 1540 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek. Registration is open to Walnut Creek residents until Feb. 17.
Open registration for nonresidents is Feb. 17 through March 10. The day long workshop will feature a number of speakers and authors. Visit the gardens’ website for more information and to register, www.gardenshf.org.
— Patrice Hanlon
GHF Garden Manager