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  • Jennifer Jewell


FOODSCAPING - with Brie Arthur. Photo courtesy of Brie Arthur, all rights reserved.


In a continuation of Women’s History Month series, and our ongoing exploration of who gardeners are, where gardeners are, and what they are growing in this world, especially as it relates to improving the impact of our gardening lives on the larger planet, this week I am so pleased to be in conversation with Kathy Kramer.

Kathy is a long-time advocate for native plant and ecological gardening based on the keystone native plants of wherever you garden. She has been determined for many, many years to demonstrate just how beautiful (and full of life from singing birds to beautiful bugs) that concept of gardening can be.

Kathy is the founder of the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, which is based in the Bay Area of Northern California, but after 19 years in operation, the tour has country-wide acclaim. Best of All: the tour and the gardening-ethos it cultivates and celebrates can be replicated anywhere we as humans garden - vastly improving any garden's habitat, resource use, and pure pleasure.

As just one woman endeavoring to raise the gardening bar and raise awareness around gardening with the native plants of your area, Kathy has encouraged and inspired hundreds of gardens and gardeners in California’s Bay area. First organized in 2005, the tour is celebrating its 19th year with its virtual tour the weekend of April 15/16 and in-person the weekend of May 6, 2023.

Photos courtesy of Kathy Kramer, and the. Bringing Back the Natives Tour, all rights reserved.

You can follow Kathy Kramer and the Bringing Back the Natives Tour online at: and on Facebook: /BringingBacktheNativesGardenTour


you might also enjoy these Best of CP programs in our archive:

JOIN US again next week, we revisit a conversation that moves me still, helping to seed the early growing season in front of us: Diane Wilson’s growing work and her novel The Seed Keeper, we plumb the depths of seeds, history, and the many faces of what it means to be human. Listen in.


Cultivating Place is made possible in part by generous support from

supporting initiatives that empower women and help preserve the planet through the intersection of environmental advocacy, social justice, and creativity.

Cultivating Place is also made possible through support from

In 2021, the Conservancy launched the Garden Futures Grants initiative, through which general operating grants typically ranging from $5,000 - $10,000 are awarded to small public gardens and nonprofit organizations making a significant impact in their communities through garden-based programming. Visit the Garden Conservancy's website to learn more about this application process; this year's application is now live through April 15!

Speaking of Plants and Place.....

Speaking of plants and place, this week we look forward to spring everywhere with garden tours and garden offerings rising to meet us. And while much of our gardening for beauty and for habitat revolves around the perennial plants, shrubs, and trees that form the foundational elements of any ecosystem or garden, this week let’s revel in the plant playground that are our native annual flowers of spring wherever we may be.

Most ecosystems have their native annual displays in spring and summer. California as a floristic province is however notably rich in spring annuals, those vast sweeps of color that paint our mountain slopes, foothills, valleys, canyons and creeks in spectacle shared in images around the world – especially in years deemed to be super blooms that bring people from 1000s of miles away to witness. Annual plants, who germinate, grow, bloom, are pollinated, set seed and then subside back into the soil from whence they emerged get all this above-ground growing life work done in an amazingly swift amount of time – from days to weeks or a few short months.

Of course, they’re known as annuals because they complete their life cycle in one year, but of course much of this year is spent as dormant seed waiting for the time, place, conditions to be all be right. One of the interesting aspects being researched more and more by pollination ecologists is the importance of annuals to specialist native pollinators – notably specialist bees who have co-evolved with these annual plants, in their profusion, however fleeting their season.

There are many, many iconic annual flowering species - from lupines, to salvias, larkspurs to castillejas, but among the most famous are certainly the genus Eschscholzia, broadly referred to as the California poppies. The type species, Eschscholzia californica is native throughout the state, north to southern Washington, Nevada, New Mexico, and south to northwestern Baja California. The genus is abundant across much of the US West, and according to the Shannon Still, the Director of Science and conservation at the UC Davis Arboretum and Garden, the California poppy was first described by European botanists “On a voyage along the west coast of North America in 1816, when Adelbert von Chamisso collected the type species for California poppy in the hills of the Presidio in San Francisco Bay. Chamisso’s close friend Johann Eschscholtz was on the journey and inspired the plant’s name. The California poppy became the official state flower in 1903,” and other species and varieties of the flowers were subsequently collected and described.

Over time, names for these spring annuals “have also proliferated,” and again according to research summarized by Shannon Still: "currently, botanists use 187 names and 160 type specimens to describe Eschscholzia (Still 2011; unpublished data). Of these names, 94 are considered synonyms for E. californica, 9 are synonyms for E. mexicana, and 20 are synonyms for E. caespitosa (Still 2011 and unpublished data).”

In the Jepson eflora, there are at least 10 species and subspecies, and of course going back all the way to that first European collection, there have been myriad hybrids bred for color, for size, for adaptability in gardens around the world – resulting in a profusion of flower seed mix offerings from growers and suppliers all over the world.

If you live within the native ranges of these annuals in the poppy family Papaveraceae, across Western North America, please be careful of planting hybridized seed grown from outside of your range, as it could contaminate the native genetics of your area.

But if you are lucky enough to live within the native ranges of any of these glorious colorful annuals, you are likely able to source locally native seeds from growers and other gardeners in your area. Picked fresh, they can last for a few days in a vase or arrangement, and in the garden they can have a bloom time of 4 – 6 weeks.

Bees love these flowers for their abundant pollen (although interestingly Eschscholzia typically produce very little nectar), and the sight of a bee curling around the pollen-laden anthers in the golden cups is a treat that will have you collecting your own seed year after year to distribute each fall in hopes of your own super bloom each spring!

Thinking out loud this week:

When you think about all that needs improving in our world – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and it’s easy to think your contribution might be small. But my goodness – in the past 19 years Kathy Kramer has demonstrated the elegant calculus of compounded interest – one garden and gardener at a time, planting for native plants, for food and habitat, for birds and insects – for the whole interrelated bank of life.

In your gardens in all of your places – just start where you are – one or two plants planted in groups of 5 or 7. Start planting where you are…and see what grows!

I think of other ways we can demonstrate and invest in the aggregated success and positivity of one garden at a time, and I want to circle back to the mention of the Garden Conservancy’s gardens futures grants. I had the great honor and real pleasure of serving on this grants committee last year and not only was I in the company of other really interesting gardeners, horticulturists, and horticultural leaders from across the country in assessing the grant proposals that had been submitted, but I got to read about gardens and gardeners I had never heard of doing great place-based work where they were also from across the country.

These small public garden endeavors are growing the gardens and the gardeners that are preparing to meet our collective future environmentally, economically, socially. To be able to take part in awarding them financial support to keep growing meant the world to me.

And so I will echo Kathy Kramer’s word – and the words of so many other gardeners in our world – even if and when you might not have a piece of ground to grow on, you can volunteer, or donate, or vote for the gardened future we want to see flourish – full of fertility, diversity, and open access.

So be it.




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