When Chris Young was growing up in Indiana, and later when he lived in New York City, there wasn’t much to do in the garden in the fall because freezing winter weather was on the way. But 10 years ago, he moved to balmy Los Angeles, where the shorter days and cooling temperatures of fall make it a great time to plant.
The yard surrounding the Laurel Canyon home he now shares with his beagle, Daisy, wasn’t much to look at in the beginning. “There was a big cement slab and a big blob of grass,” he says. But Young transformed the property into the garden he now calls “Tiny Sur,” a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Monarch Watch (that’s the butterfly) Monarch Waystation.
The neighbor children who come to help, and play, at Tiny Sur inspired Young to write “Is That a Fairy?,” an e-book that follows a boy (or girl – the reader gets to choose) and Daisy the dog on a quest to meet a real fairy. Myke Weiskopf, a friend of Young’s who does field recordings for National Public Radio, captured Daisy’s barking and garden sounds from Tiny Sur for the book.
Young says families can easily create their own wildlife (or fairy) sanctuary at home.
Start small. “My garden, it wasn’t done all at once,” Young says.
Spruce up your soil. Dig some organic compost into the dirt before you plant, and add a one-inch layer of compost around the plants once a year.
Gather plants and information. Young’s go-to sources for California native plants are the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley (www.theodorepayne.org), Sunset Nursery in L.A. (www.sunsetblvdnursery.com) and Annie’s Annuals & Perennials (www.anniesannuals.com), which is based in Northern California but sells plants online. Young’s plant suggestions include:
- California lilac. Plant one in a corner, then sew California poppy seeds into the soil around it. The seeds need to be stomped into the ground, which is a fun job for kids.
- Sunflowers, which you can plant in a circle to grow a kid-sized fort. Harvest the seeds, or leave them for the birds.
- Any plant with berries, because birds love them. Gooseberry and a Los Angeles native called Nevin’s barberry are two of Young’s favorites.
- Milkweed, which monarch butterflies need to survive.
For the best information about caring for your new plants, Young recommends talking with the folks at a quality nursery. (At Sunset Nursery, he asks for Sally.) “They’re nerds like me and they love to share what they know,” he says.
Visit your garden patch daily. Make sure everything has enough water, and check out what’s going on. “You’ll see the caterpillar on your milkweed and you’ll get so excited,” Young says. “It’s nice quiet time with the kids. It’s a nice thing to share.”