Updated: Oct 27
Just down the street from our school, a patch of unused land lay sitting, waiting. That was until David Newsom, founder of the Wild Yards Project, came upon it. Transforming barren dirt into lush native gardens is his life's work, and he worked his magic in that very spot. From dry soil sprung new life. When stepping into this magical space, you are given a break from urban life, transported away from the hustle and bustle.
What makes this garden so special? The native plants growing here are more resilient and require much less watering than other plants, which is essential during seasons of drought. This unique feature makes them easier to maintain than many of the plants you would find in everyday gardens. As an added bonus, they also attract native pollinators, such as the Fiery Skipper. Other than increasing the amount of native creatures that populate the area, these gardens provide calming spaces to hang out in. With their shade and tree-stump benches, they are the perfect place to sit down for a snack or dive into a book. On a hot day, it provides a break from the sun with its immense tree cover, whereas during the fall it is a great place to explore.
Sure, you might see gardens every day. Maybe your neighbor grows one full of vibrant green stems decorated with juicy red tomatoes or the fluffy leaves of carrots poking out of the soil like tufts of green hair. The astonishing thing about his garden, however, is that it is a window into the past before those cultivated plants were introduced into California via trade. The hillsides were once covered by these
native Californian plants: coyote bushes, tansy leaf azalea, and many more would cover the ground, leaving no soil untouched by their roots. This was the type of dream that Newsom had for the space on 2164 Addison Way.
David Newsom, the mind behind this garden and founder of the Wild Yards Project, said that this garden all started as a joke between him and his wife. After previously turning their own yard into a native habitat, she jokingly commented on the unused land sitting dormant in front of a local preschool, run by an adjacent church. “She was like, ‘Man, how would
you like to get your hands on that?’ and I was sort of like ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’” This fantasy became very real when the pastor of the church, who was a huge fan of David’s work, asked if he wanted to plant a garden outside the school. Coming from a background in the film industry, he has a unique ability to plan. “That's the easy part though,” he admits, “The hardest thing is following through.” After all the thought he’d put into what he would do to the space, how could David refuse the pastor’s offer? So, he got to work. “At that time I didn’t know much about converting a lawn into a habitat, so I did a lot wrong.”
This school garden transformation was backbreaking work: shoveling, mulching, and planting over 100 plants. Luckily, he was backed up by the community. This garden brought together a large crowd of people who helped cultivate it and nurture its growth. “We had a big event,” he recalls. There is a reason for the phrase, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” With help from the
community, they were able to plant a beautiful garden, but then time seemed to stop. The garden didn’t grow. For three years, barely anything happened. As David said, “It was sleeping, laying dormant.” But in the third year, it exploded. The plants spread and grew like a wildfire in dry brush. Wildlife of all sorts flocked to the garden like moths to the moon. “There was at least one pair of praying mantis on every plant, and at least 20 different kinds of bees.” It was a beautiful transformation to witness, and one that he was very proud of. Even though he claims this wasn’t his best work, it turned out beautifully.
As he walks through the garden, David points out all kinds of plants, calling them by their scientific names, and claiming each one as his favorite. “It is impossible to choose a single favorite since I like them all!” He has put his heart and soul into this project, and you can see it the moment you set foot there.
David encourages people to come and visit the garden. He says that by gardening with these native plants, you are “learning about where you live.” By coming and visiting the garden, you are reliving history, experiencing spaces that could have existed hundreds of years ago. Every once in a while there are events hosted at the garden, from clean-ups to presentations by beekeepers: you can find
everything here. There are even opportunities to volunteer for your service as action if you are looking for service hours. You never need an excuse to visit this magical space. With its dense foliage and feeling of tranquility, I can’t describe this space in just one article. Instead, go visit yourself and experience it with your own eyes.