Welcome! This blog is inspired by the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve in Gardena, California.

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Ugly View or Source of Inspiration?


We’re restoring the south-western section of the Preserve to the native Coastal Shrubland that once covered Gardena.  Towards that end, we planted hundreds of locally native plants near the amphitheater last spring.  On the positive side, the new plants are thriving.  The shrubs have grown several feet;  many have already flowered and set seed.  Insects, hummingbirds and seed-eating birds flock to the area.   And a place that once was bare – with a few non-native weeds – is well on its way to being restored.   But restoration is a bit like remodeling: once the remodel is completed, the whole house looks shabby around it.   And herein lays our source of inspiration.

English Ivy (lighter green) covering a Black Willow tree

The Preserve’s amphitheater sits on a gentle slope overlooking the wetlands.  It’s a nice venue for teaching, thanks to an Eagle Scout project in 2009.  It’s also a great place to sit and relax after a couple hours of weeding.  But the view from the amphitheater could – quite frankly - use some work!  As seen above, a few large non-native shrubs competed with the native willows and other wetland trees.  The area was overgrown with non-native English Ivy (Hedera helix – the same ivy many people have in their yards) was literally invading, climbing high into the trees and threatening their existence.  The front area was bare except for some weeds, non-native grasses and an unsightly-looking dead branch.  In short, it was not the kind of view we wanted from the amphitheater.

Fortunately, our young and enthusiastic volunteers love a challenge.  Last month – as part of our regular restoration day on the 3rd Saturday of each month – a group of students from the Gardena High School Honor Society and the Circle K Club from CSU Dominguez Hills tackled the view from the amphitheater.  They came in on the ground floor of the restoration process - a process that begins with assessing the area and setting restoration priorities.

After preliminary discussion, we decided to explore the area before setting restoration priorities.    Here’s what we found:
·         The area has lots of potential – the riparian woodland area is pretty and could provide wetland access  close to the teaching amphitheater

·         English Ivy is a huge problem – more extensive than we’d realized

·         Natural pathways exist in the area, but these are overgrown

·         The non-native shrubs are large and will take some work to remove

Large ivy trunk growing up a willow tree

As a group, we decided that ivy removal was the first priority:  ivy was spreading and threatening the native trees - and the problem would only get worse if nothing were done.   As a first step we cut the trunks of ivy growing up into the trees.  It took some work just to find the ivy trunks, even though some were several inches in diameter and stretched 20 feet or more into the trees.    Several weeks after cutting, the leaves were starting to die making it easier to see the remaining ivy.  We’ll tackle that in the future.

As we cut ivy, we decided to prune branches that were making ivy removal – and access in general – more difficult.   The branch trimmings are now being composed in the form of a brush pile.  The pile is located near enough to be useful for teaching, but far enough off the trail to hide it.    The brush pile will provide a hiding place for birds and lizards, as well as food for decomposing insects, worms, bacteria and other organisms.    The decomposed material will also return nutrients to the soil rather than removing them to the landfill.  We’ll be getting years of benefit from the pruning we did to provide access.  Now that’s smart restoration!

Area after first work day - bare but much nicer appearance

At the end of the morning, we sat back and admired the view from the amphitheater.  We could already see improvements.  The area was less overgrown, some of the ivy was gone and the ‘ugly branch’ had been turned into an interesting bit of native landscape.   But the front area still looked plain and empty – and we wanted it to eventually look pretty and interesting.  We decided that the trees provided a nice backdrop.  But we needed plants in front of them.   And we needed to plan ahead so we’d be ready to plant when the rains came.

We worked together to build a list of the types of plants/plant characteristics we wanted to include in the area.  Here’s what we came up with:

·         More leaf & flower colors

·         Small bushy purple plant (if possible)

·         Focus on plants native to the Gardena area

·         Increase the diversity and number of plants – shrubs, grasses, flowering plants

·         Fruit trees (native)

·         Include signage/information

·         Flowers

·         Include plants found in other parts of Preserve – especially those in surrounding Coastal shrubland area – to make the area seem part of the Preserve as a whole

At our November work day we’ll review the plant choices and develop a plant list.  Our goal will be to plant at least part of the front area in December/January while still leaving access for our on-going ivy removal.   The new plants will make the area look better while we continue our restoration of the interior sections.

At the end of the day, our ‘ugly view’ turned out to be something lovely – a source of inspiration.  It brought together a diverse group of students (and one professor) to solve real-life restoration challenges.  Many points of view are leading to practical and creative solutions.    And that’s a beautiful thing indeed! 


We’ll update you with our progress in the future.