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Ocean Friendly Gardens


Zach's Ocean-Friendly Garden

Zach Williams, Secretary of the Ventura County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, transformed his Ventura backyard into a thriving Ocean Friendly Garden (OFG). This article shares a behind-the-scenes look into the different plants and features Zach used in his garden and highlights the benefits that these bring to our environment and to homeowners.

Zach's Vision: A Garden That Gives Back

Zach's inspiration for his garden stemmed from a desire to create a space that nurtures local birds, insects, microorganisms, and animals. His vision was not just to cultivate a garden, but to establish a mini-ecosystem that:

  • Sequesters Greenhouse Gases: Through his plants and soil, Zach contributes to reducing carbon emissions.
  • Supports Local Wildlife: By planting native species, his garden provides a habitat for local fauna.
  • Promotes Natural Soil Health: Utilizing compost and natural soil regeneration techniques, Zach maintains healthy soil without synthetic fertilizers.
  • Prevents Harmful Runoff: His garden is designed to minimize urban runoff, ensuring no pollutants enter storm drains.

To bring this vision to life, Zach collaborated with Natasha Elliott of Sweet Smiling Landscapes, a renowned expert in natural gardening. Natasha's Instagram, Sweet Smiling Landscapes, showcases the transformative power of sustainable landscaping.

Native Species: The Backbone of Zach's Garden

Instead of choosing the typical non-native, high-water, and high-maintenance plants often seen in Southern California backyards—like agapanthus, a big green lawn, impatiens, petunias, hydrangeas, ficus trees, palm trees, or bamboo—Zach opted for native and climate-appropriate plants including:

  • Buckwheat
  • White Sage
  • Purple Sage
  • Mugwort
  • Common Yarrow
  • Milkweed
  • Yerba Buena
  • Pitcher Sage
  • Lavender
  • Wendy Alum Root
  • Sticky Monkey Flower
  • Mint
  • Blue Blush Sage
  • Common Sage
  • Avocado
  • Butterfly Roses
  • Persimmons Tree
  • Pink Lady Apple Tree
  • Common and French Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Apricot Tree
  • Pomegranate Wonderful
  • Passion Fruit
  • Coyote Mint
  • Lemon Balm
  • Prince Wild Rye
  • Wild Tarragon
  • Aloe Vera
  • Chives
  • Fox Tail Agave

Benefits of Native Plants in Southern California

Native plants offer numerous benefits:

  • Water Conservation: Native plants are adapted to local rainfall patterns and require minimal irrigation, crucial in drought-prone areas.
  • Soil Stability: Their deep root systems prevent soil erosion and improve soil health.
  • Wildlife Support: They provide food and shelter for local wildlife, including birds, bees, and butterflies.
  • Pollution Reduction: Native plants filter pollutants, improving water quality and reducing urban runoff

Native plants like Buckwheat, White Sage, Purple Sage, and Mugwort are foundational species that support a variety of insects, birds, and mammals. Buckwheat, for instance, is a critical food source for native pollinators, including bees and butterflies, which in turn support the broader food web. White Sage and Purple Sage, with their fragrant foliage and flowers, offer nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies while also providing shelter and nesting materials for small mammals and birds.

Milkweed plays an especially important role as it is the primary host plant for the monarch butterfly, providing a necessary habitat for their larvae. Common Yarrow and Yerba Buena attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which help control pest populations naturally. The aromatic Pitcher Sage and Lavender, along with other herbs like Mint and Blue Blush Sage, offer rich nectar sources for pollinators and have additional properties that deter harmful insects, thus promoting a healthier ecosystem.

Fruit-bearing plants such as Avocado, Persimmon, Pink Lady Apple, Apricot, and Pomegranate trees support birds, squirrels, and other wildlife by offering fruits and seeds, which function as staple food sources, especially in urban and suburban areas where natural resources can be scarce. Moreover, the dense foliage of these trees provides nesting sites and shelter for numerous bird species.

Herbs like Common and French Thyme, Oregano, Lemon Balm, and Wild Tarragon serve as habitat and food for insects. Coyote Mint and Chives add to the diversity of flowering plants that sustain pollinators. Aloe Vera and Fox Tail Agave, while often considered ornamental, offer hydration and nutrition for many desert-dwelling species, aiding them in surviving the arid conditions of Southern California.

Overall, the integration of these plants into the Southern California ecosystem fosters biodiversity, promotes stability and resilience in local wildlife populations, and contributes to the overall health of the environment by supporting a complex web of life.

Upcycling Organic Materials

An integral part of Zach's garden design involves the use of tree stumps. These stumps are not only visually appealing but also serve a practical purpose by helping to retain moisture in the soil. As they decompose, they slowly release water and nutrients, creating a natural reservoir that supports surrounding plants. This method reduces the need for frequent watering, making it an effective way to conserve water while maintaining a healthy garden.

Composting for Soil Enrichment

Zach also employs composting methods to enrich the soil naturally. By recycling kitchen scraps, garden waste, and other organic materials, he creates a nutrient-rich compost that boosts soil health and promotes robust plant growth. This practice not only reduces waste but also enhances the soil's ability to retain moisture, further minimizing the need for additional irrigation. The use of compost eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, making Zach's garden more environmentally friendly.

Embracing Natural Pest Control

Zach is committed to avoiding pesticides, choosing instead to rely on natural pest control methods. He encourages beneficial insects, like ladybugs and predatory wasps, to thrive in his garden, keeping harmful pests in check. This organic approach ensures a safe and healthy environment for both plants and wildlife, fostering a balanced ecosystem. By integrating these sustainable practices, Zach's garden thrives in harmony with the local climate, demonstrating a model of environmentally responsible landscaping.

Ocean Friendly Garden Criteria

Interested in having an ocean friendly garden like Zach’s? To ensure your garden is Ocean Friendly, it must meet specific criteria that promote sustainability and environmental health. Here's what you need to consider:


  • Support Wildlife & Resilient Habitat:
    • Native plants should cover at least 50% of your garden.
    • Minimize turf grass and maintain it sustainably.
    • All plants should be climate-appropriate or edible.
    • Avoid invasive plants.

Water & Irrigation

  • Conserve Water & Avoid Wasteful Runoff:
    • Use hand watering or high-efficiency irrigation systems.
    • Install an automatic irrigation controller with a rain shut-off device.

Healthy, Living Soil

  • Sponge Up Water & Filter Pollutants:
    • Avoid pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
    • Use compost, worm castings, or organic solutions for fertilization.
    • Use natural mulch to conserve water, rebuild soil health, and suppress weeds.

Redirect & Soak Up Rain

  • Prevent Runoff & Stormwater Pollution:
    • Implement contours like bioswales, dry creeks, and basins.
    • Direct rainwater from the roof to landscaping or permeable areas.
    • Use pavers with gaps or permeable materials for new hardscapes.

Join the Movement: Transform Your Garden

Zach's garden is a shining example of how individual efforts can contribute to environmental sustainability. By adopting Ocean Friendly Gardening practices, you too can create a garden that is not only beautiful but also beneficial to the environment.

Get Started Today

Interested in transforming your backyard or commercial landscape into a haven for local wildlife, conserving precious water, and reducing pollution? Check out the resources available on Surfrider HQ’s Ocean Friendly Garden website as well as resources on our Ventura County chapter’s Ocean Friendly Garden webpage.