How, you might wonder, did Jungle Stairs go about selecting its planting scheme? There were a number of criteria, beginning with microclimate. Thus, the west slope is not only quite shady but also exposed to winds that, at times, can exceed 45 mph. Not every plant can withstand such conditions. By contrast, the eastern slope lies on the lee side of Collingwood Hill. It’s also sunny, which makes it prime real-estate for many California natives and their Mediterranean allies.
With that as a starting point, our plant designer, Todd Gilens, picked a “palette” for each slope. In a very real sense, he “painted” our hillsides with shapes and colors that, in time, should evolve into an eye-pleasing tapestry.
“Plant palette” is a landscaping term. It refers to the overall look–the style–of a particular array of plants. Among the palettes familiar to Californians is the Mediterranean palette, with its gray-scale textures and soft pastel hues. Our palette, which is composed largely of plants native to California, could be considered an offshoot of its Mediterranean cousin, and, indeed, we do have plants of Mediterranean origin mixed in with the natives. Among the shared characteristics of these plants– as well as others from similar climate zones– is their extremely low demand for water.
In addition, the plants Todd selected have value to wildlife, especially birds and beneficial insects, from bumble bees and butterflies to parasitic wasps almost too small to see. For the insects we are setting a table of flowering plants plumped with nectar and pollen, as well as host plants for butterfly larvae. For the birds we are constructing a multi-course feast. As the fruit course, we are offering currants and coffeeberry; as the seed course, sages and California lilacs. And for the hummingbirds, we are providing nectar sources, among them, manzanitas and California fuchsias.
Already bumble bees have happily discovered the Phacelia we planted at the top of the eastern stairs. Soon, we hope, those who walk the staircase will find themselves nose to beak with a hummingbird. Day by day, it seems, our hillsides are becoming more alive.