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Plants, Wildlife Thrive In New Wetzel Native Plant Garden

Harry and Maggie Wetzel passed away in 2008, but one of their Healdsburg legacies lives on the edge of Foss Creek.

 

East of the railroad tracks and directly west of under-construction project the is a small gem of a park brought about through collaboration between community members and donors, the City of Healdsburg and the

“It’s a memorial that gives back to the community,” said “It made an ugly public place beautiful; it informs the community about native plants; and it makes it easy for people to see how to incorporate natives into their yards.”

The property, which borders Foss Creek and can be entered from North Street, had been part of an informal parking lot for a number of years and was filled with highly compacted soil and invasive plant species.

“We started Foss Creek restoration in 2006,” said Sonoma County . “The city council started to mobilize people to ‘take back the creek.’ It’s an invaluable resource for residents and tourists alike.”

Enter McEnhill with the plans for a classic creek restoration. And, in 2007, the California Fish and Game Department did an assessment of Foss Creek that found juvenile steelhead in the creek. It was a complete surprise, as urban creeks are not usually habitable by native fish.

“Then Katie [Wetzel Murphy] and I started talking,” McGuire said. “And the native plant garden has become the foundation of the project to bring the community back to the creek.”

Through a network of bonds formed through the restoration project, as well as several donors looking to fund “earth-friendly” projects, the idea of the Harry and Maggie Wetzel Native Plant Garden came to fruition.

“There’s something truly priceless about creeks that run through urban areas,” McGuire continued.

"We have to thank Katie, the family, and more," McGuire said. "This could not have happened without all the donors.

“There’s a lot more work to do but we are on the right path,” stated McGuire. “The completion of this part of the project furthers the community’s vision of a pathway from the river at Hudson Street to the northern boundaries of the city.”

Now, butterflies, bees and birds flit through the garden, feeding on the nectar, seeds, berries and pollen provided by the native plants.

“That Valley oak provides food for 1,400 insect species,” said McEnhill, gesturing to the magnificent tree that borders the creek at the south end of the garden.

“On the other hand, there’s a privet, which provides food for very few species,” he continued with a gesture toward the large tree in the middle of the parking lot.

“It also sends out thousands of seeds that become invasive plants,” McEnhill said. “It’s one of our largest weeding challenges.” McEnhill said the tree is slated for removal by the city,

While the garden’s focus on native plants provides a display venue for beautiful natives in a landscape setting that can be used in local yards, it also provides a high-habitat value for the creatures that live among us.

“The gardens are good for wildlife and for the steelhead,” he said. “Now we have a muskrat den in the bank of the creek and river otters have been sighted behind h2hotel."

Crawdads and minnows are the largest food sources of these two mammals. The roach minnow is nutritious food for the juvenile fish. Western Pond turtles are also coming back.

Other wildlife that can be sighted from the gardens are a wide variety of birds, butterflies, native mason and imported honey bees. Raccoons can be found fishing in the early morning, but if you don’t see them, muddy water is a sure sign they’ve been fishing in the creek.

The California plant communities represented are riparian, grasslands, oak woodlands, serpentine/chaparral and mixed evergreen. Each plant community is delineated through clever use of barks, in different shapes and natural colors, as mulch.

“At any point in the year, we have flowering plants,” McEnhill said. “We hope to have no gaps.”

One thing continues to concern McEnhill, however, is the number of feral cat colonies along Foss Creek, particularly those adjacent to the garden and h2hotel.

“It’s really hard to restore wildlife when there are predators nearby that destroy them as they come,” said McEnhill. “Even though they are being fed, the cats continue to kill lizards, amphibians and birds.”

In addition, cats carry diseases that can pass into populations of wild mammals like raccoons.

Perhaps there are other solutions to this wildlife-wild, domesticated animal conflict. Could the community develop a sanctuary for feral cats where they can live in a place other than next to Foss Creek? Creative problem solving by the community could be enormously helpful.

Meanwhile, McEnhill talks of other ideas that will enhance the garden, such as a rain garden that will filter the water running from the Cerri Building parking lot into Foss Creek. Currently there are small barriers but in the long-term, the parking lot will be paved and runoff will have to be filtered before entering the creek.

McEnhill smiles as he discusses future plans.

“We’ll create bioswales and a rain garden,” he said. “Microbes in the soil will break down petroleum products.

“Dust and sediment get captured in the ionic attraction to soil,” stated McEnhill. “We’ll have wild rushes and purple needle grass—it takes up and binds metals—and basket sedge.

“We’ll slow the water through natural systems,” he continued.

Meanwhile, the recent crash of a truck into a nearby fire hydrant caused around $2,000 worth of damage to the garden. Eight-hundred gallons of water per minute spilled through the garden causing erosion and killing plants.

Repairing runnels and erosion and re-spreading bark means more work before the educational signs can be put in place.

But every day, new people walk the path of the garden enjoying the yellow sticky monkeyflower and flannel bush, the pinks and purples of the sages.

Birds swoop down to consume the berries now ripe on the flowering currants. Scrub jays squawk at passersby and hummingbirds sip and dart.

Mason bees bumble around, covered with pollen, and the garden fills with life.

 

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