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Home Sweet Home

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

by Annie Bowler, Travels with Heart, Vol 7, September 1, 2023

Our old house was too big for two empty nesters, but John and I loved our neighborhood,

so six years ago we decided to move down the street to a smaller house which was in

desperate need of renovations. Our new property had been a rental for years so had little

landscaping and what was left of the landscaping was used to little water. Why did we do

it? Were we gluttons for punishment? Well maybe, but there was a method to our madness.

Our goal was to create an edible landscape that was environmentally friendly, needed little

water and was a healthy habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies. Having a property that had

little landscaping gave us a mostly open pallet to create such a space. It’s been a lot of

work but today, we are enjoying the fruits of our labor across our property, but as the

summer crops ripen, we are feeling many benefits in our kitchen!

John was mainly in charge of planting our edible landscaping; he planted lots of citrus trees on the sides of our property which are quickly becoming great privacy screens. He planted many stone fruit, fig, and pomegranate trees as well as red flame grape vines on arbors and fences. John also constructed a number of raised planter boxes, using materials from an old deck. At first, the garden soil was poor, but bit by bit, it has improved, and these days our garden is so prolific, we are giving our produce away and are dehydrating lots as well.

I planned our landscaped areas which are now thriving despite these roasting hot days and only being watered deeply every few weeks. How? I planted California natives which hold up beautifully in our hot, dry conditions. I am pleased with the plants we bought from UC Davis Arboretum which offers a huge selection of drought tolerant plants that are perfect for our region. If you are interested, the Arboretum’s fall plant sale is coming up soon. You can learn more at .

I love living in a yard that feels in tune with our native environment, one that uses less water and is a welcoming habitat for birds, bees and butterflies and provides both food andbeauty. I know our yard is a work in progress, but I’m pleased with our progress thus far.

Van Norden Meadow Restoration

I’ve enjoyed cross country skiing at Royal Gorge for years and have always appreciated

the wide-open expanse of Van norden meadow.

I was once blown down the entire length of Van norden

meadow. It was a magical experience.

I had a scary ski experience in Van norden meadow though. One spring day, I took a short cut across the meadow in what looked like a mostly flat area but suddenly, the snow gave way, and I ended up in a deep ditch which had a good bit of water in it. Think wet clothes and boots and a big struggle to get out of the ditch! Yikes! 

I stay on the trails these days, but I never understood why Van norden meadow had these huge ditches until a couple of weeks ago when I took a fascinating tour of the restoration project that’s going on now. I hope you find it fascinating as well!

Skiing in Van norden meadow on a perfect day.

Many folks from the Serene Lakes The tour was led by Alecia Weisman, Part of the restoration project

community enjoyed the tour including headwaters science program included installing a wide sturdy

my neighbor, Lynn Hall. director for the South Yuba Citizens bridge to give safe access to the

League . mountains beyond for snowplows and fire equipment.

Van norden meadow, which is at the headwaters of the South Yuba River, is

surrounded by tall mountains so when it rains or the snow melts, a huge quantity of

water ends up in the meadow. And in the days before settlers arrived, water would flow

down the hills and into all parts of the meadow which allowed lots of water to be

absorbed into the ground. The water meandered slowly down the meadow which

provided sustenance to the meadow’s plants and animals through the long hot summer.

Van norden meadow is home to 128 native Californian plant species.

Pre-restoration the meadow had garbage Sheep grazed for many summers in Van norden

like this old drainage pipe. meadow. These are the remnants of their pens.

Unfortunately, most high Sierra meadows, including Van norden, have been degraded

by human activities like over-grazing, climate change, fire suppression, construction of

damns, timber harvesting, and road and trail building.

After roads and the railroad were built with a few large culverts under them, large

quantities of water poured into Van norden meadow in just a few locations, which

caused lots of erosion. The erosion created ditches, including the ditch that got me!

These culverts made the water move quickly through the meadow and, as a result, less

water was absorbed into the ground. To add to the meadow’s troubles, the meadow was

dammed in the mid 1900’s which reduced animal habitat and made the meadow drier in

the summer season, the time when California, its plant and animals need water the


Evidence of erosion are easy to spot in Van norden Van norden meadow was dammed in the 1950's. The lake

meadow pre-restoration. Many of the deep has since mostly filled in with silt and most of the dam has

culverts have been filled in but the shallow ones been removed allowing the meadow to return to its

now have human made beaver dams to slow the original state.

water and capture sediment so they will fill in

naturally before too long.

Fortunately, Van norden meadow is now being restored. Its restoration is being led by

the South Yuba River Citizens League with the support of many other groups. We now

know that high meadow wetlands are extremely valuable. This restoration will result in

improved meadow habitat, increased groundwater levels, increased water through the

summer season, and increased carbon storage. It will improve recreational

opportunities and improve the resiliency of the headwaters of the South Yuba River as

our climate changes.

This is an example of a human-made beaver dam; it will gather sentiment and slowly fill in

the ditches that are scattered across the meadow.

One of the reasons high Sierra meadows are so important is that they capture 10 times

more carbon than an alpine forest.

To learn more about this project and other restoration projects going on in the high Sierra, go to

Happy trails to you and yours!

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Sep 03, 2023

Thanks for documenting the progress and great photos. There was also a bit of enviro "controversy" when the restoration was being proposed and planned. Thank goodness restoration!

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