Updated: Sep 3
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 https://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/plant-sales .
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 https://yubariver.org/projects/van-norden-meadow-restoration-project/
Happy trails to you and yours!